Friday, August 3, 2012

Good bits and bad bits

There seems to be this notion that there are "good" ways of downloading entertainments for free and "bad" ways.  I'd like to explore that a bit today.

For example, playing a music video on Youtube is a "good" way, for some reason.  For example, let's check out Snoop Lion's (née Dogg) actually quite nice new reggae song "La La La" on Youtube:

You go and listen to it on Youtube and you're all good, right? (Or Pandora or Spotify or Shoutcast...any of the "legitimate" services)

But let's study what actually happens when you do this.

Because you cannot listen or view a file which does not exist on your computer, you must actually transfer that data from the Youtube's servers to your machine.  It is physically impossible for you to listen to this song otherwise.  It must be present for you to hear it.  I don't know how to stress this enough.

So what actually happens is Firefox downloads it in the background into a "temporary directory"*.  It is called a temporary directory because the application (say Firefox) periodically cleans out old data from there.  Other than that, it has no special characteristics--it's just computer files like any other.

Every web page you look at, every image in every page, gets downloaded to these temporary directories.

Now, what if I am brazen enough to go play it out of that directory?

Does that make me bad?

What if I...perish the thought...copy it out of that directory?

Is that a crime against humanity?

How about if I watch it on some other video site and I have no idea of the provenance of the file?  What if I follow a link a friend sends me?

You better watch out.

Now let's get a little weird.  What if I download the exact same file from The Pirate Bay?

Well, har, obviously now I'm a filthy pirate.

So you can see--bits are in one spot, good; bits in another spot, bad.  You get a set of bits one way for free, it's good; another way, bad.  Here's a handy chart (I have a feeling this chart is going to need to grow over time):

So shut up and click in the Youtube in your browser, sheeple, or you're very bad people.

Why is it again that these guys are running around suing people and trying for vast censorship powers over the internet?

Expanding fair use simply describes the current reality.

*it's actually a bit more complicated than a simple file in a directory these days, but it's just a matter of software and not really relevant to the discussion (it's trivial to capture sound from the DRM'd services like Pandora as well, because the sound, as I say, has to be present to be listened to!)

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