Let me state at the outset, that I was never a user of Napster, Gnutella or any other software that shares music or other media files. In fact, as far as I know, I have never played an MP3 compressed file. I'm interested in Gnutella and similar software for three reasons:
I'm a software engineer so I am involved in the creation intellectual property. I strongly believe that software engineers, authors, musicians and other "content creators" should be rewarded for their work. Having worked in the computer industry, with its constant state of revolution, for twenty years I also know that we must change with the times. This is exactly what the entertainment industry in general refuses to do. The Djinn has been let out of the bottle. Nothing will put him back in. Only someone who is stupid or who has taken too many drugs would believe that suppressing Napster is a victory. They have simply assured that software like Gnutella will develop more rapidly. In fact, as I write this I have no doubt that this will be the beginning of a burst of Gnutella like software development.
There are a number of problems with the kind of distributed sharing supported by software like Gnutella. Some of these problems are technical. Many people do not have high bandwidth connections to the Internet (I live in rural New Mexico, for example). If Gnutella users are limited to connections of, effectively, 40K bits/second, there is a limit to the amount of music that can be exchanged. High speed internet connections have not developed as fast as many hoped. Over time, however, what we currently regard as high speed connections to the Internet will become more common.
One of the biggest barriers to software like Gnutella being successful for distributing music is human nature. Specifically, the problem that is sometimes referred to as "the tragedy of the commons". There is an excellent article in Salon by Janelle Brown, titled The Gnutella paradox which discusses the Gnutella's problems as use grows. As noted above, some of these problems have technical solutions. But one of the biggest problems is that there are many users who down-load using Gnutella without hosting media files themselves. This places a large network load on the few sites that do share media. Ms. Brown cites an article by Eytan Adar and Bernardo A. Huberman at Xerox PARC, Free Riding on Gnutella. This article studies Gnutella users and shows that many people take advantage of the common resource without giving anything back. This seems to be a sad and unchangable feature of human nature.
One solution to this problem might be to re-engineer Gnutella (or similar software) so that supporting down-loads gives the provider credits which can be used to down-load music from other sites. Free riders would be greatly reduced. Many people might provide down-loads for the same currently popular music. However, in a distributed system like Gnutella, this simply makes the system more robust. Although people would still not be purchasing as much music as the entertainment industry would like, people would have to purchase music to support their local music base. The amount of "down-load" credit that a user had amassed would be kept secret, to avoid music industry software searchers that attempt to find and sue those with large amounts of down-load credit (and so lots of down-load support).
Rather than realizing that they must find ways to profit in a changing technological environment, the entertainment industry may continue its course of attempting to suppress free distribution of copyrighted material. Taking this course to absurd lengths we would arrive at the Noir world of K.W. Jeter where people are executed for copyright infringement. Short of this, there are technological weapons that the entertainment industry could use.
Those who work on the open source software for distributed sharing could be sued. While they can argue in their defense that the software can be and is used for applications other than copyright infringement, the prospect of defending against such a well funded adversary would intimidate many people. However, there are groups like the Electronic Frontiers Foundation which might provide aid.
There are also technological weapons that could be used by "the industry". For example, network traffic could be monitored to find sites that supply lots of down-loads. Those sites would then have civil or criminal charges brought against them in a very public fashion in an attempt to intimidate other users. The effectiveness of this would be reduced if all Gnutella users also provided down-loads, but some sites would still be considerably more active than others. The possible backlash of a large industry attacking a bunch of teenage and twenty-something copyright infringers, who also happen to be their best customers, might be counter productive.
The entertainment industry will lose any technological war. They are not greatly liked by either their customers or those who create content (both groups feel exploited). There are a lot of people who are motivated to evolve the distributed sharing software base. The music industry does not have the money or the talent to stay ahead of an army of dedicated software hackers. In they end, they are doomed to lose any campaign of suppression.
