So it is goodbye to thebox.bz, the private file sharing site which specialised in TV shows, old and new. Unlike The Pirate Bay before them, who were legislated to (almost) oblivion by ISPs being forced to block them, thebox is calling it quits themselves.
Copyright legislation protects rights-holders from unauthorised copying and sharing of their work, whether for profit or not, for up to 70 years after the death of the last of those rights-holders (so for a film, it can be screenwriter, director, composer). This means that in the UK at least not many titles are in what might be termed ‘public domain’. In the USA, some lapsed copyrights have left titles in legal limbo, which probably explains the dime-bin DVD collections of film and TV titles which are widely available there (yes, Mill Creek, I am looking at you!).
But what of bootleg DVDs and torrent files? What of the hundreds of full films and TV series which can be found at YouTube, and which are unlikely to ever be made available for commercial purchase (especially if they are from the BBC)?
Technology constantly challenges copyright and bites at the heels of the requirements of the letter of the law. It is very easy to rip a DVD or dub from VHS and put the file on the internet. I recall about ten years ago when music files and short videos might have been hidden in a directory tree which you could stumble across, or someone might share the link if you’re lucky. That’s where my Bonzo Dog Band journey began, and led to many CD/DVD legitimate purchases.
Torrents though have left me a little bit torn. I think there is a distinction between the material you would never see otherwise (orphan episodes of largely wiped TV shows, films with no obvious owner, series seen to have little value by their creators), and material which has been commercially released and/or broadcast and is offered by means of file transfer or DVD-Rs to other territories.
I have bootleg titles in my collection, both films and TV. Years ago I had a library of VHS heavy metal concerts, all bootleg recordings from German TV or similar. If I really want a title, I’ll pay a small amount for it, or I’ll download it from YouTube. If it then gets released ‘for real’, I’ll buy it.
Thebox.bz didn’t just make their audience passive viewers of material, though, but because of their seeding policy (to ‘leech’ or watch, you had to ‘seed’ or share an equal amount) it made their audience bootleggers, and therefore tipped into potentially infringing activity. Whether this is different from the eBay shop which sells DVD-Rs of ‘titles in the public domain’ is a moot point, but I think that both are now here to stay – the torrent is only going to grow because it is easy, it is simple, and to a younger generation, it is second nature.
So … the grey market. Good, or bad? “Discuss.”