Monday, May 21, 2012

Web Site Idea

When I hear about a great film or TV show, I look it up to see if it's available on Netflix "Watch Instantly" (which I route to my TV via my Roku). If not, I check Amazon Streaming (which comes free with my Amazon Prime subscription, and also routes via Roku) and Apple iTunes (which I view on my iPad, 'cuz I don't own an Apple TV).

If not, I start looking for DVDs (preferably second-hand) on Amazon,, and Amazon UK. If that fails, too - i.e. the producers have given me no way to legally purchase their product - I will search for torrents*.

* - I've left out a step: if it's a small indie film, I'll write to the director and ask to purchase a one-off DVD burn, swearing to never copy it for friends.

But why am I (and millions of others) doing all these separate searches? Someone should build a database tracking and linking to a given title's presence in all these places...and more. There'd be revenue from referral commissions, plus it would be a beau coup advertising platform.

It perplexes me that no one's done this yet. Or has someone done it and I've missed it?

Update - you may want to follow the discussion in the comments section.


Seth Godin said...

Jim, I'm not sure I understand your antipathy toward producers.

"If not, I start looking for DVDs (preferably second-hand) on Amazon,, and Amazon UK. If that fails, too - i.e. the producers have given me no way to legally purchase their product - I will search for torrents*."

Of course, the producer of the film gets nothing when you buy it second hand, and less than nothing when you pirate it.

Shouldn't she:
a. deserve a few bucks from your transaction?
b. have the right to decide when to put it on sale?

You've made a living from content for a long time, and I'm surprised at the matter of fact way you insist that it's just a matter of course that producers and those they hire should get nothing.

Jim Leff said...

Seth, you make one great point, which I've been thinking a lot about and had planned to Slog about. But you've tied it in with another point which I believe is less strong.

But since you took time to comment, I'll take time to explain my thinking - though unfortunately it can't be done tersely.

__Re: Buying Second-Hand Media__

Good one. I actually made this very same argument to Randy Cohen, the Times ethics columnist...and to a number of IP authorities, as well. No one ever has a good response. Here's the deal:

As you know, there's room for legal argument as to whether torrenting is technically stealing, because the vendor's not lessened. Antiquated IP laws don't serve well in the digital era. In the meanwhile many agree that the stronger case against torrenting is the moral one: by torrenting, we fail to support the system, fail to pay talented workers, and create a future with less availability of creative work. It leads to an untenable situation (especially for the sort of person so into content that s/he dabbles in torrents!).

Randy was making this point when I asked about 2nd-hand media (books, CDs, DVDs). No one questions the 2nd-hand market's legality or morality, yet the moral case ought to apply there equally, as it's another way to stiff creators, create an untenable future, etc.. And then what about cut-outs (media dumped cheaply on the market after failing to sell at full price)? The same moral case applies; oughtn't we strive to only buy media when producers are paid full price? And what about SELLING media once you're done with it? Legal, ethical, and you've supported the creators with your purchase, but you are facilitating others in not supporting.

Finally, your argument would have me reject Amazon free streaming to Prime customers, which pays creators not a bit. Should I refuse to use this service?

Seth, I strongly agree with your pro-creative worker stance. I have, out of frustration, dreamed of pranking Lawrence Lessig by digitizing all his published books and throwing them onto a torrent site, since he's so preachy about how "information must be free" while charging for it all the time (note: I never followed through on this, nor will I).

But these issues are way more complex than either side acknowledges. The morality's not at all clear, even when (as with you and I) a side's been chosen.

And when moral issues get fuzzy, I'm reminded of
my issues with water conservation. As there, my course is to shake off the unnuanced dogma, and simply follow my gut, settling for easy reasonability. And here's how my gut directs me:

1. small indie projects: always buy new, preferably directly from creators.

2. larger, more mainstream projects where I believe the project or its creators could use my endorsement (i.e. sales numbers): tend to mostly buy new from the cheapest source, unless I find the product over-priced, in which case, since the producers aren't being friendly to their audience, I'll withdraw my miniscule support and buy used, which is perfectly legal and ethical, just not very friendly.

3. The Wire, Lord of the Rings, et al: buy used, baby, used. And never look back. No, there's no analogy to people who consider it ok to rip off large institutions. Again, there's no legal (or moral issue), I simply reserve the right to be friendly to whomever I want.

One can argue all three of these, I know. But nothing in this realm can't be argued with! So....easy reasonability is my course as a consumer.

(continued in next comment)

Jim Leff said...


First, I should have been clearer. If I'm interested in a work that hasn't appeared in legal channels yet, I usually won't grab a torrent out of impatience. In the very rare instances when I do, I'll also buy when it goes on sale.

But when a work is older and fading, and it's clear no release will be made, and the work has not been put on view in other channels, and it's not a situation where an email to the director lets me buy a homebrew DVD (which often works, btw...that, too, ought to be its own Slog entry), no, Seth, I have no compunction whatsoever about torrenting.

Do producers deserve a few bucks? Absolutely! If they won't take those bucks, and I'm never to be allowed to view the work, something's gone horribly wrong, and it sure isn't my fault. Creative work deserves to be seen and appreciated, exactly like scientific work (that was the stance of the scientific community when the gov tried to prevent Nature from publishing studies on flu which could be used by terrorists: science must propagate). I'd love to pay, but if that route's going to be forever blocked to me, I WILL view, and in so doing, I feel I'm serving the director/producers by completing the circle (more here).

And if a DVD does miraculously appear, no harm/no foul, I'll just buy it.

Seth Godin said...

A cavil:

You've completely misquoted Lessig, in a way that's not uncommon:

The thing is, as Stewart Brand originally said, "Information wants to
be free, it also wants to be expensive."

Lessig's argument is that those that rely on the crude hammer of
copyright law to create artificial scarcity will end up disappointed
in the long run. There are many business models to be built, but
they're not going to look like this one.

PS Larry has already CC licensed his book, saving you the trouble of
posting it as a prank.

Jim Leff said...

Seth, I've read Lessig (in Wired) for years. And while I've (embarrassingly) misused the "wants to be free" cliche, I've often seen him expressing support for the freeloading napster/torrent crowd. And while his latest may be on CC, his backlog isn't.

But I do regret the sloppy, wrong-headed reference. I once referenced the McDonald's hot-coffee-lawsuit-fable on the Internet (not knowing it's a fable), and, after cleaning the blood off my screen, I swore never to repeat that!

But then, that's one reason blogging's not "writing". As a writer, I sweat bullets over every point and reference. Blogging's looser, for better and for worse. And I appreciate your setting me right!

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