Innovation, piracy and change in digital media

Monday 22nd April 2013
Article written by: Thomas Huthwaite

In the late 1990s, several technological advancements changed the face of digital media forever.  At the forefront of these was the advent of MP3: a means of compression for high-quality music.  Still using this technology, consumers are able to store and share entire digital libraries at a fraction of the time, and using a fraction of the storage space, previously required.  The WALKMAN became history in the face of the iPod.

In 1999, the concept of file sharing became hugely popular with the release of Napster, a software program allowing users around the world to share their entire MP3 libraries with each other for free.  At its peak, Napster had 26.4 million users.  Unsurprisingly, Napster and its creators were ultimately sued, resulting in the system being shut down in 2001.  In its place sprung up hundreds of free P2P software programs – today’s equivalent being BitTorrent, with an estimated 150 million active users at any given moment.

In recent years, we’ve also seen the rise and fall of MegaUpload, now reincarnated as, the rise, fall and resurrection of The Pirate Bay, and an increased use of illicit streaming websites, particularly for TV series.

But it’s not all bad news for copyright owners, with iTunes recently surpassing 40 billion unique downloads (with nearly 20 billion in 2012 alone), Netflix and Quickflix providing legitimate alternatives to DVD rental, and various online streaming services such as Spotify drawing in a substantial number of global subscribers.  The digitisation of media has extended to books, with eBooks now comprising a considerable portion of publishers’ markets, and the Kindle eReader selling at rates exceeding 1 million units per week in 2012’s Christmas period.

The face of our media is changing; are you changing with it?

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