Forbidden Fruit

It's the world's largest music and movies superstore, and everything in it is free—and illegal. Every month, some five billion illegal downloads are passed around the internet, and the entertainment industry sues several hundred people. CP writer St

The industry's other, lesser worry is the portion of the adult population that goes off the consumer grid entirely when it gets a whiff of downloading, and stops buying things like CDs and movie tickets altogether. By its nature this element is bound to make up a small segment of the general public; it requires a certain level of mania. That's the stuff John Cole and his family are made of. Having passed 50 a few years back, he belongs to an age cohort that represents only 4 percent of regular file-sharers.

But Cole is still out there scouring the boards and search engines for tasty stuff. He admits now that he's worrying for the first time about a letter from the MPAA or RIAA. Or worse: He's seen the news reports from Germany about the first-ever police raids on the homes of file-sharers. About 130 users of the eDonkey network had their places tossed by police and their computers seized. Another 3,500 were arrested and set to face both civil prosecution and up to five years in prison. What upsets Cole and others in the P2P scene is that Germany has traditionally been one of the European countries considered friendly to file-sharing. If they're now kicking down doors in a country like that, he wonders, what might they start to do here?

Yet in nearly the same breath, he'll admit that he never looks at a lot of the programs and files he takes risks to snatch. Of the hundreds of software applications he's illegally downloaded through the years, for example, Cole says he uses only about half a dozen. The rest? "It's the old excuse," he says with a laugh. "I was drunk, they were available...."

He thinks sometimes that he ought to quit, but in the meantime he's enjoying his new DVD player, the first one he's had that's equipped to play Divx files. Divx is the video format of choice for online file-swapping these days, and it will soon be the video version of the mp3, if it isn't already. Divx is a state-of-the-art compression system that shrinks DVDs to files a fraction of their original size while still managing to look pretty good. Just as impressive, the files can be transferred in about 30 minutes, or roughly a quarter of the two hours it used to take to download DVDs with a fast connection. You can download one in the time it takes to eat your dinner. On the week of the Academy Awards, while the MPAA was out trying to catch swappers of this year's contenders, John and the Mrs. watched a Best Picture nominee a night.

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