Let’s take a moment and reflect on the past. Remember Napster? If you don’t, that’s okay – it’s existence was well celebrated, but short lived. Napster was one of the first peer-to-peer sharing sites that emphasized on MP3s. While it still exists in some form (it was bought by Roxio) the concept was widely disputed by musicians, and deemed illegal based on copyright infringement. One aspect remained – the music business realized that our generation enjoyed music that was available to them immediately, and at our control. Enter iTunes, which made songs digitally available and totally yours for the price of 99 cents each.

The concept of peer-to-peer sharing can be known as pirating, and it’s still quite relevant today. While you might not have ever torrented a file, you probably know someone who has – one of the bigger torrenting sites, uTorrent, gets 369,000,000 global visitors per month. Every once in awhile you might see a news story about someone facing criminal charges for illegally downloading – for example, in 2009, a woman named Jammie Thomas-Rasset became the first person sued by the RIAA for copyright infringement to actually take the case to trial (instead of settling out of court) after a mere 24 downloads from the peer network Kazaa. She was originally asked to pay $1.9 million in all. Kind of ridiculous, for probably an hour and a half of listening pleasure. Just this year, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear her appeal, but agreed to a “lesser” fee of $222,000. Being from a single-income household, Thomas-Rasset pretty much said straightforward that she can’t pay the record companies such a ridiculously high amount.

However, just like how all of those who share aren’t terrible criminals, all pirating isn’t necessarily for naught. In fact, some people love when their shows and albums get torrented, since it means that more people have access to the art they create.

The most surprising case of pirating-envy came from Netflix this week, when they announced that they choose their catalog of movies and television shows based on what shows get pirated the most. Make sense, right?

“Netflix is so much easier than torrenting. You don’t have to deal with files, you don’t have to download them and move them around. You just click and watch,” Netflix CEO Reed Hastings reportedly said.

By monitoring these activities, Netflix can easily see which shows get the most attention – and if they buy the shows to air, they’ll likely get more subscribers who’d rather pay a small fee to watch at their convenience, and end the risk of ending up with a mess like Thomas-Rasset. Here’s one example: Netflix decided to buy the rights to the TV show Prison Break in the Netherlands based on how many people were pirating it there. Ted Sarandos, the Chief Content Officer at Netflix, believes that “people are honest” and value a positive, easy experience that Netflix would offer over pirating sites. In the future, Netflix could pull an iTunes – if they can better predict the shows that are getting buzz, they can possibly lessen the need of pirating sites all together.

What do you think of Netflix monitoring your online activity? If you currently torrent files, would a wider selection from Netflix make you stop?

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