Dave Winer on P2P … and the Google API … and BitTorrent

From Dave Winer's post, 'Yahoo game-changers for 2006':

P2P webcasting. I wrote about this vaguely the other day, and no one apparently understood what I meant by Skype for webcasting. Come on guys, it’s pretty simple. Suppose we’re having a conversation, and I decide “Wow, this would be great for Scripting News, let’s do a webcast of this right now.” So I whip out my laptop, get onto the net (there’s wifi everywhere of course, heh) and launch my Yahoo Webcaster desktop app for the Mac. I choose New Webcast from the File menu. A window opens. There’s a button that says “Copy URL to clipboard.” I click it. Go over to my outliner, paste it into a post on Scripting News. “Tune into this webcast I’m about to do with Bull Mancuso about intellectual property and organized crime.” I highlight the word webcast and click on Add Link. Save. Then I go back to the Yahoo app and click Start. We talk for ten minutes, all the while people tune into the stream, which is managed via a realtime BitTorrent-like P2P connection. And of course when it’s all done it’s automatically archived to an MP3 and included in my RSS 2.0 feed for people who subscribe. If you’ve ever done a webcast, you know how much better this would be. And it’s ready to go, we know how to do all the bits.

And Kevin Marks adds in his comment to Dave's post:

Dave, have a look at GarageBand 3 and iChat. You set up your n-way conversation in iChat, you hit record in GarageBand, and it creates a multitrack recording of it for you with the speakers labelled. You can trim it, adjust levels ad effect, or just dump it out to mp3 straight away.

We should get right down to exploring and using these methods: homegrown webcasting has huge potential for schools and education.

There's much else in Dave's post. I've blogged before about his Clone the Google API proposal. What he told Yahoo! about BitTorrent is surely smack on target, too — and I love this bit of advice:

I said wherever you’re doing something to make another industry happy at the expense of users, switch polarity, immediately, and get on the side of the users. That in itself is the biggest game-change possible.

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Cory on DRM

Cory Doctorow's talk to the Microsoft Research Group (17 June, 2004) on DRM has become very well-known. Earlier today I read with pleasure his piece on BitTorrent (Boing Boing), a response to Wired magazine's long piece (by Clive Thompson) on Bram Cohen, BitTorrent's author:

It's a very good piece, and Bram gets some great licks in; the only place I took issue with it is where Clive talks about Microsoft DRM being useful to "keep content out of pirate hands" -- there is not a single piece of content in the history of the universe that has been "kept out of pirate hands" (i.e. kept off the Internet, or prevented from being stamped out in pirate CD factories abroad) by DRM. It's a weird kind of Big Lie strategy by the DRM people to talk about how DRM can prevent "piracy" when there has never, ever been an example of this happening.

Wired seems to be a little soft on DRM these days; the recent Wired spin-off, Wired Test, featured page on page of reviews of music players, media PCs, and PVRs with hardly a mention of the fact that all of these devices were fundamentally crippleware, and all controlled by entertainment companies who can and do arbitrarily remove functionality from them after they have entered the marketplace, so that the device that you've bought does less today than it did when you opened the box. If you're publishing a consumer-advice magazine, it seems like this is the kind of thing you should be noting for your readers: "If you buy this, your investment will be contingent on the ongoing goodwill of some paranoid Warners exec whose astrologer has told him that your pause button will put him out of business and must be disabled."

Chris Anderson, Editor-in-Chief of Wired, responded to this response, and Cory has in turn replied:

  • There's no reason to believe that DRM makes more content available
  • There's no reason to let the studios "call the shots" -- we haven't before this
  • There's no reason to believe that DRM makes media cheaper, quite the contrary
  • The features that make your "reasonable" DRM palatable to the market today can and are rescinded tomorrow

The future and the MPAA

Adam Field:

Here’s what I think it boils down to - a simple choice. We, as a society, have to choose one of:

1) Copy protection.
2) General purpose open computing.

They are not compatible. Copy protection (and everything else that goes along with being able to perform copy protection) simply cannot be enforced in a world where the end user has control over their hardware and software. Everything else is a thin sugar layer on top of that, disguising the fact that we’re heading for one of two worlds - where all entertainment (and consequently, all other computing) is viewed with industry-mandated black boxes, or the content creation industry (movies, music, games, etc…) learns to live in a world where they can’t force people to pay for their product. Currently, it’s a weird mishmash, but eventually, It’s one or the other.

