08 February 2004

Sometimes PornoSec Is Smarter… and Sometimes Not

Many people are probably going to jump all over an article in today's New York Times extolling the virtues of the porn industry's "more relaxed" approach to internet piracy.

Thousands of Web sites are putting Playboy magazine's pictures on the Internet — free. And Randy Nicolau, the president of Playboy.com, is loving it. "It's direct marketing at its finest," he said. Let the music industry sue those who share files, and let Hollywood push for tough laws and regulations to curb movie copying. Playboy, like many companies that provide access to virtual flesh and naughtiness, is turning online freeloaders into subscribers by giving away pictures to other sites that, in turn, drive visitors right back to Playboy.com. When Mr. Nicolau is asked whether he thinks that the entertainment industry is making a mistake by taking a different approach, he replies: "I haven't spent much time thinking about it. It's like asking Henry Ford, 'What were the buggy-whip guys doing wrong?'"

John Schwartz, "the Pornography Industy v. Digital Pirates" (08 Feb 04).

The key question—and, despite the flippant approach Mr. Nicolau takes, a difficult and perhaps unanswerable one—is whether the "traditional" entertainment industry really is comparable to the porn industry. (We'll leave aside the inaccurate characterization of the porn industry as "more enlightened" about the Internet than the RIAA, given that a near majority of the reported "online piracy" are over porn.) The sheer diversity of the audience argues that it is not; but, more importantly, so does form. Much of the porn industry's online content is not exactly what one takes onto the train to work anyway; those of you with overactive imaginations can just put them back in the gutter where they belong, thank you. Further, it is a "subset audience" even more than is that for popular music. We'll just have to see if, a year or so from now, iTunes is still a worthwhile endeavor—and if music.download.com succeeds as a replacement for mp3.com.

I'm afraid the jury is still out. Hopefully not in the bathroom with a recent Playboy centerfold downloaded off the 'net…