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How Piracy and Pornography Drive Technology

Over the years piracy and pornography have played accidental roles in defining the direction of technology and creating new commercial business models. I want to state that this article is not advocating piracy or pornography, but shows how it unintentionally drives technological and business innovation, by influencing customer buying decisions.

Throughout history sexual content has influence language, art (e.g. sculptures, drawings, paintings, etc.), printing (Pietro Aretino's Postures (1524)), photography, film, cable, telephone, computer (e.g. content and games), VHS, DVD, Internet Streaming. The basic appeal of sexual content has help standardize technologies when there are media format wars such as VHS vs. Beta. Its often speculated the VHS won this format war because the pornography industry backed the VHS standard, because Sony refused to allow sexual content on the Betamax system.

With the birth or copyright law, came the unintentional afterbirth of piracy. There is a quote from the hacker ethic where the writer states that "all information should be free".  Even though most people know that stealing content (e.g. books, movies, music, software, etc.) is wrong they will still do it anyways for several reasons.

Most casual pirates believe that they're not hurting anyone by what they do.  Others pirate content because they're not willing to pay for the material or can't afford it.  While others pirate content because of its unavailability, or they can't access it legally on the device in which they want to watch it on.

Piracy like pornography has been around for a long time, but has only really recently started to create new business models. For example, piracy based around technologies like BitTorrent led to the rise of legal movie streaming services like NetFlix. There are rumors that Steve Jobs was inspired by the success of Napster which led to the rise of the legal music services like the iTunes Store.

You also have to give Steve Jobs credit for being the influential force in driving two fundamental models that contributed to the success of iTunes and the capability to legally download music. The first was the ability to purchase only the tracks you want, and the second was the ability to buy them each for $.99 cents.

With the huge rise of video streaming services such as YouTube, new technologies had to be developed to help identify when copyrighted material was uploaded to the service. YouTube developed a heat-map technology that is able to identify when pirated material is uploaded. YouTube also research the effects of people using copyrighted songs in their personal videos and found it had a positive benefit of increasing the legal sales of music.

For more information, check out the following video:Kevin Allocca: Why videos go viral (Kevin Allocca is YouTube's trends manager, and he has deep thoughts about silly web video. In this talk from TEDYouth, he shares the 4 reasons a video goes viral.)

One interesting side note, piracy also gave rise to several side industries (e.g. internet traffic analyzers and filters) and organizations (e.g. SBA, RIAA, etc.) that were also created to help fight against piracy.