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Harvey Danger knows the battle is over. Harvey Danger knows there's no point in fighting windmills with lances - so Harvey Danger has given up fighting, in the hope that he/she/it can win the war. Harvey, in other words, "gets it."
I have no idea who the musical artist/group Harvey Danger is, and I'd be surprised if anyone reading this did. But Harvey (I feel like I know him/them on a first name basis already) decided to release his group's latest album as an MP3 download - for free. Harvey, in other words, is giving it away.
Why? Simple - Harvey knows that those who are determined to download his latest album will do so from one of the numerous file sharing sites on the Internet, if they're so determined.
"We realize that digital files are the primary means by which a huge segment of the population is exposed to new music," says a press release put out by the group. But Harvey is not a starry-eyed idealist; he is giving away his music in order to sell more of it!
"We also believe that plenty of music lovers in the world will buy a record once they've heard it - whether via radio or computer," Harvey says. "There's an inherent qualitative difference at work - not only between MP3s and CDs, but between clicking a mouse and finding a record on the shelves of a good record store." And Harvey puts his money where his mouth is; the album is there for the taking at http://www.harveydanger.com/downloads.
Harvey is not the only musical artist who has come to the realization that downloading and/or experiencing music on-line is here to stay.
Even "mainstream" Top 40 artists like Gwen Stefani now "get it." Stefani has just sold the millionth download of her hit "Hollaback Girl," despite its ubiquitous presence on file sharing sites - which proves that it's not so much about the money, but about the instant access and convenience. When Top 40 singers can sell a million songs in the face of competing products fans can acquire for free, it's pretty clear that the battle - attempting to protect digital rights by suing people for downloading files - is over.
And what works for music will work for video and movies, as soon as the people in charge of digital rights management begin using a little creative thinking about how to earn a profit in the digital future. Like Harvey Danger and Gwen Stefani, the management of large movie and TV properties will eventually have to come to the realization that the old model - where people shlepped down to the mall to see a movie or to the video store to rent a flick - is a dinosaur.
THE TRICK IS to use the inevitable fact of downloading and file sharing as a method to advance sales and thus earn a profit - as both Harvey Danger and Gwen Stefani, among others, have come to understand.
Because video copying and sharing is already an inexorable fact of life. The same file sharing sites that allow you to download just about every piece of recorded music in existence (I've seen old Caruso opera favorites on-line!) have just about every movie released in the past 20 years available as well.
And there is plenty of software available to copy and convert those movies. A recently released free product, called ShrinkTo5 (http://shrinkto5.com/ default.asp), is among one of dozens of programs available that let you "rip," or copy, DVDs - with the added bonus that the program lets you "shrink" the size of a movie to fit on a DVD you can copy on your home DVD writer and watch on a DVD player attached to a TV. The charm of Shrinkto5 is that it can compress a movie to a smaller size, allowing a file to be saved onto a DVD or even a CD.
ShrinkTo5's Web site discusses the use of the program when copying a DVD under "fair use" terms - i.e., making a backup copy of a DVD that you have purchased (DVDs, of course, are notorious for being sensitive to scratches and other impairments that can totally mess up their ability to play properly). Whether or not fair use - meaning that you have a right to protect what you buy with a backup - applies to DVDs has not been disputed by any court anywhere; it's the copying of copyrighted content that is at issue.
So using Shrinkto5 to backup a home DVD is fine, and the program will not work on its own to convert copyright-protected commercial DVDs (in order to do that you need to download a readily available decryptor add-on for Shrinkto5 called machinist.dll, available on lots of Web sites). Which is why the media companies won't make any attempt to shut down Shrinkto5, as they have with some other copy programs, like DVDXCopy (http://www.dvdxcopy.com).
But we're nobody's fool. The main reason you'd want a program like Shrinkto5 is to shrink a DVD download ripped by a friendly file-sharing buddy that was bigger than the standard 4.7 GB you can record on single sided/single layer standard DVDs, or to copy a commercial movie recorded on a larger format size DVD (a good discussion of the issues involved is available at http://www.cdfreaks.com/article/114).
Shrinkto5 is by no means the only tool available to copy and compress commercial DVDs, as the previous link makes clear - but it is currently the easiest to use, free tool on-line right now. And it's "selling" (or rather, getting downloaded) like hotcakes.
Is it wrong to copy protected movies or music for personal backup/use, or even to give away free to friends?
Most of us are familiar with the reasons against the practice, but the issue is by no means clearcut, at least according to groups like the Electronic Freedom Foundation (http://www.eff.org), which makes a point of challenging restrictions to attempts to limit rights of consumers of digital properties.
But there's no question that it's just a matter of time before the movie people get on the bandwagon and figure out ways to accommodate people who want to see the latest movies and are willing to pay - if they can access the movie through the Internet. Eventually, Hollywood is going to set up something like what's available for fans of Indian movies at http://bollywood.tv - where, for a flat monthly fee, you can watch dozens of Bollywood productions on-line.
Interestingly, the EFF has defended individuals against Apple, whose iPod, many believe, has done more to abet music downloading than all the computer file sharing programs altogether (given that the iTunes store with its 99 cent songs downloads is the most popular method of filling up those vast gigabytes of iPod space).
But it seems that Apple itself has started to "get it;" with the new video iPod, Apple will be allowing users to download TV shows the morning after they are aired (http://www.apple.com/itunes/download). With broadband a fact in almost every connected household, and programs like Shrinkto5 abounding, it's just a matter of time before you'll have the option of watching the latest Hollywood blockbuster on your TV a week after it's released in the comfort of your own home - without having to shlep down to Blockbuster in order to rent it!