Back in 2001 or so, I had the honor of publication in the Wall Street Journal. Sure, it was just a puny letter to the editor, but hey... the Journal!
These were the heady days of online file sharing platforms. Napster, Morpheus, KaZaA; we knew we were living in a golden era that would be gone in a blink. I primarily used file-sharing to sample songs by new-to-me bands (before dropping another $14 on a CD), and find older tracks that you couldn't buy if you wanted to.
The music industry, you'll recall, was outraged. File-sharing was theft, after all.
But my thought, and my letter to the WSJ, reasoned that I wanted to buy music online, but the industry didn't want to sell it to me. If you won't sell me what I want to buy, and I can get it for free anyway, I'll just take what's been made available. Is that wrong, if it's a digital good with no marginal cost to the producer? Maybe.
Someone must have read my letter, because soon iTunes, Rhapsody, imeem, last.fm and Pandora launched. You're welcome, America.
Which brings us to last Saturday night. The Saturday before Thanksgiving is always a killer weekend for Bay Area -- my dear, grubby Cal plays vile, snooty Stanford is what should be called "The Science Library Bowl" or "The Virginity Bowl," but is comically titled "The Big Game." The Big Game has had many historic moments over the years, none of which have impacted the BCS.
But people still love The Big Game. They love it so much, that they host big viewing parties, fire up the plasma screen, and turn to... um... ESPN? No, not there? ABC? Fox Sports Bay Area? Uh... anyone know what channel is The Big Game on?
It's on Versus. Yes, the Big Game is on Versus, formerly the Outdoor Life Network (OLN). Versus isn't all turkey shoots anymore; it now hosts the NHL, bull-riding, Indy racing, cycling; basically the leftovers ESPN showed in the '80s.
Versus is also owned by Comcast, and is no longer available on DirecTV, which balked at paying Comcast's fees. Comcast responded by saying DirecTV is insulting the fans. I think we can all see what's going on here.
The result was that only Comcast households in the Bay Area could watch The Big Game this year. Even sports bars didn't have The Big Game, since they're overwhelmingly on DirecTV so they can show NFL Sunday Ticket.
And now it's time to steal:
A quick search on a live-streaming website uncovered a surreptitious stream of the Versus broadcast. And it was a hell of a football game.
Indeed, Comcast didn't earn any fee revenue from me, and they didn't even get credit for the ad impressions. But, again, this is a digital good that I couldn't otherwise access. Is it really stealing?