Those of you with long memories (i.e. capable of reaching back to 2009 - that's a long time in the e-world) may recall that I made a fuss on Sky News about the looming threat of book piracy. This was in response to a panellist on Litopia After Dark who drew our attention to the easy availability of many top-ten titles on the fledgling Scribd.
Scribd have cleaned up their act since then. The general perception in publishing seems to be that piracy isn't currently a major problem - and if it ever becomes so, then we can just carry on playing "Whack-a-Mole" with DMCA takedown notices. Someone posts an illegal file, and we just whack 'em with a takedown notice. Nice and simple.
Check out what's happening to the movie industry at the moment, and you'll get a taste of what's in store for us any day now.
Here's the headline: "Piracy 1.0" has evolved into "Piracy 2.0". The hydra has been decapitated. Now the real fun begins.
Piracy used to be a fairly grubby business for the end-user. You had to visit obviously-dodgy websites, or face installing some sort of Torrent client. Either way, you knew you were doing something wrong (and yes, I know there are legitimate uses for Torrents - but I'm not talking about them here).
With the recent growth of content aggregators/site scrapers such as Navi-X, a crucial separation has occurred between pirate and plunder. The end user no longer has to connect to a dodgy website or install nefarious software. Granted that someone, somewhere, must originally and illegally upload the pirated file. But here's the difference - today's consumer of pirated material consumes it through an opaque veil of deniability. Navi-X, for example, has a gorgeous, glossy interface that looks anything but illicit. It offers a ton of legit audio and video programming to consume at the click of a mouse. Some of these playlists are official RSS feeds from around the web; some are user-generated playlists that contain pirated material. Who's to know which is which? The end-user certainly doesn't know - and just as certainly doesn't want to know. As far as they're concerned, it's all just part of the vast media soup that is the internet. Click and consume.
That's the evil genius of programs such as Navi-X. They've taken the guilt out of piracy.
Will the e-book business be crucified by the impact of next-gen content aggregators - or will we, miraculously, be saved from looting - like Waterstones was in Clapham Junction?
I think we have to assume that we will indeed be affected. The only conceivable reason for thinking that this won't affect us is that we have ceased to be economically significant - surely an even worse fate.
We need to get ready for Piracy 2.0 now.
Today's tools won't work.
Let's start discussing what will.
Pic by dr XeNo