MegaUpload relaunched this past weekend as Mega, and much of the Internet has been busy since trying to sign up and test the new network out. PropertyOfZack is posting a new Perspective today written by Jesse Cannon dissecting the service, founder Kim Dotcom, and what it means for music, among many other items. Check out the Perspective on Mega below!
This weekend you’ve probably been discussing whether that weirdo Mormon football player really had an Internet girlfriend, or watching some badass girl go after Osama Bin Laden in the feel good movie of the winter. All the while, you have probably seen all your technologically adept friends buzzing about that real-life-version-of-the-Stay-Puft-Marshmellow-Man-looking-dude-Kim-Dotcom launching a new service called Mega, and subsequently freaking out about it like it may be the apocalypse. Just like the Ghostbusters did when they saw the sugar-filled monster roaming Manhattan. And they have good reason to freak out: Mega is going to bring about a huge change in our culture and possibly the way we all pay for the media we enjoy.
While we all have been able to share files with our friends through IM, YouSendIt, Dropbox or torrents for years, what makes Mega such a mega-game-changer is that it employs many unique features to make sure the government can’t intervene in their service like they did Mr. Dotcom’s previous endeavor, Megaupload/Megavideo, or the many torrent sites that have been recently shut down. Using Megaupload, you were able to upload files — be it books, music or movies — and send the link to your friend. But what was in your Megaupload folder was easily searchable using Google or specialized services like FilesTube. What Mega does differently is that it encrypts (jumbles a code so you can’t see whether you are uploading Zero Dark Thirty or your latest song about how cute your boyfriend looks in skinny jeans) on the uploader’s computer and then uploads it to a cloud where you are able to get a link and send it to all of your friends.
This means that if the government wants to take Mega to task for hosting illegal downloads of, say, Zero Dark Thirty, they can’t actually find all of those downloads since the contents of these downloads are hidden, making it impossible to know that ZDT is actually on the Mega servers. This, along with the fact that Mr. Dotcom gives non-paying users 50GB of storage, makes this site a big fucking deal for file sharing.
Mega’s encryption feature allows those who fear the RIAA or Kathryn Bigelow — ZDT director who went on a suing spree aimed at those who torrented her previous work, The Hurt Locker — coming after them for illegal downloads to share without fear of getting caught. This means that media will be more shared and we all will become less likely to purchase it. If your friends already have ZDT, they can pass it along to you with no repercussions or lawsuits. This, along with an easy to use interface, means that users will be sharing files more than ever. As we have seen as free culture has moved through the world in the past decade and a half, once consumers get used to not paying for media, it’s hard to get them paying again.
If Mega is successful, users will be sharing files more than ever and inevitably not giving money to the filmmakers, musicians and authors who create the media users enjoy. How much “less” is remains to be seen, but it undoubtedly will be less. The subsequent defunding will take away the ability for many of these creators to fund future endeavors, and if free media does become widespread enough, the ability to make a movie with bold productions may become more rare. After all, a movie like The Hurt Locker takes millions of dollars to make: there is no way around that.
We have all seen rants of musicians complaining about fans not paying for their records, but we have all seen many musicians reap the rewards of free music building them a fan base (in fact, I just wrote a book all about that). But filmmakers and authors have a different set of problems. An author doesn’t tour, license his or her writing to commercials or sell cute T-shirts that make your tats look cool. A filmmaker would need to rely on only those profits made from a theatrical release, which are not sustainable and will mean budgets and productions will end up being cut. This means that the quality of films and books is sure to degrade if they are illegally shared and the creators are defunded. It will leave them with little means to make high quality work.
The argument about this sharing is a long and complicated one when dealing with music, which was the first of the arts to get vastly defunded. Musicians turned to other income streams, but this may not be possible in every medium. Streaming services like Netflix and Spotify have made it so it isn’t as convenient to share media through services like Mega, since there is inherent upload and download times in order to get a file with the service. Whereas these streaming services offer users a more immediate and convenient interface to enjoy the media the way they want for a price that gives back to the creators, even if these profits are minimal. If films are made more readily available on these services, Mega could be rendered relatively useless, but that takes a lot of change in the world of film and for books would require an already defunded industry to figure out a new service and payment model.
No matter what, too much unpaid file sharing can harm the culture we live in. If creators can’t fund their endeavors, inevitably there will be fewer media to ingest and it will become of a lower quality. After all, if you enjoy the special effects in The Dark Knight Rises — and the only way a studio can profit is a theatrical release — there may not be the money to make those special effects next time. If you enjoy reading about vampires having sex, and no one is buying those books, the author can’t take off from work for a year to figure out how to make a subject so stupid get read by millions of people.
Mr. Dotcom and many proponents of file sharing culture hope that we will move to a more tip based society: One where when you enjoy watching Zero Dark Thirty, you are able to send some money to Ms. Bigelow in hopes she will make another movie about the struggles of those who protect our country. While we all hated the old days of paying $20 for an album you had never heard or to go see whether or not the latest Transformers movie is a total piece of crap (Spoiler alert: they all suck) or not, this step takes a huge leap over the medium where you are able to sample a work before you decide whether you want to give it money or not. Whether Americans will be altruistic enough to actually donate to what they enjoy has yet to be tested, and if the quality of media does go down, it may help urge us to pay for media in order to get more of it. This test is the inevitable outcome as file sharing becomes easier and easier and Mega may be the catalyst that accelerates this test.
So, can it be stopped? Obviously, the government can enact some legislation to ban services like this from existing. After all, this service presents a huge problem for security since services like Wikileaks that divulge classified government information could now share more easily and with fewer repercussions. Never mind the plans for guns that can be made in a 3D printer or a nuclear bomb. While the government may intervene, if you haven’t noticed, these schlubs get very little done in a fast manner these days. So if they do act, it may be too late since once Mega and its inevitable imitators integrate into the culture, the damage may already be done.
Mr. Dotcom is also facing some serious financial repercussions and jail time for his last Internet endeavor: Megaupload. Film studios still want some payback for all the money he made from ads on his service that you saw while you watched your vampire porn on Megavideo instead of paying HBO money for a subscription. This could take suck the money out of Mega, but odds are not-so-Lil’ Kim was smart enough to establish this venture in a way where it will not be affected by his past indiscretions.
No matter what becomes of Mega, before it is stopped it will indoctrinate more users to free media, changing the culture and will help to sway the minds of users as to whether they should be paying for this media. Whether this will be detrimental to all media creators — be it film makers, musicians or writers — is something no one can predict, but surely this will be another huge march towards a showdown where we see if Americans will freely reward those who make media they enjoy, or they will bankrupt them leaving no one able to fund future endeavors. Dystopia, here we come!
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