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File Sharing Grows Up and Grasps the Economics of Content

October 19, 2010

One of the back-and-forth arguments around file-sharing is that those indulging in the practise are just taking (some would say stealing) from the creators and offering nothing back.  The riposte is that the activities of file sharers act to promote the films rather than destroy their income.  Here’s one example:

The story of Jerome Bixby’s “The Man from Earth“, a small-budget science fiction movie released on DVD in November, shows how piracy can help salvage, not sink, high-quality cinema. …

In early November Releaselog, a popular blog that regularly posts links to movies, music, and software (most of which is copyrighted), ran a review (with accompanying download links) of “The Man from Earth”. The review generated a flood of comments. The movie obviously struck a chord with the geeky and anti-establishment community at Releaselog and prompted many (illegal) downloads.

Most crews would have wanted to sue every downloader. Eric Wilkinson, the producer of “The Man from Earth” turned out to be much more new-media-savvy. He thanked the Releaselog community for piracy and said they were helping sales.

According to Wilkinson, in two weeks that passed after Releaselog wrote about the movie, it rose from the 11,235th to the 5th most popular movie among visitors to IMDB, a popular online movie database featuring user-generated reviews and rankings (the movie was the #1 independent film and #1 science fiction film on IMDB). Most of the traffic to the film’s web-site came from Releaselog. The pirates were definitely to thank for the publicity that ensued.

But I think until recently, while the debate has been a valid one, it would be hard to argue that file-sharing had fully grasped the issue of the economics of p2p, that is until until now. What I think we are seeing now is a huge culture shift as the same theory that has made p2p file-sharing such a powerful distribution medium is now being pointed at the money side of content creation. We’ve seen an explosion of crowd-sourcing (e.g journalism) and ideas  like Flattr (social micropayments) and now too – which is a very interesting project indeed:

VODO, short for voluntary donation, has been a great success thus far. With support from several torrent sites including EZTV, The Pirate Bay and isoHunt, all of VODO’s major releases have been downloaded several hundred thousand times. In addition, downloaders have donated tens of thousands of dollars to the filmmakers.

Thus far, most of the buzz has been created by a small coalition of file-sharing sites. But with the the release of VODO 2.1 which rolled out this week, the founders of the project hope to get the average peer more engaged in promoting VODO films. With this strategy the promotional power should shift towards a swarm of real people and influencers, instead of the large sites.

The site added the VO.DO domain to the existing one this week and introduced several new features at the same time. One of the new features is meant to increase user engagement. To motivate the public to share and promote films that are released through VODO, the project has introduced a reward system.

This is in contrast to sections of the existing hierarchical media who are still looking for a legal and/or technical fix to come along and make the digitality of digital content go away – which it won’t. Even worse, there are some seeing the legal-threat route as a profitable enterprise.

(Also posted on the p2p foundation blog)

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