Pondering Illegally Free Media

The BBC announced yesterday that they’ve slept with partnered with YouGoogleTube in order to further publicize their offerings worldwide. All things considered, I’m not too surprised this partnership formed. The Beeb used YouGoogleTube’s viral marketing capabilities to create extra buzz for the premiere of Torchwood this past fall, after all. It was only natural that the Beeb go one step further and provide official promotional material. A number of U.S. networks and hundreds of musical artists also provide official promotional to the website.

What I found interesting was this little tidbit off the BBC news coverage of the deal:

Mr Highfield said the BBC would not be hunting down all BBC-copyrighted clips already uploaded by YouTube members – although it would reserve the right to swap poor quality clips with the real thing, or to have content removed that infringed other people’s copyright, like sport, or that had been edited or altered in a way that would damage the BBC’s brand.

“We don’t want to be overzealous, a lot of the material on YouTube is good promotional content for us,” he said.

This statement has caused a lot of argument already, mostly of the “why can’t we post YouGoogleTube links to unauthorised material if the BBC doesn’t give a crap if the material is unauthorised” variety. I’m not going to get into that one here; have to put up enough with it elsewhere.

Instead, here’s what I’m pondering:

  1. Is the desire for free (legality honored or not) material something that’s unique to the current Young Geek Generation (i.e. 13-30ish), or is it something that’s Always Been, but just more noticeable now that more people can do it?
  2. Why is it that the older one gets, the more supporting of corporate media happens?

On the Desire for Free Material

No brainer here– always part of fannish life– or certainly of my fannish life, which goes back at least 30 years. Trolling for and trading episodes has been big for several decades. It’s just the technology that has changed (as well as the speed of delivery). Back in the 80’s, we thought it brilliant if we got the newest Doctor Who episode several weeks after it aired in the U.K. Now, we fret if it’s not being torrented an hour after it aired.

It’s also at least a 25-year-old tradition that, in addition to actual episodes being passed around, extra bits would also make the rounds. Game show clips, chat show clips, previous shows a certain actor had been on– all were passed around like a joint at a college party. YouGoogleTube has simplified the process– just digitize something, upload, and pass around the entire world.

So, yeah, it’s pretty much same-old, same-old in that respect, just faster and wider-reaching.

On Age and the Support of Corporate Media

Bottom line, why the older one gets the more the support of corporate media happens: it’s freaking easier to pay some money and get product.

Time becomes more valuable as one ages. If, as a teen, you had hours and hours to spend goofing off on the Internet/playing video games/watching tv, as you age the time disappears. It gets sucked up by job responsibilities, family responsibilities, and, eventually, health issues. Although your available time lessens, your income grows– so it starts to make sense to shell out some cash in order to simplify obtaining something that, yeah, you could get cheaper (or free) if you had the time to spend to do so.

Case in point: recently I was planning for a flight to Los Angeles, and I wanted to put some episodes of Monk on my iPod to watch while 30,000 feet above ground. (Been a bit behind, as the show airs when I’m in the middle of evening Mom duties.) I had recorded a bunch of episodes to my DVR, and figured I could get them off the DVR, onto my computer, and thus to my iPod in an easy enough, time-friendly way. Turned out to be a giant time-suck.

Oh, sure, it was easy to get the episodes onto a DVD-r; took perhaps 15 minutes, all told. However, to convert them to .avi took about 6 hours. Once I found a freeware program to convert the .avis to iPod format (which took an hour or so, since I have a fussy computer and not every program wanted to work on it), it was taking several hours to convert just one episode. And as it was 10 a.m., and I had to leave the house for my flight at 2 p.m., there was no way I was going to have a video-ed up iPod for the flight.

I broke down and paid iTunes $2/episode. Took half an hour to download, perhaps 10 minutes to throw onto the iPod. I had great entertainment for both flights, and I was out less than the cost of an average DVD. It was totally worth it to me.

Lest you think I’m some sort of freakazoid, let me recount (badly) a discussion I heard this past week on the radio on The Ed Schultz Show. Big Eddie was all about legal vs. illegal downloads in light of the RIAA listing the biggest college campus offenders re illegally downloading music. He had a woman caller going on about how she didn’t understand why these college kids couldn’t pony up the 99¢ per song at iTunes or Napster or Rhapsody etc. Schultz tried to defend the kids by saying that they were students and thus poor. The woman countered with how her 10-year-old daughter and her friends all were one with iTunes and had no problem shelling out a fifth or so of their weekly allowance for a song.

While listening to the exchange, two things occurred to me:

  1. Using corporate-sanctioned methods for accessing media is easy– and if you have to pay, so what?
  2. The 13-30 demographic, developmentally, wants to “stick it to The Man” (as they’d say in the 1960’s). Their age almost requires rebelling against authority, to aid in the establishment of a separate self from their parents, their peers, society at large. It’s a crucial part of the maturing process. Therefore, wanting stuff for free, even if illegally gained, is right up their alley. It’s a big “up yours” to Establishment by getting stuff they didn’t pay for.

So, again, I have to conclude that the desire for illegally free media is a function of age, and has been constant for several decades. In other words, the only reason corporate America (or corporate European Union) is getting their knickers in knots is that the ease of current technology allows many more people to circumnavigate the profit structure.

But, like the Swami said in Head, “Why should I speak? For I know nothing.”

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