TV Lawsuits More Apparent In The Future?

iTunes has been a resource for many users willing to pay for the format. Now with a business move many predicted months before it was made, iTunes is now selling digital video content.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

In fact, the move currently is TV shows that have aired on TV. So what does that mean for websites that offer hash codes that lead to TV shows?

Under law, an individual, a group of individuals or even large corporations can only sue for quantifiable loss and/or damages. Arguably, TV shows earn a large sum of money through advertising and this is, for the most part, largely true. However, many TV companies charge a flat fee per advertising slot, so who is getting hurt when no one watches the show? In this case, the advertisers are the only ones who get hurt in the short run. No money is really lost if a number of people download the show after they miss the first half of it. It is only a long run thing when the ratings drop that advertisers are less willing to pay thousands of dollars per slot. Therefore, with less funding, the show can be forced off the air.

So if a single person is downloading a show, can the recording companies really sue someone for losses and damages because there is no way to really prove that money was lost directly because of a single individual downloading a show? In some countries, it is illegal, but in other countries, it is not as it constitutes a fair use equivalent. Of course, record companies typically ignore fair use and go right after the individual anyway.

In fact, TV fans move from show to show all the time. A large widespread example is when the first season of “Survivor” hit the airwaves. Millions of TV fans flocked from their sitcoms and drama shows to watch the new Reality TV phenomenon, hurting many shows in this process while fueling others. Survivor was the first “mega-hit” in the Reality TV trend, which was followed up by “Big Brother”, and many other spin-offs ranging from Game-show Reality adaptations to dating games. Soon after came the home make-over trend. Many shows couldn’t compete in this sudden trend in TV and were forced off the air. It wasn’t because people were finding different ways of watching the shows, but because a new wave of TV hit the airwaves.

So the question remained, was there truly a direct and fast way to prove that one person downloading one TV show really directly hurt that TV show or even the TV industry as a whole? To say the least, it would have been very difficult in proving such a thing.

There are also many possibilities to throw into the equation such as time shifting, a small rotation in fans interest, real world events, and a countless list of other factors that can affect ratings. Not to mention the flip side of the fact that the individual, more often then not, is never actually paying for the show itself, rather, the connection to be able to view the show. So measuring the ill effects of a single individual downloading a show and trying to prove that the individual is financially damaging the industry giant would prove further difficult to measure or even prove in a court setting.

By and large, compared to video games, movies and music, TV shows shared over P2P have remained relatively untouched in terms of massive lawsuits against the individuals. Some sites even gambled on simply indexing hash codes that led to TV shows only, expecting that a lawsuit was even more unlikely (though it has happened.) Generally speaking on P2P, an individual is less likely to be sued for sharing a TV show.

Now, iTunes has stuck a price tag on previously aired shows and is expanding their library of shows for people to buy and download. Even though the number one source for freely downloadable shows is actually off of TV itself, it may not matter to the industry now. This is because of the video iPod with the combination of buyable TV shows for the iPod. This price has been $1.99.

The existence of the price tag itself, and not just the cost, seems to be pretty significant as it throws many variables right out the window and offers a new way of measuring loss for the industry. There is the possibility that TV piracy crackdowns on Torrent sites and ED2K sites alike (maybe even wide-spread scene bust like operation site down) may be under a more real threat today.

Still, getting caught downloading copyrighted TV shows does offer a more humorous side. Since the loss for the industry is $1.99, it could legally mean a lawsuit of exactly that price – although this has proven not to be the case with music and movies.

The provoked question remains, “Am I more likely to get a lawsuit for TV shows now that there is a price tag in the iTunes store?” It’s just a possibility that TV anti-piracy will be ramped up.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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