File sharing may be curbed in America but impossible to stop overseas

Yunchang Kwak

Napster, Kazaa or Kazaa Lite to the elite few, iMesh, BearShare, eMule, BitTorrent, these are just some of the names of popular file sharing programs five years ago before RIAA and the MPAA cracked down on most them.

With the recent death of Limewire, ordered by the U.S. courts to shut down, it seems that the control of piracy is almost complete by big wig corporations. Hold this thought for a second.

Now picture China back in 2006.

I was in Beijing for an international Model United Nations conference. People come from around the Asia region to basically have a mock United Nations session for three days in a row.

Some of my friends went into a flea market. A few guys and I waited on a chartered bus because we weren’t too interested in buying counterfeit clothing. We talked amongst ourselves for a bit then came a Chinese man who asked if we were interested in buying bootleg DVDs.

The price? A modest six yuan per DVD; at the time equivalent to 75 cents. I didn’t care for the vast DVD selection, but I remember my chemistry teacher being quite excited at the prospect of buying a few cheap bootleg DVDs.

Piracy will always be an ongoing problem. These corporations can start trying any methods they can to stomp out piracy. But frankly, they’re targeting the wrong region. Piracy is probably a lot more rampant in developing countries with low incomes, like China. People may be compelled to pirate in China because they simply can’t afford the products.

The minimum wage for a factory worker in Beijing is around 960 yuan per month or about $140. It seems enough to get by on for basic necessities, but it makes electronics out of reach for the typical Chinese worker. I’m sure most people make more than $140 in two weeks working part-time in college.

Microsoft actually has a version of Windows 7 called Windows 7 Starter, aimed at poorer countries. Allegedly the software is sold cheaply, but also imposes some serious restrictions on usability, such as not being able to change the wallpaper. Windows Vista Starter was even worse when it imposed a limit of three programs running at a given moment. So why opt for this version of Windows that’s cheaper when all you need is a few hours’ worth of time to get the full version from the Internet?

What’s interesting is that because we actually have money to buy things in the western hemisphere, I’m willing to bet a lot of people who pirate music or video games end up buying it legally sooner or later.

With the death of popular peer-to-peer clients, more people are turning to other forms of piracy online. In the form of — ironically what got Napster in trouble in the first place — dedicated servers. These servers exist in Europe are perfectly legal because the companies feign ignorance, saying that its users are responsible for file uploads and so companies like RIAA or the MPAA usually can’t touch them.

That’s not to say that I support piracy. People work hard to create entertainment content, and it’s not easy and especially not cheap. So these guys genuinely deserve money for their hard work. How would you feel if you were selling a book that you wrote, only to realize that people are just distributing electronic copies without your acknowledgment?

But how should piracy be fought? Should it be at the expense of freedom on the Internet? Maybe a little regulation couldn’t hurt and maybe pricing that’s cheaper and more fair for mass market consumption might do the trick, but suing 12-year-olds shouldn’t be the way to go about doing it.