The Web has made communication orders of magnitude faster. Rather than requestion a paper (assuming one even knew about it), it can simply be looked up on the Web. This has increased software evolution to the point where it has become difficult or impossible to have even a surface familiarity with all of the open source software projects. One of these is freenet. Freenet is a second generation distributed file sharing system. As with Gnutella, the intent is to create a distributed system of anonymous data. According to the documentation, freenet has better performance and scalability than Gnutella. From what I have read freenet does not currently solve the free rider problem that also exists with Gnutella, although it does seem to distribute frequently requested data through the network.
A friend of mine spent most of his life in the Ukraine when it was part of that great socialist paradise, the USSR (Soviet Union). My friend is also a computer scientist. His software group was part of a large factory that made computer equipment, based on DEC computers. The factory had local KGB (USSR secret police) people on site. He told me that on holidays the KGB people would take the platens out of the typewriters, making them unusable (for those of you who have never seen a typewriter, the platen is the roller in a typewriter that holds the paper and provides the backing against which the keys strike). This was done to stop people from using the typewriters in an unauthorized fashion - like copying manuscripts by banned writers.
The Soviet Union went to a great deal of trouble to control the flow of information. Although things had losened up some during my friend's time in the USSR, there was a time when people where shot or sent to the Gulag (prison camps) for possessing banned information. Even with these draconian measures, "subversive" information could not be entirely suppressed. For example, Mikhail Bulgakov wrote his impressionist satirical work The Master and Margarita during the rule of Stalin, when many intellectuals like Bulgakov where shot. Even the decimation of Soviet intellectuals and the threat of death could not entirely stop intellectual discourse.
Although the flow of information could not be stopped, even by draconian methods, the dire sanctions employed by the Soviet Union did have a significant effect. In theory a government could apply these techniques to suppress a system like freenet. As in the case of the Soviet Union, these techniques would not be entirely successful, but they would have an effect. Of course any nation that took such an approach would also suffer severe economic consequences, as the Soviet Union did.
Short of totalitarian suppression, distributed information systems like freenet pretty much guarantee that information will spread in a way that cannot be controlled by the government. The bizarre writings of L. Ron Hubbard and the "church" of Scientology will be distributed and there will be no one for the "church" to sue. A future version of the Pentagon Papers could be published anonymously and could never be suppressed. This also means that distasteful information, like child porn, bomb making instructions and guides to poisons will also be available. Nor will those who own intellectual property be able to control it once it reaches a network like freenet. This is the new world, like it or not.
After I wrote the first version of this web page I found out about the Mojo Nation file sharing system. Mojo Nation is an open source project. Mojo Nation attempts to address the issue of free riding by a majority of users by implementing a "karma points" system. Users that provide resources like bandwidth and disk storage to the system are awarded "Mojo" (karma points). The Mojo Nation protocol apparently encapsulates some information about a user's Mojo balance which can move users with high Mojo to the top of a request queue. Another interesting feature of Mojo nation is the use of a number of possibly low bandwith (e.g., dial-up) servers to provide a data feed. Mojo Nation calls this "swarm distribution":
Most peer-to-peer content delivery relies on a single peer sending a requested file upstream. If that peer is overloaded, the requestor is probably out of luck. Mojo Nation breaks each uploaded file into small pieces, then replicates each small piece in several places over the network. When a user requests a file, Mojo Nation contacts a swarm of peers -- rather than just one -- before reassembling the file for delivery. This collaborative delivery method even enables users with dialup connections to participate -- a dialup user cannot reasonably deliver a 4GB file to another peer, but can certainly contribute a 64K piece of it.
Section 1.2, What is "swarm distribution"?, Mojo Nation FAQ
This reduces the load on a single low bandwidth server, but it does not supply the data any faster. By distributing the load in this way, it makes users more willing to be servers, since the load on their system and internet connection should not be excessive.
Like many Internet company models, peer-to-peer file sharing networks don't provide much in the way of a profit model. This, coupled with the constant attacks of the RIAA have forced out many of the post-Napster companies, although the open source peer-to-peer community still remains strong. Mojo Nation seems to have gotten out of the explicit file sharing network business. They now offer a product called HiveCache, which uses "swarm" techniques for distributed file backup.
