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Wayne Rosso, the long-time outspoken P2P exec, pulled out of efforts to reformulate The Pirate Bay earlier this week, as first reported by CNET. Swedish public company Global Gaming Factory had announced yet-to-be-executed plans to acquire the enormous legally troubled file sharing site and tracker last month. Rosso explained to us this week that he walked away because, “The the deeper the discussions got with [Global Gaming CEO Hans] Pandeya the more obvious it became that there was a lack of a real plan to move forward.”
Every day there is a new development in The Pirate Bay saga, and none of them bring confidence in the site’s potential to exist long-term. While our aim is not to give him a self-promotional platform, we figured it was worth asking Rosso what exactly it would take to make a legal P2P service work. Turns out Mr. Bombastic has some solid ideas.
Rosso said the allure of TPB’s 20 million file-sharers had already drawn serious interest from major labels in the short time he’d been affiliated with GGF. However a key factor of a successful service, and one that didn’t seem to be an option for The Pirate Bay, would be to switch over from an infringing offering to a non-infringing offering at precisely the moment when new owners take over. If a new owner had to turn off the tracker while prepping an alternative, a huge chunk of users would depart and never come back. And on the flipside, leaving the tracker on under new ownership means assuming its liabilities. Rosso emphasized that a new site owner would have to be rigid about copyright law; any grey area makes the project a non-starter.
To be fair, Rosso has yet to get a licensed P2P startup off the ground, having tried with Grokster, Optisoft and Mashboxx. The big obstacle, he said, was funding. Securing the licenses to launch an authorized music service would cost $20 to $30 million, he said. That’s far more than the $5 million GGF may or may not have on hand.
Launching a legal video file-sharing service, said Rosso, is probably out of the question, because it would require contending with TV licensing processes. He joked that launching an authorized P2P video service would probably cost more than the U.S. economic recovery plan. “The licensing is so complicated, with so many different owners and producers, and so many windows for release in so many regions in the world. You’re talking about a real analog model. It’s such a morass now, I don’t even know if it’s possible.” Besides, added Rosso, the technology for audio filtering is much more advanced.
Lastly, said Rosso, such a service would have to take a smart and consumer-friendly approach to search, discovery and personalization. True enough. But where his theory falls down is that Rosso underestimates the challenge of converting file-sharers to paying customers. Once you start locking up content with DRM, many of those 20 million users won’t even look back.
Will Rosso ever get to live his dream of turning P2P legit? He’s still looking for that opportunity, he said. But he added, “I’m like Groucho Marx, would you want to join a club that would have me as a member?”