Barely Legally

Confessions of a Moot Court Bailiff

Competition

The RIAA has spent millions of dollars on litigating copyright infringement suits against people who illegally download music. Companies like Viacom use litigation to remove their copyrighted material from sites like YouTube.com. And you can’t blame them. They don’t want their copyrighted stuff generating money for anyone else.

With their awesome size and economic strength, media conglomerates had it easy for a long time. Customers who wanted content had to consume it on terms dictated by the RIAAs and the Viacoms. With regard to delivering this content, (i.e. in CD format, or in the hour-long drama format) the conglomerates only had one another to compete with.

Oh, and then in 1993, Vice President Gore invented the internet or something, and the media conglomerates started buying antacids in bulk: because technology changed everything.

Today, technology (read as: the internet) allows you and I to deliver this content without having that whole awesome size and economic strength thing. I can infringe on Viacom’s copyright by making their content freely available for them. Viacom has to compete with me while I offer their content on terms I’ve dictated. (How about a .torrent of How I Met Your Mother in 720p in x264? Is that good for anyone else?)

So the Viacoms and the RIAAs tried using litigation to keep people from infringing on copyright, but technology has irrevocably shifted the supplier’s market to a consumer’s market. Consumers have too many options, and Viacom can’t just sue each one out of existence in a free society. And the RIAA’s attempts at litigating against individual users hasn’t gone very well, either. So what now?

Well, other media conglomerates like Universal and News Corp have started competing. It’s a tall order when your pirate competitors are offering your content for free, but sites like Hulu are giving pirated content a run for its dubloons money, offering free TV shows in exchange for 60 seconds of commercials. Online music stores simply price their digital wares well below the cost of a physical CD, and that makes headway.

As for Viacom? They’ve decided that if you can’t beat them (with a carrot tied to a stick), join them. Sick of seeing money float into Google’s pocket for all the copyright-infringing music videos on YouTube, Viacom has launched its own video site. It’s called MTV Music, and they’re following in the footsteps of other networks who are putting their content online instead of letting people like me do it for them. It has to be cheaper than litigating.

So what’s the first music video that I watched on MTV’s new site? Oh, come on. Do you really have to ask?