The Superiority Of Piracy

“The Equipment is Evenly Distributed”, from Pirates!

In Sri Lanka I can't watch football online even if I'm willing to pay for it. Paid services like FUBO won't even let me sign up. Instead, I have to get a satellite TV connection and they have to drill a hole in my wall and I don't want to do that. So I just got pirate IPTV instead. I pay some guy in Battaramulla $20 and he hooks me up with 1,000 channels for six months at a time. Piracy is actually the most efficient market mechanism, brutally suppressed by the Free™ Market.

Take streaming, please. When I was in college, we furiously torrented everything possible over unmonitored and unlimited uni connections. Like a bunch of monks furiously copying manuscripts, we were copying culture and making a million servers bloom. Torrenting is a highly efficient algorithm where, rather than going to one central server, you download from hundreds of other people that have the file. While you were downloading 03_Eminem_lose-yourself.mp3 you were simultaneously uploading it to someone else. Consumers became servers and the network became stronger as it scaled. Capitalism couldn't have that and sued this technology to the fringes of the Internet.

As a replacement, the 'free market' (which seems to rely an awful lot on coercion) has reassembled a highly inefficient and more expensive version of cable TV. Now you have to buy $100 worth of subscriptions to get what you used to get for $50. The consumer benefit is time-shifting, but there are other ways to do this (like a VCR). The corporate benefit is the point, and that's same as it ever was. Shifting money from your pocket to theirs, with the added benefit of shafting the actual artists even more.

Protecting 'intellectual property' owners was supposed to protect artists, but this was all just mendacious marketing. Companies have, instead, used streaming to cut residuals and benefits that used to accrue to the crew. The Squid Game creator, for example, was paid on contract and gets no benefit from the franchise making over a billion dollars now. For millions of 'plays', musicians get a few dollars. They're making creators contractors and have taken consumers for fools.

Technically, the technology they have invested billions into is actually worse. Whereas torrenting is more like the design of the original internet (decentralized), streaming is the equivalent of everyone in the world going to three or four Blockbuster outlets at the same time. This is a huge engineering problem created by very poor fundamental engineering. Everybody has to hammer the same international servers for the same file, rather than just getting it from their neighbors. Whereas torrenting gets better the more popular a file is, streaming gets worse. An entire generation of software engineers has been devoted to optimizing an inherently suboptimal solution, and one which consumes a lot more energy and resources.

With torrenting, there could have been an improved model of content distribution in general, but that would have meant changing the model of wealth distribution, which they did not want. So we end up with this deranged recreation of cable TV, except more expensive, energy intensive, and with the workers paid even less. Literally the only feature benefit people are getting is time-shifting and more choice, which you could do with a VCR and a Blockbuster card decades ago. The entire streaming ecosystem is, in fact, the stifling of innovation so it could fit into a stale old business model.

Of course, it's not all coercion. They are fundamentally selling us entertainment. So once the lawmakers they've bought off legislate a highly restricted market into the town square, the services compete on content and convenience. And for a while—while they were following the business model of predatory pricing—they gave consumers a lot, and now very conveniently. There was really cool stuff on streaming, and you could watch it whenever you wanted. This turned out to be a bit of a bait and switch as content fractured and stopped producing much worth watching, but I still use streaming services because that's what it is these days.

The difference, however, is that I'm not supposed to use most streaming services. My island is generally left floating at sea, and we have to resort to piracy. Sri Lanka is a digital rights wasteland, most streaming services aren't available here and perhaps never will be. Many services, like Disney, won't even take my money and those that do, like Netflix, give us different content. So this 'free' market forces people like me into either VPNs or piracy. I would actually rather pay the corrupt for the convenience, but this isn't even an option for me. So I sail with the pirates, out of necessity.

And this, the nether regions of the technology, is where the real innovation happens. In Sri Lanka, you can call a guy for a full bootleg Indian satellite TV connection or all those channels over the Internet (IPTV). This has been thrust on us by market forces, which won't sell us the things. These 'dodgy' services, once you get over the weirdness of setting them up, are actually better. You have a human 'customer service agent' that you can call whenever, you get all the channels you want, and it's much cheaper.

If you want to do it all yourself, of course, torrenting is still alive and kicking. It's inundated with pop-ups and butt-shaking ads, making it impossible to use around children, but I still use it occasionally. The Internet is still a window to much of human creation, as long as you're willing to close 45 windows first. When it comes to preservation of content, these 'pirates' are actually doing yeoman work. While modern studios are destroying films for tax write-offs, one person can preserve and share a film from their computer and services like the Internet Archive (which has been sued) do this professionally. Like a bunch of monks furiously copying manuscripts, pirates actually preserve the culture that copyright holders sit on and neglect like incorporated dragons.

People talk about the sharing economy, which is a joke. The real sharing economy is piracy and all the money is in suppressing it. The investor class created all these expensive walled gardens for what would have grown on its own, and lied saying they were doing it for the underpaid gardeners. Luckily there's a very easy way around this on a personal level. Just message my guy in Battaramulla.