The Real Weapon Against Internet Downloads

I love “Torchwood.” And I’m not alone.

The “Doctor Who” spinoff has been watched and loved by millions of Brits enjoying a more adult approach to the Doctor’s universe filled with sex, cussing and the campy aliens we have grown to love.

For those of you who like to skip to the end, you might be scrolling down through this very column to see my personal tag at the bottom. I can see your eyebrows lower while you think about what you’re reading, and oh, there it is! Your eyes are widening in realization! Go ahead, ask it! I know you want to!”

“Mike, it says you live in Florida. How the heck are you enjoying the show with millions of other Brits?”

Well, the answer is an easy one, I just am not allowed to answer it. But if the BBC is reading, a couple members of the SyFy Portal staff live in the United Kingdom, and it’s very easy for them to send me DVDs or videotapes, so we’ll just leave it at that. But there are a lot of people, likely tens of thousands of people, who live outside the United Kingdom who are watching the show when officially, it’s not available to them. How are they getting it? Illegal downloads. And just like when Ronald D. Moore and David Eick groaned about the first season of “Battlestar Galactica” airing on Britain’s Sky One making it to American computers through illegal downloads, the BBC is hopping mad about the high-tech piracy that’s taking place over some of its programs.

I don’t blame BBC. Illegal downloads are just that: Illegal. No one needs to spell that out to me, or probably anyone else who actually partakes in such activities. BBC is funded through taxpayer dollars (well, taxpayers in the United Kingdom, not here), and BBC Three – which airs “Torchwood” – is a premium channel paid for by subscribers on top of that. Those outside the United Kingdom are doing nothing to finance the show or the pockets of whoever profits from BBC programming, and that equates to stealing pure and simple.

If we lived in a moralistic utopia, that would be enough to curb a growing problem. But since we live on Earth, that is not the case, and it’s going to take more than a moral conflict to get such activities under control. Just like Napster of a few years ago, it is going to take innovation from the industry (think: iTunes) to nip such pirating in the bud, but BBC may need some tutoring to catch on.

There is a debate taking place on the SyFy Portal message boards – you know, The SyBoards about whether or not BBC should get upset about piracy when they don’t offer alternative, legal means to obtain the programming. In fact, if you want to participate in the debate, you can find the thread right here. It’s hard to tell exactly what the main population thinks, but suffice it to say, many people who do download shows like “Torchwood” through illegal channels likely would download them through legal channels if given the opportunity.

To its credit, BBC is trying to offer such opportunities. The sad part is, it only seems to be happening in the United Kingdom. I don’t have piracy numbers sitting in front of me, but I would bet that most of their piracy takes place outside of the Queen’s empire, and not within its borders. But hey, that’s just me.

Whether there are alternatives or not, there is no ethical justification to illegally download programming. Call me hypocritical if you want, as long as you acknowledge from an ethical standpoint that I am right. Yeah, it stinks that BBC isn’t offering alternatives, but that doesn’t give anyone a license to fill (your hard drive with illegal downloads … hey, James Bond comes out today, what do you expect?) However, it’s hard to overlook the fact that finding the shows is easy, and acquiring them even easier. At high speed Internet connections, you can download an entire episode of “Torchwood” in less time than it takes to actually watch it.

At the same time, I have to re-address the same question I posed back in 2004 when Moore and Eick complained about the “Battlestar Galactica” downloads: Is downloading really as bad as you’re making it out to be? Is complaining about it doing nothing more than introducing such alternative means of acquiring shows to people who may not have known about it otherwise?

In “Battlestar’s” case, the number of downloads for each episode of the first season, by my own personal counts on bit torrent sites that I could find, was something like 80,000 to 100,000 tops. That sounds like a lot, and I’m sure is 80,000 to 100,000 more people than NBC Universal or any showrunner would like to see … publicly. But in the overall scheme of things, those 100,000 viewers represent a small fraction of the entire audience, and if those people like the show, the advanced word-of-mouth buzz – which is far better than even the best commercials you produce – could generate another 500,000 viewers for when the show actually airs. Talk about a publicity tool!

It’s not like studios don’t use those means, either. When Joss Whedon was marketing “Serenity,” I think they had like four sneak previews here in Tampa alone. The theaters were filled, probably about 1,000 screens each. Even if you hit the top 15 movie markets with sneak previews, you still probably let a good 100,000 or more people see the film for free, many of whom probably would’ve bought tickets anyway. But Joss and Universal knew what they were doing. Those 100,000 people would love the film. They would then go to their friends and family and say, “Wow! ‘Serenity’ is coming out in a couple weeks! You have to go see it!'” That buzz would then move on to things like “My sister’s friend saw ‘Serenity’ and said that if we’re not there when it opens, we’ll be left in the dust.”

Are the downloads of shows like “Torchwood” so terrible? Are the numbers so high that they actually have Nielsen families looking for some illegal download site? I doubt it. Yes, it’s wrong. Yes, companies like BBC will continue to complain about it. But you know, deep down, that the buzz generated from this piracy will create a better market for them overseas so that when they try to sell the show to places like SciFi Channel (or even Showtime), they have all that leverage. And any money lost, they’ll earn back 10 pounds to the 1. Don’t know what they call that in the United Kingdom, but here in America, that’s known as “ka-ching.”

Overall, to avoid any drawbacks using the Internet download, it is advisable to only visit websites and platforms that are reliable and trusted just like takethecoupon when you want to buy coupons from different stores. This will protect and make you safe from any loopholes.