lot of us had a pretty good chuckle a few months back when the long-delayed,
much-maligned feature film adaptation of DOA: Dead or Alive washed up on
Google Video and gave us all a day or two of guffaws. The prevailing joke was
that it was the first film to go “direct-to-Google-Video,” but of course, the
truth was that, like so much illicit material, it was pirated and “distributed”
through a link to its location on Google Video that had been passed around like
some real nice la-la. It certainly wasn’t the first, nor will it be the last
full-length movie to enjoy a brief stay at Google. Several current blockbusters
have been found there including Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,
Free or Die Hard
, and just for you early adopters, Hairspray.

course, Google Video, and other sites like YouTube, have been hosting contraband
galore for some time now. While the quality of their videos consistently hovers
between “shit” and “shit that’s been vomited on by piss,” the immediacy, range,
and ease of use has made them indispensible to those crazy kids prowling the
Internets and it’s redefined the medium. Still, with movie studios keeping one
eye on the Hindenberg-esque trajectory of their brothers in the music industry
and one eye on the stale receipts in their own back yard, they can scarcely
afford to ignore this looming threat, and indeed, they consistently request for
Google to remove their material only for it to pop up again in a slightly
altered form. This week, the issue came
to the forefront again with the release of a report from the National Legal and
Policy Center.

you’re searching your mental catalog of piracy watchdog groups and coming up
empty on the NLPC, you’re not alone. It’s a right-leaning “ethics” watchdog
group that tackles such timely threats to America such as Jesse Jackson,
diversity training, and…Diddy. Now, Google is in their hot seat because of
their “lackadaisical approach” to screening content, and they’ve released a
report detailing their iniquities. But while I don’t see any particular agenda
behind the report, it does all seem rather futile. Movie piracy is much more
intensive in the torrent side of the Internet, where nigh-pristine versions of
most films, past and present, can be found without too much effort. As long as
that technology exists and is beyond the control of any central entity, jumping
on the likes of Google or YouTube will have no effect whatsoever except to
drive this further underground.

referenced the music industry, and they’re slowly learning the lesson that the
film biz is faced with. In the late 90s, the music industry had a rare shot to
get ahead of the MP3 download problem by working with Napster, a service which
was pretty much the be-all, end-all of illegal downloading at the time. But
they didn’t get the job done, Napster drifted into obscurity, and torrents
entered the picture, compounding the problem and removing any sort of central
accountability. Now, their eggs are all in the basket of the Apple iTunes Music
Store, which has done a great of boosting the sales of iPods, but little to
make up for the lack of revenue in recent years. While the tens of billions of
downloads they’ve sold sounds impressive on the surface, the math shows that
this works to about 30 songs or so per iPod over the course of four years,
which means the other 29.8GB of data on these devices is getting filled up mostly with
burned material that was already purchased or illegal material that was
downloaded. Additionally, Apple now has most of the leverage and will surely
prioritize what helps them sell hardware over what is best for the music
industry. Not good.

Video and YouTube are about as close to Napster in the video realm as we have
these days. While most of their offerings are lacking in quality, they
represent a portal where studios have a rare chance to start connecting with
the considerable demand to enjoy films online quickly and immediately. I don’t
have a magical answer that will solve all of the questions of pricing, availability,
how much that would piss off theater owners, and all of the other pertinent
questions. I do know, however, that doing nothing (or even offering movies
through iTunes) will also solve nothing, and this situation will only get worse
as broadband connections get broader and iPhones continue to soak up Wi-Fi
access everywhere
. Poo-pooing the lack of ethics sounds good in a report, but
it’s merely a gesture, not a solution. And if movie studios don’t start trying
to work with the current online content gatekeepers, and instead push these
people further underground, history will repeat itself. And I’m sure Steve Jobs
will have no problem controlling the legitimate part of the online
entertainment equation as well. The studios? Not so much.