I suspect there’s more to free access to information (in a music/movie/etc sense) than meets the eye. Although it’s pretty straightforward – essentially I’m now exposed to a lot more stuff than I would have been without the Usual Suspects of file sharing (BitTorrent and Cabos [Gnutella], primarily). We’ve seen this applied in the music piracy arena, but I find it applies much more generally. Like the internet itself ten years ago, large scale file sharing is broadening people’s horizons. Of course, it’s burning some bridges in the process, what with all this piracy stuff… oh well. Broken eggs and omelettes and all that.
For example, I’m now queuing up a whole smorgasbord of scenic photography that I wouldn’t otherwise have found, simply thanks to mininova and being able to browse casually through torrents, by category. The scale of this is beyond anything the traditional web could handle – we’re talking several gigs of photography here, which you’re not going to casually grab of some random website. Thanks to the relative abundance of bandwidth, I can afford to check these things out on a whim.
I think it’s technical limitations which limit how much originality we are exposed to. If I were still on dialup, I sure as all buggery wouldn’t download a few gigs of images just to see if they’re any good. Likewise for music and movies and everything else I grab. I’d have to sit down before hand and say “okay, what is this that I’m looking to download?”… of course, at a glance that sounds logical – just good planning, right? Well, yeah, except originality is no friend of planning. It’s the random stuff out there, that you happen upon accidentally or carelessly, that’s original to us. If we only ever grabbed what we’ve very carefully considered beforehand, we wouldn’t have that essential element of randomness, and would be exposed to far less.
So I guess it’s no wonder the major copyright holders in the music and movie industries are quaking in their boots – they rely on us not having a wide breadth of interest; the fewer acts they have to manage and the more they can sell of each of their few key ones, the better. Classic conflict of interest, which in a better world would be kept in check by a morale imperative to provide the world with original and exploratory content. And very few people in those industries have any sense of morality at all, let alone enough to pursue such a philanthropic endeavour.