Thursday, 9 February 2012
Piracy At The VEVO PowerStation, Sundance 2012
Over the last decade the major music labels — and their trade organization, the Recording Industry Association of America — have established a repeated pattern of attacking consumers in the name of squelching illegal file-sharing. Piracy, they claim, has been the industry’s undoing, accounting for an over 50% drop in sales since 1999 (the industry likes to discount the impact of legal per-song music downloads via services like iTunes, and the myriad other changes facilitated by the rise of high-speed Internet connections).
Their efforts to combat piracy are often draconian: threatening tens of thousands of people with lawsuits claiming obscenely high damages; attempting to coordinate their threats with consumers’ ISPs; and, most recently, supporting legislation like SOPA and PIPA that would undermine the fabric of the Internet. Hell, Universal once pulled down a 30 second YouTube video of a dancing baby because the baby had the audacity to dance to a Prince song.The event’s redeeming factors, at least as far as this reporter was concerned, were the tasty hamburger sliders and the Patriots v. Ravens playoff game on ESPN that was playing throughout the venue. That is, until the game was rudely interrupted — not by a commercial break, but by a bizarre buffering warning.
In hindsight, I should have noticed it immediately. The shoddy video quality and jitters clearly didn’t belong to an HD feed, despite the ESPN America HD logo in the lower right hand corner. And then there’s the fact that ESPN America isn’t even available in US markets (it’s a UK-based station).
But between the blaring music and having James Marsden (Cyclops!) standing three feet in front of me, it wasn’t until the pirate flags were fully unfurled that I finally noticed them. First the buffering message appeared, then a mouse cursor — controlled by forces unseen — flew onto the TV to exit out of full-screen mode and refresh the page. I think it may have also closed a few popover ads.
At this point I tried to figure out the origins of the feed. As far as I could tell, the stream itself was coming from a Spanish-language live-streaming site called TuTele.tv. But that feed had apparently been accessed via a site called Frontrow.tv, which is itself an aggregator of live sports streams. At first glance, neither site looked particularly trustworthy.As for who actually decided to play the stream, or why, VEVO says the public had access to the computer being used so they can’t say for sure who exactly was responsible. Which is dubious (and almost certainly spin) — there was clearly someone actively controlling the computer, because they refreshed it when the connection stalled, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a random attendee who was taking the helm. Must have been one of those nasty pirates.
In any case, were it the music industry that was on the other side of this, you can be sure they’d dismiss all of the aforementioned explanations without a second thought. And then they’d probably assess damages in the realm of $20,000 per down.
We’ve reached out to ESPN to ask if it will be pursuing legal action against VEVO, Continuum, or any of the other companies involved with the event.