Plex Makes Piracy Just Another Streaming Service

One thing about the film and television industry that I find endlessly fascinating — and it really helps that I am fascinated by probably-mundane esoteric things — is how differently they approach licensing and ownership rights compared to the music industry, despite often shared parent companies.

There are plenty of historical examples, but I wanted to look at just two. First, the use of DRM couldn’t be more starkly contrasted. In 2007, Apple negotiated with EMI to offer DRM-free music on iTunes; less than two years later, every major label got on board. But a similar switch has never happened for video distribution.

A few years after the DRM-free iTunes Store debuted came the next radical shift in music consumption: streaming services. Now, you can pay ten dollars a month to listen to virtually all of the music that has ever been recorded. You can choose which company you’re giving your money to — Apple, Google, Spotify, Tidal, and others — but the cost and catalogues are basically the same across the board. Again, nothing like this has ever existed for streaming video; and, with increased exclusivity agreements and conglomerate protectionism, that’s unlikely to change.

Well, legally, anyway. Bijan Stephen, the Verge:

Plex servers function a little like secret societies or private clubs. They can be large (like Liz’s), small (like Shawn’s), or any size in between, but they have a single purpose: to simplify the experience of streaming media and make it feel human. Every Plex server’s media catalog is different. They go beyond licensing agreements (because piracy) and anonymous algorithmic curation (because a person is choosing what’s on there) to make the streaming experience personal.

“The Plex mission is to provide a unified media experience that allows users to bring together the media they care about into one app, available on just about anything with a screen,” a spokesperson for Plex wrote in a statement. The one thing they carefully don’t mention is why.

Ethically, much of this article leans toward the defensive; it largely skates around the legal issues. I don’t see that as a flaw, necessarily, because many of these Plex servers are used largely by friends — kind of like lending out VHS tapes and DVDs to friends twenty years ago.