Blog Post

The New Generation of Video Pirates

Oftentimes, it seems like the entertainment industry is going after the wrong copyright infringers: grandparents who didn’t know what the teenagers were doing with their PCs. And today’s WSJ shows that the genie is even more out of the bottle than you may have suspected. Kevin J. Delaney reports on small entities such as, which are offering (original) Napster-like services for TVs and movies. They may be small shops, run by a handful of people and supported by advertising, but they’re attracting large audiences. Hitwise reports that, one of these gateways, “was the 20th most-visited site in the U.S. for multimedia entertainment in March, just behind Viacom Inc.’s IFilm and ahead of Napster and other mainstream sites. …, run by three teenagers in Germany, was No. 43, just ahead of Sony’s Grouper video-sharing site.”

As with the peer-to-peer networks, it’s hard for copyright holders to put the kibosh on an infinite number of sites that are merely sets of links. Closing down a site has no impact on the individual files, because they are so widely dispersed, not just across computers but across jurisdictions. It’s extremely easy to recreate and maintain a list across multiple locations. Delaney runs through the various legal, legal-enforcement, and jurisdiction issues (plenty of the sites are run outside of the U.S.). The MPAA is all over this, as you’d imagine — but everyone acknowledges that those trying to shut down these sites are playing whack-a-mole: One goes down and a few more pop up. These sites are clearly more dangerous to the MPAA than individuals, because they’re explicitly in the business of sharing copyrighted material, but it’s unclear how much more dangerous: “Each gateway has only a small fraction of the roughly 50 million U.S. viewers who watch video on YouTube monthly.” And those behind the sites know they’re on the edge legally but don’t see any option: “In any court of law I’m sure we’d be found guilty,” says one. “But how else are you going to put something together?”