The Pirates of Silicon Valley Courtesy (?) of Google Video

One of the most book­marked items this week­end on was a streamed ver­sion of The Pirates of Sil­i­con Val­ley. It’s a well-regard­ed tele­vi­sion movie, based on the book Fire in the Val­ley, which looks at the ear­ly days of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, the respec­tive founders of Microsoft and Apple Com­put­er. The video pro­mot­ed by is itself host­ed by Google Video, a fact that has a cou­ple of lay­ers of irony to it.

Irony #1. Back when the film was made in 1999, Google was bare­ly on any­one’s radar screen. Nowa­days, it’s the 800 lb goril­la in the tech sec­tor. In a few short years, it has elbowed Yahoo out of its lead­er­ship posi­tion on the web, and you can bet it will soon be eat­ing Microsoft­’s lunch. If any com­pa­ny is dom­i­nat­ing Sil­i­con Val­ley right now, it’s Google, although a re-invent­ed Apple is cer­tain­ly hav­ing a nice run.

Irony #2. The Pirates of Sil­i­con Val­ley makes a point of under­scor­ing how Microsoft built its busi­ness by “bor­row­ing” from Apple. Mean­while, Google, which now owns YouTube, has been locked in a law­suit with Hol­ly­wood stu­dios (most notably Via­com) for let­ting its video ser­vices dis­trib­ute, yes, pirat­ed con­tent. It stands to rea­son that the Google-host­ed ver­sion of The Pirates of Sil­i­con Val­ley falls in that cat­e­go­ry, though we could be wrong. But giv­en how long the video has been post­ed on Google Video (since last Novem­ber) and how many times it has been viewed (352,988 at last count), you have to won­der how much the stu­dio (Turn­er Home Enter­tain­ment) par­tic­u­lar­ly cares. This is all entire­ly spec­u­la­tive, but per­haps their log­ic is sim­ply this: The res­o­lu­tion of Youtubesque video is so poor that few view­ers will see the movie as a real sub­sti­tute for the orig­i­nal film, and per­haps users will be moti­vat­ed to buy the film in DVD once they get a taste of the plot. (This is essen­tial­ly the same log­ic, by the way, put for­ward by those who argue for releas­ing books in free e‑book ver­sions and fee-based paper ver­sions.) To get a sense of what I’m talk­ing about, you can watch the video below, but you’ll pret­ty quick­ly see that it’s worth pony­ing up a lit­tle cash and watch­ing a watch­able ver­sion. (You can buy one here.)

Long-term some of this think­ing may fig­ure into any deal that Google works out with Hol­ly­wood. A deal could look like this: Hol­ly­wood agrees to upload low res­o­lu­tion con­tent that Google gets to mon­e­tize. In turn, Google agrees to let users make con­tex­tu­al pur­chas­es of DVDs, or at least down­load high res­o­lu­tion ver­sions of videos for a fee. And then every­one can go home hap­py.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.