"We're told that by saying, 'You can't steal our product,' we're impeding technology," said Peter T. Paterno, a lawyer who represents Dr. Dre, Metallica and others. "As a country, we import everything, and one of the few things that we export -- entertainment -- Congress wants to give away to some technology company. I'm so fed up with that mentality. If I was running a record company, as opposed to the wimps that are running one, I'd say, "you know what, I have no interest in compromising, and I'm going to go sue little Johnny who's downloading this stuff.'"
Behind the Grammys, Revolt in the Industry, by Neil Strauss, The New York Times, Week in Review, Pg. 3, February 24, 2002
There are a number of driving forces behind the peer-to-peer networks, especially now that Napster has been forced off line by copyright litigation. The strongest of these forces is the desire of users of these networks to access music without paying for it. As the demise of Napster and the legal problems of mp3.com have shown, the recording industry has aggressively attacked music sharing (or pirating, depending on your view) networks. The only way to defeat the attacks of the recording industry is to provide anonnymity and a widely distributed system. When copyrighted works are widely distributed and the users and servers are difficult or impossible to track down, the recording industry will have no one to sue. Or perhaps as the quote above suggests, their only course will be to sue all of their customers.
After the desire to access music without fee, the second strongest force is information anarchy: the ability to place information on a distributed system in such a way that the servers and readers cannot be traced. And in such a way that as long as the information is of interest, there is no practical way to remove it. This is the ultimate expression of "information wants to be free". Once such a network reaches a size where it crosses national boundaries, there is no practical way for a goverment to suppress information placed on such a network. In such a system there would be no control over information, for good and for bad. Accounts of government corruption, recently issued novels, and classified documents and child pornography might all reside on such a network.
A network that supports anonymity makes support for a Mojo Nation style market difficult. An anonymous system means that it will be more difficult to avoid "free riders". Any "karma" accounting system is a potential security hole from the point of view of anonymity. On the other hand, the lack of anonymous support for sharing copyrighted works means that Mojo Nation, which discourages free riding, is unlikely to attract a large user base.
No large publishing system supporting information anarchy has ever existed. Throughout history governments have had the ability to control and suppress information. In the case of information that most people regard as horrifying and offensive, like child pornography, there is a broad concensus that some kind of control is needed. By definition, control is entirely absent from a network that supports information anarchy. Governments will attempt to suppress such networks, since at least some of the information in them will be illegal. The presence of information like child pornography could be used by a government as justification for extreme measures to suppress the information anarchy network.
There are several ways a government could attack a network supporting information anarchy, including overt and covert methods. Most of the peer-to-peer information sharing systems are open source projects. A government could attack the source code base legally (e.g., the CVS repository). If the source base could be removed from the Internet, the network supporting information anarchy would die. In the United States this might be legally difficult, because the courts have not been willing to support the suppression of a reproduction medium that can be used for both legal and illegal purposes. In the United States a lawyer could argue that banning an information anarchy network makes as much sense as banning photography, which is also used for illegal purposes like producing child pornography. Even if the local legal system were willing to support an attack on the source base, it would be futile if the source base were mirrored in another country.
Covert method might include introducing servers into the system as trojan horses. Since the source base is available for download and is likely to be large, complex, and sparsely documented, a government agency could introduce tracking code into the servers. Even the authors of the software might not find such code if it were carefully crafted. Users who unknowingly downloaded these Trojan horse servers would introduce traking nodes into the network that might allow illegal information to be tracked to users.
Both the Gnutella and the freenet sites include documentation. I've also started to gather a few random references here. This is by no means an attempt at a complete bibliography on open source peer-to-peer networking software and protocols.
Breaking Microsoft's Digital Rights Management, Ian Kaplan, on bearcave.com.
