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Tuesday, October 23, 2007 

First they came for the torrent websites...

If you want an example of how some of the mainstream media, especially those who have to get the BREAKING STORY out as fast possible rely on press releases, you only have to look at the articles up on the BBC and Sun websites about the closing of the OiNK music torrent community. (Wikipedia entry here.)

The statements from both Cleveland police and the IFPI are available here and here. Compare and contrast as you wish. Thing is, relying on such releases as your primary source means that you're incredibly likely to repeat blatant lies and twisting of the truth from those justifying their actions.

The police claim in their statement that the operating of OiNK was "extremely lucrative" and "members paid donations via debit or credit cards, ensuring their continued access to the site". The former is highly unlikely, while the latter is completely untrue. While I was not a member of OiNK, mainly because I already have more music than I can listen to, I have friends that were, and unlike some other private torrent trackers, where you can donate to bounce your download/upload ratio back up to 1.0, OiNK was well known as being one of the most vigorous pursuers of those who failed to keep their ratio at the required level. As one former user has wrote on a forum:

Donations were completely voluntary. At most you received advanced search features which allowed you to break down your searches by year/artist/album/genre etc. You also gained immunity from the inactivity ban sweeps. They put it this way: "No amount of money you donate will replace the bytes you're not uploading." All that donations did was give you two invites, give you a star, make your irc hostname end in .donor, give you advanced search abilities and access to statistics, no ratio changes, nothing.

Running a site with 180,000 users would incur significant server costs. OiNK, again like other sites do, never begged for donations towards those costs. For the police to claim that this was "extremely lucrative" smells like the proverbial, and for the Scum to suggest the man arrested was making hundreds of thousands of pounds a year, extrapolating from the statement that "this is big business, with hundreds of thousands of pounds being made" is outrageous.

Similarly disingenuous have been the claims, repeated by the BBC and others from the IFPI's statement that OiNK was the "primary source worldwide for illegal pre-release music". The statement itself actually almost tells the true story in this passage:

Closed internet communities known as “ripping groups” often get demos, early mixes of commercial releases and promotional copies of pre-release albums in advance of release with a view to distributing the music as widely and as far ahead of release as possible. Each ripping group gains cachet amongst its peers for being the first to get new music and uses torrent sites to distribute the music as widely as possible.

The first part of the paragraph is true, while the second is the biggest of lies. Ripping groups, those within the "scene", as it's known, do compete with one another to release music first and before each other. However, far from using torrent sites and wanting to distribute the music as far as possible, such groups are actually adamantly opposed to the public spreading of their work and use IRC and private FTPs to distribute their releases within the "scene" itself. Inevitably though their releases are quickly distributed outside it despite their own opposition, and OiNK, being one of the most popular private music sharing sites, was often one of the first places they appeared. Occasionally users on OiNK might have acquired copies of albums before their release date and posted them there, but the vast majority of pre-releases are from the "scene" groups.

Part of the reason why OiNK is being blamed for the above is that the "scene" groups are a problem of the music industry's own making. The vast majority of the members of those groups are those within the record companies themselves, or those once or twice removed from them: those who receive the promotional copies ultra early through their links, whether they're reviewers, family members, workers, DJs or otherwise. The music industry has made attempts to stop such releases occurring, notably only sending out promo copies of recent Foo Fighters and White Stripes' albums on tape or vinyl, putting watermarks on the CD which can lead the ripped copy back to the individual responsible, "promobots", which repeat "this is a promotional copy" or whatever every so often throughout the duration of the CD, etc, but mostly these attempts have failed. They're never going to completely shut down leaks, but it's the height of hypocrisy to blame places like OiNK when the industry itself is chiefly responsible for its own downfall. Also of note is that up until last night the OiNK servers were still operable, far from the statement's claim that they were seized last week, only highlighting the mendacity in their public releases.

The music industry has to realise that while places link OiNK are never going to disappear, their current head in the sand approach to both the quality and digital rights management on most of the music available for "legal download" is only exacerbating the piracy "problem". In effect, they're actually laughing: places like iTunes are hugely popular even though they mostly provide crippled, far from CD quality music. They no longer even have to produce the discs that previously bumped up the cost ever so slightly in such quantites! OiNK was especially noted for its section dedicated to FLAC rips; near lossless quality copies of the CD. No popular legal download site currently provides music either in WAV or FLAC format (juno.co.uk and bleep.com are occasional notable exceptions), and part of the reason why the Russian allofmp3.com was so popular, apart from its low prices, was that it provided the user with choice as to the quality and format of what they paid to download. The industry control freaks are opposed to that exact choice. The only way progress will be made against such piracy will be if they open up, and they have so far showed no signs of being prepared to do so.

Slight update: Torrent Freak, as well as providing excellent coverage, reports that the man arrested has been released on bail. There's also an official "OiNK memorial" blog been set-up.

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