I recently hooked up with Speedy Gonzales and tossed my principles to the wind.
There’s that famous Looney Tunes episode where Speedy repeatedly sprints over the border and past Sylvester the cat to score cheese from the Ajax Cheese Factory for his compadres.
This 1955 cartoon is the perfect analogy for a battle that currently rages between the popular media industry and consumers.
Obviously, Sylvester is the massive media industry that produce and distributes such fare as movies, TV shows, and music.
We consumers are the mice of the world. We want Sylvester’s cheese. And we want it delivered right to our hard drive with minimal impediments.
And Speedy? He’s a friend of my sister. Or, as one hombre mouse quips in the cartoon, “Speedy is a friend of evreebodiees seeester!”
And that might be true, but for the purposes of this analogy, Speedy is the BitTorrent network of peer-to-peer file sharing.
In other words, BitTorrent is the easiest and fastest way to, well, access stuff like TV shows and movies over the internet.
I used to stick my chin in the air and declare with noblesse oblige that I would never breach the unspoken ethical covenant between a consumer of artistic media and its creator.
But, come on. Sylvester is taking his sweet time to provide me even a nibble of gorgonzola. And, man, I’m really hungry for cheese.
So Speedy and I, we went on a date the other night. I won’t go into details but, well, I lost my morality to that fast mouse.
It all started when a friend revealed the contents of his external hard drive to me. It was a veritable treasure trove of movies and TV shows. Full seasons of Lost. Films that are still in theatres, like Atonement, I am Legend, and No Country for Old Men.
It had all come from BitTorrent.
My sense of morality was shattered. I knew this was wrong. This was evil. But, dammit, I was hungry for cheese.
So my friend referred me to Speedy Gonzales.
That night, I downloaded a BitTorrent client for my Mac.
I had been planning on going to the theatre to see Juno that night.
Instead, at lunch time, I started to download it through BitTorrent. Before I’d finished an afternoon of work, I had the movie file on my hard drive.
So, I didn’t burn gas to get to the theatre. I didn’t lay out any cash for uncomfortable seats and stale, greasy popcorn.
I settled on my couch and enjoyed the movie in the comfort of my own home.
The scary thing was, even as Sylvester works so hard to keep the cheese from the mice, BitTorrent is ridiculously effective at delivering it.
But you won’t download the media from the web site. Instead, you’ll download a small “tracker” file.
Step three: open the tracker file in your BitTorrent client. Now the movie, TV show, or whatever you’re after will start downloading.
The tracker file, in essence, is a direct connection to the dozens of other people who are simultaneously downloading and sharing that same particular media file you want.
Here’s how that works.
BitTorrent is a type of “peer-to-peer” file sharing system.
P2P, as it’s more commonly called, means that content is shared directly between yourself and other people through the internet.
Back in the day, with traditional P2P, you would strike up a connection with one other person on the internet and get the file you wanted directly from them.
The difference with BitTorrent is that, at any given moment, you’re actually downloading content from a lot of other peoples’ hard drives, bit by bit.
It’s a sneaky way around issues like copyright. You’re never really downloading or sharing one particular movie or TV show. Just pieces of it.
Step four: answer the door when the RCMP arrive to arrest your thievin’ ass.
Just kidding, sort of. Peer-to-peer file sharing is not exactly legit, so you can be assured you’re treading on soggy legal ground when you use BitTorrent.
So I like to assuage my guilty conscience with the notion that I’m involved with a form of peaceful protest.
Speedy is my Mahatma Ghandi, not my Bugsy Malone.
I firmly believe in fair compensation for media, and I’d be more than happy to have paid $5 for my Juno download. Honestly. Hollywood, send me the bill.
But Sylvester has made it virtually impossible to legitimately access the digital media content you want, especially if you live outside of the US.
So, really, we need Speedy to ensure that our consumer rights are upheld. And, if all goes well, effect change.
At the end of the cartoon, Sylvester decides that it’s impossible to protect the cheese.
He piles it all up just outside the factory, in clear view of the mice. He packs dynamite around it. Then he detonates it, fully expecting the cheese to be destroyed forever.
But, instead, a funny thing happens.
It rains cheese.
The mice celebrate as Sylvester engages in a rudimentary form of self-flagellation.
Speedy turns to the camera, wagging his thumb at Sylvester, and says, “I like this pussy-cat fellow. He’s silly.”
And, you know, all of a sudden I like this media industry for the same reason.
Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, March 14, 2008.