Peer-to-peer networks are used for a number of purposes. One of these is the distribution of copyrighted works. The attempt to control access to copyrighted material and the means to attack such access controls is discussed on the web pave Breaking Microsoft's Digital Rights Management.
The media industry has proposed a distribution scheme that packages their offerings within the confines of "digital rights managements" (DRM) containers. This software would, for example, allow music to be played, but not copied, or only copied with an additional fee. Microsoft has released a DRM container in their media player. My web page discusses a computer scientists research into the Microsoft DRM and its security weaknesses. Because of the despicable Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the published software is not republished on my web site, since to do so would invite legal persecution.
In many ways the discussion of DRM and the DMCA complements the issues discussed here. The media industry has attempted to suppress copying of their offerings by suppressing software and even discussion of security issues.
Noir by K.W. Jeter, a review on bearcave.com (also linked to above).
This is a link to a review of K.W. Jeter's science fiction book Noir. In one of the sub-themes in this book, Jeter follows the RIAA/DMCA argument into the realm of the absurd, where those who violate copyright are consigned to a horrible living death. What is wierd is that for Jeter this does not seem to be satire. Jeter seems to be extremely bitter about copyright infringement.
Why Gnutella Can't Scale. No Really by Jordan Ritter
This paper empirically examines problems with Gnutella scalability. I believe that is it mirrored elsewhere on the Internet.
Free Riding on Gnutella, by Eytan Adar and Bernardo A. Huberman, Xerox PARC.
Hypernets - Good (G)news for Gnutella by Neil Gunther, February 16, 2002
This article discusses network topology as a solution to Gnutella scalability.
There are many years of research on the topology and performance of interconnection networks for multiprocessor computer systems. One popular network configuration is the hypercube, used in the design of a supercomputer system originally designed at Caltech and built by Intel. As this article discusses, this kind of network grows rapidly with just a few connections.
Experience with parallel processors suggests there is more to interconnection networks that topology. There can still be hot spots (areas of network contention or overload) when a "higher dimensional" network is used. The IBM RP3 parallel computer system has a powerful interconnection network that suffered from this problem.
Although this article discusses network topology and makes a theoretical argument that higher dimensional networks are better, no evidence is presented that these networks with not suffer from resource contention.
Why Freenet is Complicated (or Not) by scgmille, February 18, 2002, on www.infoanarchy.org
This article is in response to a CodeCon 2002 presentation by Steven Hazel who apparently implemented a non-Java version of the freenet protocol. In the CodeCon 2002 conference syllabus the talk is described as follows:
ibfreenet - a case study in horrors incomprehensible to the mind of man, and other secure protocol design mistakes
Presenter: Steven Hazel
Began December 2000, as a project to make non-Java v0.3 Freenet clients possible.
Project scope expanded to full protocol implementation, to facilitate alternate Freenet node implementations.
Version 0.5.0 released June 13th 2001, with full Freenet 0.3 compatibility.
I discuss some of the hurdles I encountered in implementing the Freenet protocol for libfreenet, and explain how different design decisions might have led to a more widely analyzed and easier to implement protocol. I make the point that secure protocols that are more difficult to implement are less likely to be adopted, and I argue that simplicity and use of applicable standards should be priorities in the design of new and experimental protocols, particularly in applications involving cryptography, where design or implementation flaws have the potential to compromise security.
libfreenet was the basis of a number of Freenet clients and network analysis applications. libfreenet's complexity inspired the creation of simpler client-to-node communications protocols.
Claim to fame
The only working Freenet v0.3 protocol implementation written in a language other than Java. Also the only Freenet v0.3 protocol implementation that shares no code with the reference node implementation.
No plans to support Freenet 0.4 protocol changes. I've given up.
Somewhat to my surprise the RIAA continues to sue their customers. I write this surprises me because is seems clear that in the long run suing your customers is not a good way to make money.
