The Internet is a Cellphone

The last post I wrote was a lament that the internet-as-a-cellphone wasn’t being fully explored from a technological standpoint.

Today we have the opposite problem: The internet-as-a-cellphone is being legislated as a cultural standpoint. Specifically, Domain Seizure has become the tool of choice to shut down “infringing content”. What is this content? Movies, games, pirated apps, etc.

How did we get here?

The old mode of piracy required a fair bit of infrastructure. A person would typically mail some money though the snailmail and they would typically get a stack of CDs or floppies in return with cracked apps and games on them. Things plunked along this way for a good while as the popularity of usenet declined due to AOL and eventually things went viral to the point where IRC was the mode of distribution. The IRC bots evolved to the point where if the bot didn’t have the software you were interested in, groups had agreed to cross referencing to other bots. The decline of USENET and the rise of IRC corresponded roughly from RadioShack and Circuit City not selling software or parts anymore to advertising software being pre-loaded on the pirated applications.

The movies thing I don’t think anyone saw coming. VHS piracy was as simple as going to blockbuster and renting whatever you wanted for $1 and then going home and wiring up the VCRs. As media moved into the digital realm, it meandered back to mail order DVDs (or the guy on the street corner selling questionable copies in strange languages), CD-Video (popular in asia, never here), MPEG copies on IRC, and the unfortunately named DivX video codec. DIVX players attempted to stem the tide with their dial-up DVD service but I would guess most of them ended up cracked.

Let me digress for a second and point out we forget who or what came before. The chinese looking to circumvent the firewall could learn oodles from the old US piracy market. How many books fit on a DVD? Actual text, I’m talking about, not ebooks. How many cameras come with an SD card now? Who checks all these things versus how much electronic stuff moves in and out of china? The great firewall doesn’t currently censor email as I recall, what about a wget service or a newsnet service with UUENCODED files? This is how the US used to do it and people wrote special mail handlers to reassemble these files, it would work in china. Its how it used to work. I had a DXR2. I bought it after my alpha died with which I used to rip DVDs. Nostalgia.

Somewhere along the way someone figured out the space requirements even for compressed, pirated materials (movies, games) was somewhere around 4GB.  Things plodded along at the 4GB limit for a bit and the movie industry responded by packing “HD Content” into 9GB DVDs with double layers, and finally the whole weird push to blu-ray and HD-DVD came around and blu-ray won because Sony’s pockets are deep enough to pay for a loss leader like that.

Suddenly, things came full circle. TV stalled. Gimmicks for TVs haven’t impressed consumers much because who cares about 3D content if it’s not on demand. Movies suffer the same problem. The issue is the world simply got busier. No-one has a two hour chunk of time to go to the theatre anymore. We don’t even have time to take books off the shelf. Why should we? We read books on our laptops, then the laptop became a tablet, than the table became an ebook reader, then the ebook reader stopped existing and became software on a cellphone. We scaled up the cellphone screen to a tablet again, but these new tablets had enough bandwidth and CPU to do something interesting – they could surf the web, and they could watch video. How big is the new HD AVATAR? 1.2GB. How big is the new HD INCEPTION? 1.4GB. This for full, 1080p content. Samsung said as much with it’s cellphones with the screen, but more importantly the line-out to your actual TV.

This is the other side of the convergence that the new internet is a cellphone.

Now we look at Megaupload and GMAIL and such and 8GB is the norm. 8GB used to be just under what it took to store a DVD. Now 8GB is just enough to store 7 full movies. What’s important is that it’s the norm. It’s an artefact from a time when things were bigger and they could be bigger because we weren’t trying to consume content down small pipes. The movie companies know this but how could they legislate how much storage a particular user has? YouTube doesn’t even care. GMAIL? Why should they make it smaller? MegaUpload? 200MB, but how hard is it to keep a list of 5 URLs to unpack a RAR of a movie? Therein lies the problem. This is basically a bandwidth problem versus a content control problem. Since they (the MPAA/RIAA) can’t control the bandwidth they’ll try to control the content. What’s the best way to do that? Take away their cellphone. One man’s ZIP is another man’s video-codec, what’s the difference between cat and zcat? Compression, but they work the same way. The MPAA/RIAA already subscribes to this new model where the internet is a cellphone, and so everyone crying FREE SPEECH over the whole seizure of URLs doesn’t get it.Taking away a sites URL is like taking away their cellphone. It doesn’t impinge on their free speech, it just takes away the radio tower. Get another cellphone, learn the IPs. Your OS has a hosts file for a reason. It’s no biggie.

Just for reference: I do believe the megaupload files were seized improperly. I think everyone who was using it as a legitimate document repository should sue. I just don’t think the URL seizure is illegal nor amoral and reveals a profound misunderstanding of how the internet works.


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