The Big Online Rip-Off


By Danuta Kean at

In the face of the burgeoning power and influence of internet venture capital, and illegal filesharing sites, Danuta Kean rallies writers to bring their fighting skills up to date.

You have to hand it to the editors of Wikipedia – half of whom are under 28 – youthful rebellion never looked like this. By instigating a 24-hour blackout of the service in January, they became the first generation in history whose rebellion left corporations and venture capitalists clapping their hands in glee.

Glee, because the protest made it harder for democratically elected governments to pass legislation strong enough to protect ripped-off writers, musicians and other artists from those who profit from stolen intellectual property. Why? Because the blackout, which shut down the online encyclopaedia, was in protest against two bills before the US Congress: Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA). The publicity it generated shook politicians so hard they quietly dropped the proposed legislation.

And that sets a disturbing precedent for any government that acts against online piracy. Because it shows the enormous power wielded by the 1,800 editors consulted about the blackout, even though not all of them are based in the USA. These editors have effectively mobilised a mass protest and media coverage (an estimated 115,000 websites supported the protest) that made politicians look like advocates for internet censorship.

Contrary to popular belief, illegal filesharing sites are not shoestring operations run by penniless kids. They require vast servers to host stolen content. They also require huge bandwidth to handle the illegal downloads. Even start-ups – let’s call them small town dealers – need computer equipment, software and broadband services that cost considerable amounts of money. To pay for their operations, traffickers use two revenue models: paid-for premium subscriptions that enable faster downloading; and display advertising – often supplied through Google Ads – which appears as content downloads.

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About Author

Danuta Kean is Books Editor of Mslexia and a respected publishing expert and journalist. Her work appears regularly in national newspapers, including the Financial Times and Independent on Sunday. She is a regular speaker at festivals, interviewing authors and revealing the inner workings of a trade that seems opaque to many writers. When not writing she is invariably found at the back of gigs in small venues or looking guilty as she walks past her gym. Follow her on Twitter at @Danoosha.

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