IE Focus | By Pedro Letai, Professor at IE Business School
After the closure of Megaupload, all the people who used its online storage service for their personal files are now unable to access them. They are just one set of innocent parties affected by digital piracy.Perhaps it’s a bit late now to close the stable doors, as the more pessimistic tend to say with regard to piracy on the Internet. Seeing as pessimism has a habit of taking things closer to the point where you just give up, the Megaupload case has offered some of us a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.
On January 19, the FBI closed Megaupload’s download website and detained its head, Kim Schmitz. As I write this, the attorney general has requested that he not be given conditional bail on the grounds that he has enough resources to flee the country. After seeing photos of some of his parties and of some of his assets, the attorney general is not the only one who thinks this. Although Schmitz obviously has to presumed innocent until proven guilty, he would be an odds on favorite in a dodgy character contest.
The angry reaction of the defenders of the social ill known as free access to culture, coupled with the mass elimination of content or even closedown of other accommodation services on the Internet, are enough to make you think that the steps taken are not quite as insignificant as some would have us believe. Meanwhile, cinema revenues in the US have gone up 32% just this week, and video streaming pay sites like Filmin have doubled their traffic in Spain.
It is true that the service Megaupload provided also included a cloud where you could store and exchange files containing photos, notes or mass data with other users. Nevertheless, you can’t just turn a blind eye to the fact that the unquestionable success of the service lay in harboring illegal copies of copyright protected content and distributing them among users. In other words it was a cover or front.
Megaupload users who had personal files in their cloud that they can no longer access have been left terribly unprotected, thus demonstrating that the worrying climax of digital piracy does not only affect authors, artists and producers, but also innocent users who entrust their projects to services with illicit ultimate aims.
The right to access culture, just like the right to have a home, is enshrined in the constitution. But it would be something else if the government were to give away houses, or artists were to work for nothing. Just as capitalism is faltering due to a lack of liquidity, and also to a lack of answers, it would appear the world of culture needs answers of its own in light of an acute need to offer new business models to internet users, and it is better to find them late than never. Spotify and others have set an example by charging very reasonable fees for access to limitless protected content. The world of cinema is also trying to gear up in similar fashion, although film-makers are still more likely to fall victim to shady deals, and it is far more difficult to recoup your money because, as Icíar Bollaín said recently, “All you need to be the next Bob Dylan is a guitar, but you need a lot more than a mobile to be the next Orson Welles”.
In the end, we all need art to feed our souls, although we don’t appreciate its value. Just like a marvelous line from one of Fernando Pessoa’s poems I heard recently, “no quiero rosas con tal que haya rosas (I don’t want roses as long as there are roses)”.
So let’s show some respect for those who supply this content legally, and, as we have seen in the case of Megaupload, for ourselves as well. Now that really is important.