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Last week I predicted that we may have reached "peak piracy" and over the past few days it's starting to look as if I was right on the money.
Several of the most popular Kodi plug-ins, the ones that allow users to stream unlawfully uploaded material, seem to be on the blink, according to reports.
It seems that the future of Exodus is up in the air right now and one of the most popular support sites for such plugins (TVAddOns) has vanished from the face of the web.
Word on the street is that a lot of those who were providing these plugins and their related support services have got more than a little nervous about the prospect of spending time in jail and so have opted to bow-out of such activities.
So where to from here?
Well it's going to be an interesting few years ahead for piracy and I'm picking that the copyright owners could be in for a very nasty shock.
The problem (for copyright owners) is that technology keeps getting more powerful and less expensive -- something they will find very difficult to fight.
Of course those who own the content do have the ultimate weapon with which to knock pirates out of the game: reasonable pricing and availability. Sadly, history has shown that although the music industry finally wised-up to this power, the TV and movie creators are still living in a dream-world where they honestly believe they can charge the earth for their products and restrict distribution so as to extort even more money out of the market.
Perhaps one day they'll wake up but it'll mean that big-name actors will have to take a huge cut in their earnings (who really deserves $10m+ per movie anyway?) and the studio moguls might have to trim their fleet of supercars by a bit.
What happens if these industries don't wake up to reality?
Well take a look at crowd-funding.
There have been some awfully lame, useless and downright scammy concepts pitched via crowdfunding and far, far too many of them have raised huge sums of money -- sometimes seven or eight digits worth!
Now imagine what would happen if you could make a one-time payment of (say) $300 and get a life-time's access to every and any movie or TV programme you could ever want -- including recent box-office releases.
Imagine also if access to this content didn't even require an internet connection and that for your $300 you actually got a small receiver that you could plug into the USB3 port of your computer to deliver the goods.
What am I talking about?
I'm talking about a cluster of pirate satellites -- or maybe even large balloons (like Google's Loon project).
The biggest problem that piracy faces right now is that the pirates don't own or control the internet. Authorities can seize domain names, block IP numbers and track the originators and users of pirated content (despite VPNs and other mechanisms that only reduce but don't eliminate the risk).
What if the pirates *did* own the distribution network and it could be accessed by anyone, covertly, without any indication that they were doing so?
So let's say some bright entrepreneurial person decides to "go big" with a piracy product.
Run a crowd-funding campaign to create an "alternative media distribution network" based on satellite technology. For your $300 support you get a small SDR-based receiver ($12 to manufacture in volume) and a decrypt key.
If just 10 million people world-wide (probably far fewer than the number of people using Kodi and plugins to pirate stuff right now) were to sign up for this, the amount of capital raised would be in the region of $3 billion.
You can launch a satellite from as little as $10m these days and the best solution would likely be a network of many low-earth-orbit birds so as to give reasonable coverage without the need for large and obvious antennas.From your $3bn you'd need to set aside $120m for the SDRs and another $100m for their distribution. Add another $100K per satellite (for the hardware) and the cost of getting 20 of these birds into orbit could be as little as $2.2 billion. This leaves plenty of change to handle the "operations" side of things.
Operations would consist of uploading a regularly changing dose of content to the onboard memory of the birds such that you could guarantee that the top 10 box-office movies were always available and a wealth of other popular content was also present during at least some part of the day -- as each bird would have a different cache of content which was changed several times a day.
How could this distribution network be mitigated by the content owners?
Well short of shooting down the satellites (an act of international terrorism surely), the only other way would be to set up a huge number jamming transmitters throughout the world, operating on the same frequencies as the satellite downlinks.
It would be very interesting to see whether one industry was given "the right to jam" or was supported by the likes of the US military who are probably the only ones capable of actually shooting down a satellite in LEO. Even if they could shoot down a LEO satellite however, the "space junk" that such an action might create would be a very bad thing.
Maybe they'd just use a very high-powered laser to disable the birds -- who knows?
But hell, it'd be one awfully interesting project and one that is already within the realms of possibility.
How would they get a satellite company to deliver such a payload -- given that none would want to be associated with such illegal activities?
Well the network could be pitched as something altogether different before it was launched and its conversion to a piracy network could be passed off as "an illegal act of hacking".
Alternatively, perhaps our friendly North Korean despot may be interested -- if not from the perspective of earning some valuable cash then at least from the satisfaction he'd doubtless acquire from scoring a victory against the capitalist imperial pigs :-)
Now I'm not predicting that any of this *will* happen... but it is very interesting to ponder the fact that it could.
Would you pay $300 for a life-time's undetectable access to a wealth of video and movie material?
If the answer is "yes" then maybe the movie and TV studios should look at this as a potential opportunity to usurp the pirates and offer that deal themselves.
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