Periodically they RIAA picks out hundreds of Internet users that they believe are guilty of publishing copyrighted work originally published by RIAA members (e.g., the recording industry). They send these customers threatening letters noting that a law suit has been filed against them. So far most customers have settled with the RIAA before going to court. The alternative is a costly court fight and potentially huge financial losses.
So far the RIAA has been able to track file publishers on Gnutella and other peer-to-peer networks. A more secure network would make the RIAA's task much more difficult, if not impossible. Such a peer-to-peer network is ANts P2P. ANts is published on sourceforge under the GNU GPL license.
Theodore Hong has written a number of papers on Freenet and peer-to-peer networks. Some of these papers have been co-authored with Ian Clarke and Keith L. Clark who are also Freenet contributors.
The paper Protecting Free Expression Online with Freenet (PDF format) has been published in the January/February 2002 issue of IEEE Internet computing.
This web page provides links to a number of papers on peer to peer networking by the "Stanford Peers". One the faculty researchers is Hector Garcia-Molina, who, along with Jeff Ullman and Jennifer Windom (all of Stanford as well) wrote Database Systems: the complete book, an excellent text on database systems and database implementation.
If we did not already know that the RIAA was doomed, the fact that such talented people are being attracted to peer to peer network research should be a pretty stark indication. Think about it: if we were to place bets, we would have the fools at the RIAA on one side and Professor Garcia-Molina on the other. I would not bet on the RIAA, even with long odds.
Professor Garcia-Molina interest in peer to peer networks seems to have been sparked by issues involving transactions and data mirroring (which also exist in database systems).
The RIAA Wants to Hack Your PC by Declan McCullagh, October 15, 2001, WIRED News
The "anti-terrorism" bill, which looks like it will pass in October, 2001, has some severe penalties for breaking into computer systems or otherwise making them unusable (e.g., denial of service attacks via techniques like "SYN flooding").
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has attempted to include an exemption, tailored just for them, as a rider to this bill. One way to view this exemption is as a license to allow the RIAA to commit terrorist acts to protect their copyrights. It's starting to look a bit like a Noir world. The difference is that the RIAA and other copyright holders are rapidly alienating the public who buys their products.
Apparently the RIAA realizes that they face a huge hurdle in controlling intellectual property in the face of peer-to-peer networks. So, in their opinion, stronger methods are called for. As a result, they have pushed a bill in congress that will remove their liability for hacking into computers that they suspect of harboring their copyrighted material. Although they don't specifically state this, such an exemption might allow viruses and worms tailored at peer-to-peer networks to be released without liability on the part of the RIAA.
The willingness of an industry to go to war with their customer base continues to amaze me. In theory capitalism should fix this problem as the customer base turns against the industry and stops doing business with it.
As I mentioned at the start of this article, I don't exchange music files and I have never used a peer-to-peer network. I find peer-to-peer networks interesting as a computer scientist and as someone with a strong belief in the free flow of information. As time goes on, however, I find my original neutral views in this area changing to animosity toward the RIAA for their heavy handed behavior. As one poster put it "I think it's funny that the RIAA fears its goals will be throttled by an anti-cyberterrorism bill!".
Online music wars inspire new weaponry by John Borland, October 15, 2001, CNET news.com
This CNET article can be viewed as a more detailed follow-on to the Wired News article above. Apparently the RIAA has paid for the development of software that acts as a client/server on a peer-to-peer network. But rather than acting as a normal client/server, it slows down the network and blocks access by systems that supply data that the RIASS believes is copyrighted. This is, in effect, a denial of service attack, although it simply slows Internet access to a crawl, rather than denying all access. The RIAA obviously realizes that this is computer hacking and is seeking a special exemption from civil and criminal liability.
The time appears to be coming when a boycott of the companies that back the RIAA is called for. Governments regularly apply repressive measures to their citizens, whether it is the Stalinist Gulag or the War on Some Drugs. But companies cannot successfully declare war on their customers (or at least this is what capitalism tells us). The RIAA and the Motion Picture Association of America are some of the most moronic, moss backed and hide bound organizations that have existed. It is time that the capitalist system applied correction to these fools. Music and movies are discretionary expenditures. We do not have to give money to people who would release viruses, worms and covert servers on peer-to-peer networks. A boycott could quickly exceed any perceived financial savings these companies would realize by attacking peer-to-peer computing.
