Imagine a site where you could download any album, old, new and even pre-released!, for free and in just seconds. Until last week, an invitation-only site called Oink was such a site. Oink was shut down last week by police in both the UK and Amsterdam. What was oink? Was it doing anything wrong? What is the impact of it being shutdown?
What was oink?
I think one of the best accounts of oink
comes from rock star Trent Reznor and Saul Williams of Nine Inch Nails’ fame.
The most interesting part is this:
“I’ll admit I had an account there and frequented it quite often. At the end of the day, what made OiNK a great place was that it was like the world’s greatest record store. Pretty much anything you could ever imagine, it was there, and it was there in the format you wanted. If OiNK cost anything, I would certainly have paid, but there isn’t the equivalent of that in the retail space right now.” …
“People on those boards, they’re grateful for the person that uploaded it — they’re the hero. They’re not stealing it because they’re going to make money off of it; they’re stealing it because they love the band. I’m not saying that I think OiNK is morally correct, but I do know that it existed because it filled a void of what people want.”
Inside oink had the largest library of digital music ever assembled, and unlike napster, it was all neatly organized. If nothing else, it shows how truly limited itunes really is–and you can see why it is intentionally crippled. It also demonstrates how well digital distribution can work. The record labels are not only leeches, sucking money for nothing, they in fact make distribution *worse*. They want to limit our choices. They want it to be hard and expensive to find and download music.
Was oink wrong? Under the premise that two wrongs don’t make a right, what oink was doing is wrong too. The site operators offer two defenses: 1) we don’t host any illegal content and 2) other sites like google link to illegal content. #1 is irrelevant, and #2 isn’t good enough (two wrongs don’t make a right) and US courts have distinguished between technology who principle purpose is infringing versus those that can just potentially be used for infringing purposes.
As a policy perspective, I think the pendulum has swung way too far towards the music industry. As I wrote about in this past article about itunes pricing, the public benefit of loosing copying rights far outstrips the public costs in reduced incentives. This is an important point to consider before you brand the tens of millions of file sharers as violent criminals (e.g., pirates). I think we should create a law to make oink and other forms of online distribution legal!
What’s the impact of it being shutdown? I am not sure. The music empire is fighting back, and shutting down this kind of site seems like a practical approach. Oink is rumored to have only about 200,000 members (and there are perhaps another couple million people worldwide who wished that they could join) who really care about this site. Unlike napster, oink hasn’t caught the public’s imagination.
In the final analysis, my guess is that oink will be like the lost city of Atlantis. Like Atlantis, Oink is rumored to have been a magical place. But if you didn’t get to see it yourself, it probably sounds like an impossible myth.
3. et cetera