Fortunately, there’s still a looong way to go before general purpose computing is outlawed, and there’s not a long way to go before technology makes it possible to anonymously copy whatever you want. Two things work in favor of that outcome - 1) storage keeps getting cheaper, and 2) because everything’s digital, a distribution mechanism that works for one kind of media can be easily adapted to work for all kinds of media. Eventually, there will be enough storage out there that the entire music library of the human race will be able to fit on a card or disc that’s small enough and cheap enough that it will be practical to just hand them out with a cup of coffee. Then, eventually, the entire movie library. Then, without the cup of coffee. All radio. Recordings of every live performance. P2P is just a way station on the road to constant on-demand availability of all digital media. It may be over the wire, it may be on cheap storage, it’ll probably be a combination of the two. But how it happens doesn’t matter - it will happen. Eventually, it isn’t about “piracy” vs. “legitimate usage". It’s about facing a world where copying is not only widespread, it’s simply unavoidable.

In a later post, Adam Field links to a piece by Sander Sassen at Hardware Analysis, entitled DRM at its worst?:

… after trying to play the DVD back with Windows Media Player 9, I couldn't get it to work. For some reason I needed to install a 3rd party application, InterActual Player, that was required to play back the content. I was a bit surprised as to why I needed to install InterActual Player as it clearly says Windows Media Player 9 on the cover. Why can't I simply play the content back without having to install yet another application? But then it became quickly apparent that I did not only have to install and download an update for the InterActual Player over the internet in order to facilitate playback, but would also need to acquire a license. So obviously the WMV9 content on the DVD was protected by DRM and could only be unlocked after connecting to the license server to obtain a license, which it failed to do. I was surprised to find that it failed to give me a license as it had determined that my physical location was not in the US or Canada. Apparently the content was only to be played back in either one of these countries and nowhere else. After routing my IP address through an anonymous proxy server in the US I however managed to unlock the content just as well and was presented with a license agreement I had to agree to prior to being able to play the content back.

That agreement, amongst other things, stated that I could only play back the content for a period of five days, on the computer I installed the InterActual Player application onto, after which I had to re-acquire a license. To be honest that really pissed me off, I spent about an hour trying to play back a disc I legitimately bought and went as far as installing and updating a 3rd party application to my system that would allow me to do so, and now I'm only being given a temporary license, where's my rights as a consumer? If this is how future DRM protected content will be distributed I have strong objections to the use of DRM, as this is a prime example of how to quickly alienate any prospective consumers. If a license is given and the content decrypted isn't it clear that I'm the rightful owner? Can't I decide for myself when and where I want to play this content back on?

The true significance of P2P

In all the coverage here in the UK of the British Phonographic Society, our equivalent of the RIAA, and its declared intention to prosecute a small number of big-time file-sharers, little has been written in the traditional press, or aired on traditional radio, that shows any commanding grasp of the issues and the technology involved. John Naughton, as ever, is a great exception and his Observer article (dated today) is a fine illustration of his knowledge and perspicacity:

... a UK start-up called CacheLogic has come up with technology that enables ISPs to get a detailed analysis of network traffic. Over the last six months, CacheLogic has used this technology in collaboration with a range of big ISPs, and from this has derived what it claims is the first detailed empirical analysis of contemporary net traffic.

The findings are fascinating. They suggest that P2P is now the largest single generator of traffic; that it significantly outweighs web traffic; and that it continues to grow. P2P traffic volumes are at least double those of web traffic during the peak evening periods and 10 times greater at other times. The significance of this is not that the efforts of content industries to plug the dyke are doomed (though they are), but that when people look back on the evolution of the net, P2P will be seen as the biggest innovation since the web's invention in 1990.

It may come as news to the BPS and RIAA, but the sharing of music files is the least significant application of P2P. For example, Skype - the sensational internet telephony software that enables anyone with a broadband connection to make freephone calls to anyone else similarly equipped - is a P2P application. So is instant messaging, which is spreading like wildfire. So is LionShare - a project started by Penn State University to create a series of networks for sharing scholarly information among academics. And BitTorrent - the best system yet devised for distributing large files (for example new releases of operating systems) - is likewise P2P.

P2P networking technology is taking over the net for one simple and compelling reason: it makes abundant sense. There are millions of PCs connected to the net. Most of the time they are doing nothing. But they represent a massive, untapped reserve of computing power and storage resources.

P2P is a way of harnessing these resources. Of course, like every other technology from the medical syringe to the camcorder and the automobile, it has unsavoury uses. But those abuses do not provide a justification for a few threatened industries to squash the technology. There are more important things in life than the bonuses of record company executives. P2P is the future; they belong to the past.