How the music industry blew it, by Richard Barbrook, Salon.com, November 30, 2001.
This is a book review of the book Sonic Boom, by John Alderman. This book reviews this history of on-line music, Napster and the missed opportunities of the music industry. The book also makes a strong argument for the inevitability of peer-to-peer music sharing network. For many who have followed these issues closely this book may be an unnecessary summary.
What They Know Could Hurt You, Michelle Delio, Jan. 3, 2002
The economic model used by some of the companies that supply peer-to-peer file sharing software is to include advertising submodules in the free software. A software engineper can simply strip this junk out and rebuild the software, but most users are not software engineers. They download prebuilt software for what ever platform they are running (usually windows). This article in Wired News discusses "trojan horse" software that has been found in some of these products.
Using tax dollars to combat piracy by Gwendolyn Mariano, news.com, April 24, 2002
This is a brief article about the RIAA's attempt to get congress to allocate more money for crackdowns on "intellectual property theft". Having found out that killing Napster did not kill music sharing on the Internet, the RIAA is growing "increasingly frustrated".
As I've noted, as a software engineer and writer I am naturally sympathetic to the idea that the creators of intellectual property (e.g., music, software, etc...) should be paid for their work. However, the heavy handed tactics of the RIAA and the recording industry's long history of screwing artists leaves me with few tears for the RIAA associated companies.
Hollywodd vs. the Internet: Why entertainment companies want to hack your computer, by Mike Godwin, Reason Online, May 2002
An article about the attempt of the media companies to totally control intellectual property.
A New Code for Anonymous Web Use, Noah Shachtman, Wired News, July 12, 2002
This Wired News article discusses the "Six/Four" anonymous peer-to-peer protocol, which is being released along with reference software and an API. The software was developed by "Hacktivismo", which is reportedly an offshoot of the Cult of the Dead Cow (cDc). Past cDc software has been well written and well engineered. These are definitely people who know what they are doing. They understand complex networking issues and speak C++. They are not script kiddies. So it is reasonable to expect that this software will have an impact.
Gnutella Bandwidth Bandits by Farhad Manjoo, August 8, 2002, Salon.com
This articles discusses another problem with abuse of "the commons". Gnutella clients can make periodic queries into the Gnutella network to locate popular files. If the local cache of file locations is accurate, files can be fetched faster. Some Gnutella protocol clients have been written to make frequent queries, flooding the network and impacting overall performance (this is a variation on a TCP/IP denial of service attack). In one case the query flood appeared to be the result of ignorance of the overall impact of these queries. However, such query floods may also be malicious. According to this Salon article, a Gnutella client located in Hong Kong is currently flooding the network with requests. The authors of this client have not responded to requests for discussion. It is not known whether this site is sponsored by the recording industry. The recording industry is reported to be behind a flood of fragmentary files of popular songs that have been inserted into file sharing networks. Given their current short sighted attempts to suppress file sharing, it seems only a matter of time before the recording industry sponsors a hostile Gnutella client.
This Salon article discusses suggestions in the Gnutella community for digital signatures for Gnutella clients. The article nicely covers the possible impact of such a move on an open source, open protocol project. However, the author misses another important point: any centralization provides a target for the RIAA lawyers. If there is a central group of people who control digital signatures for Gnutella clients, these people can be targeted for legal intimidation. Peer-to-peer file sharing networks must be distributed in all aspects to avoid the threat of legal action.
One of the reasons that computer scientists like Hector Garcia-Molina have become involved in peer-to-peer networking is because it presents many interesting problems, some of which extend beyond the scope of these networks. These issues include distributed data representation, data caching, distributed data coherence, distributed load balancing and protocol design. Many of these issues involve engineering to avoid misuse of common resources. Another topic that has not been discussed much until recently is network reliability in the face of malicious attack. This is an issue that is critically important for the Internet as well.
