Streaming, on the other hand, is instant. One of the more popular streaming sites, Nabolister, has a simple search bar in the middle of the page. Type in Transformers, and you'll get a series of links. Most of these will open new pages with embedded players that resemble the YouTube interface. Click on the play button, and your movie starts rolling. Within seconds, you can tell if you're watching a high-quality video.
To test how pervasive streaming piracy has become, I searched for this year's 10 highest-grossing movies on a bunch of streaming sites. With the exception of a few low-quality and handheld-camera versions of Transformers and Knocked Up, I found every one of the 10 in a watchable format, using no more than a trio of sites and spending only a few minutes searching. At this point, it's possible to bring Transformers or The Bourne Supremacy into your living room in seconds. All you need is a Web connection and a video cable. That's the sort of thing that can really cut into DVD sales.
All that's saving the studios and the MPAA for now is that streaming piracy has a learning curve. It takes some trial and error to determine what a dead video link looks like and which video hosts offer a higher-quality picture. While the process is less user-friendly than its Napster-style predecessors, it is very similar to the BitTorrent method, with users finding their desired files via the Web rather than a centralized interface. Streaming video users also don't have to download or install any software, nor enter any dangerous, spy-infested BitTorrent networks.
The MPAA, unable to put a crimp in streaming video piracy, should take a cue from the TV networks. Remember when NBC focused on selling its shows on iTunes? Now, NBC and News Corp. have joined forces to create Hulu, where users can stream entire shows for free. Meanwhile, CBS has partnered up with the streaming video venture Joost. The networks, it seems, understand that the download model is on the way out and that streaming is the way of the future. (Hell, even the Pirate Bay itself seems to realize this, noting this summer that it was looking to branch out into the world of streaming.)
The MPAA should be paying attention. The small-screeners have smartly monetized (through advertising) the sorts of video streams that Web users are flocking to. If they wanted, the movie studios could give film buffs what the pirates can't consistently offer: a high-quality picture and a Web destination that won't get shuttered in a matter of months. Streaming is here to stay. If the MPAA is smart, it will decide it makes more sense to make money off it than to fight it.