In a perverse way, the willingness of the RIAA to mount malicious attacks on file sharing networks may actually result in the evolution of some techniques that are important to computer science and networking in general. In fact, the cynical might suggest that the RIAA be given reasonable license to mount these attacks to force such evolution. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) could then fund computer scientists like Professor Garcia-Molina to research peer-to-peer networking issues. Research results would be picked up, evaluated and extended by the open source community. Compared to a closed project, the results achieved for a given level of DARPA spending could be greatly amplified. While all this would be good for the computer science and networking community at large, the RIAA would continue to build its reputation as the nemeses of its own customer base. Most companies would not view this as a profitable course, but the RIAA seems stubbornly resistant to the obvious implications of their actions.
The Darknet and the Future of Content Distribution by Peter Biddle, Paul England, Marcus Peinado, and Bryan Willman, 2002 ACM Workshop on Digital Rights Management, November 18, 2002, Stanford University (Microsoft DOC format)
This paper was published in Microsoft WORD "doc" format. For those who do not have work, here is an HTML formatted version (translated from Word to HTML by Word).
This paper is written by employees of Microsoft (presumably Microsoft Research), where they seem to be allowed to think. The "darknet" referred to are the peer-to-peer file sharing networks, that provide a higher level protocol on top of the Internet's protocols (TCP/IP, HTTP, etc...) I've never seen the term "darknet" used before.
In broad summary this paper makes the point that peer-to-peer networks are not going to go away, either as a result of legal attack (which defeated Napster) or technological attacks (flooding the networks with bogus files or bogus requests). In a world of efficient peer-to-peer networks, the papers suggests, digital rights managmenet will not be very effective.
RIAA Sues 261 File Swappers by John Borland, CNET News.com, September 8, 2003
After a much publicized law suits against four college students, which were settled from amounts reportedly ranging from $12,000 to $17,000 (a huge amount of money for a college student), the RIAA has expanded their Götterdämmerung campaign against their customers.
The RIAA is apparently using the directory features of peer-to-peer systems like Kazaa to find users who have published large databases of copyrighted material. This suggests that one way to avoid having Kazaa used against its own users is to make it more difficult to localize who exactly is a source for material. The RIAA is using directory sizes as a target. If they had to problem each song individually it would be more difficult (although presumably these probes could be automated, allowing the RIAA to build their own directories).
The conclusion in all this is that the arms race between the RIAA and the open source software community will continue. The RIAA's legal actions are likely to serve as motivations for a wide range of software developers and computer scientists. The RIAA is at a disadvantage in this arms race because once the open source community is motivated to develop new methods to avoid RIAA surveillance, there will be far more open source developers than developers the RIAA will be willing to pay to develop software.
Finally, while all this goes on, the RIAA's customers will be polarized against the RIAA companies and against music CD purchase. These RIAA law suits will not stop people from copying CDs using CD burners.
The MUTE File Sharing System is an interesting attempt to create a file sharing network that protects privacy. All routing in the network, both content queries and file transactions, are routed indirectly. The MUTE web site on Sourceforge makes it quite explicit that this is an attempt to avoid RIAA lawsuites.
Explicitly creating a software system that allows its users to avoid copyright enforcement seems unwise, if not immoral. Rather than couching the system description in terms of privacy and information sharing, the authors take a direct poke at the RIAA. This seems to invite legal action by the RIAA and does not leave open the classic legal defence that a network that can privately share copyrighted material can share non-copyrighted material and has application in totalitarian states like China and Iran.
MUTE is Free Software (GNU GPL), so perhaps the authors feel that it cannot be suppressed. Perhaps, but the RIAA can still make their lives miserable and they have egregiously stripped away a legal defense by publicly definining their motivation (sharing of material that the sharer has no legal right to publish).
Created: February 2001
Revised: August 2004
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