File-sharing

Intellectual Property: a Digital Rights Campaign

I'm grateful to James Governor for digging a bit further than me, visiting the National Consumer Council's website (as opposed to stopping with the BBC's report — see below). The NCC is dedicating time and energy to digital rights:

There is a new section to the website which summarises the NCC's work on innovation and intellectual property (IP). We argue that the view of consumers — as being at the end of the value chain, choosing from the products and services offered by providers — is outdated, and that this is reflected in IP law...

More information about the NCC's work on IP here:

Traditionally, businesses and policy-makers have tended to think of consumers as being at the end of the value chain, choosing from the range of products and services offered by providers. This does not describe how value is created in a modern economy and the role consumers can, and do, play in innovation and the co-creation of products and services.

This outdated view of the role of consumers is reflected in intellectual property (IP) law which gives rights to owners to control the use of innovations and ideas, and describes public and consumer fair access and use rights as exclusions and exceptions.

In addition, powerful business lobbies have been able to exert considerable influence on the development of IP law. This has increased the level of protection of IP rights and reduced public and consumer access and use rights.

This is not just bad for consumers, it is bad for society, as it constrains the ability of everyone to access important resources, and stifles the sorts of consumer creativity that can enhance economic growth.

The NCC has a page about the Digital Rights Campaign of the Bureau Européen des Unions de Consommateurs:

On 10 November 2005, BEUC, the European Consumer Organisation, launched a campaign for consumer rights in the digital environments calling for the following rights to be enshrined in EU law:

  • the right to choice, knowledge and cultural diversity
  • the right to the principle of 'technical neutrality' — defend and maintain consumer rights to the digital environment
  • the right to benefit from technological innovations without abusive restrictions
  • the right to interoperability of content and devices
  • the right to the protection of privacy
  • the right not to be criminalised

In addition, the declaration calls for:

  • industry to desist from legal action against P2P downloaders to allow the market to find solutions for the on-line development of audio/visual distribution
  • action to ensure that DRM users respect consumer privacy and fair use rights

The set of six bulleted points constitutes the BEUC's proposed Consumers' Digital Rights.

James quotes the BEUC's position statement:

BEUC believes that the European publishing sector is crucial to the building of a knowledge-based economy. However, blindly ‘enhancing’, ‘supporting’ and ‘extending’ the copyright protection regime may confer unjustified monopoly privileges, impede competition, potentially impose unfair costs on consumers and risk to inhibit creativity. Do we want a society in which the free exchange of ideas - on which our society thrives - remains possible or do we want access to content curtailed by excessive copyright regulation and abusive use of DRMs? The report correctly states about copyright and DRMs that “widespread acceptance by consumers is still lacking”. The reason for this is (at least) twofold: Firstly, DRMs are restricting consumers legitimate use of copyrighted (and non-copyrighted) material. According to the Commission, publishers also regard DRM as a technology with increased control over content and more precise definitions of the rights associated to the assets they commercialise. These “rights” go beyond what is asserted by intellectual property law and we deplore the lack of discussion on potential adverse effects on consumers, and the eventual need to guarantee consumers rights in relation to the works they legally purchase.

He also found their online petition. To echo James: please go sign it.

As the BEUC puts it elsewhere (1/ here and 2/ here) on their website:

1/
Under the heading of Digital Rights Management (DRM) new technologies are being used to limit or prohibit perfectly legitimate practices. “Exemplary" legal cases are being prosecuted and users threatened with huge penalties for downloading music or films on the Internet. The industry hides behind the artists that it claims to defend, alienating their fans and supporters. We know that there is a serious global problem of piracy. Consumers should not buy counterfeit copies of CDs and DVDs; too often these products are made in large numbers by organised criminal, and probably also terrorist, gangs. On the other hand, private consumers are not criminals or terrorists and the industry must stop portraying them as such. The time has come to guarantee consumers certain basic rights in the digital world, and to tell them what they can do with their digital hardware/content. This is our message in this campaign.

2/
We urge policy makers to endorse the 6 Consumers Digital Rights, and demand:

  • A legal framework that will encourage new means of exposure and distribution of digital content, while guaranteeing remuneration to artists, creators and performers and providing consumers and the public with new means of access, discovery and new uses;
  • A new balance between exclusive rights in the exploitation of digital content and public interest objectives in using and sharing such content, taking into account the new possibilities of content usage enabled by technical progress;
  • That industry desist from legal action against P2P downloaders to allow the market to find solutions for the on-line development of audio/visual distribution that takes due account of the public interest and the interest of artists, creators and performers;
  • Action to find solutions on how consumers can effectively exercise their private use rights and to guarantee that users of DRMs respect the legitimate interest of consumers in their personal autonomy and private sphere;
  • Mechanisms to ensure that TPMs or DRMs, which restrict uses legally exempted from copyright or not falling under copyright, do not benefit from legal protection;
  • A review of the EU legal framework on consumer protection and intellectual property in view of the 6 consumers rights demands expressed in this Declaration.

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AllofMP3.com: bursting the mould?

AllofMP3 doesn't officially support the distribution of files downloaded from its site, but one of its great attractions is that, because it leaves this decision to the end-user, no DRM is imposed. Its encoding possibilities are another excellent feature of its catering to the customer (if you don't know the site, check this page). And, of course, it has the great merit of making music buying so cheap that for the individual user it has some of the economic merits of sharing. But hang on! If I'm not sharing, but instead buying music — more music (because it's so cheap) — then there must be a business model here that the music industry should be interested in. Surely?

You would have thought so. Instead, everyone is a-buzz with the question of AllofMP3's legality (here's a current discussion at Digg), because that's how the music industry has shaped the debate. I want to look at the legal issue (it's undeniably important), but I also want to remember what AllofMP3 represents. Whatever else you might think about it, it's a very well-delivered facility for the online music lover that sells music at such a price, and with such a full quiver of DRM-free encoding choices, it must be doing a phenomenal trade.

First, the legal status. On the Russian site you can read:

All the materials in MediaServices projects are available for distribution through the Internet in accordance with license # LS-3М-05-03 of the Russian Multimedia and Internet Society. Under the license terms, MediaServices pays license fees for all materials subject to the Law of the Russian Federation "On Copyright and Related Rights". All materials are available solely for personal use and must not be used for further distribution, resale or broadcasting. The user bears sole responsibility for any use and distribution of all materials received from AllofMP3.com. This responsibility is dependent on the national legislation in each user's country of residence. The Administration of AllofMP3.com does not possess information on the laws of each particular country and is not responsible for the actions of foreign users.

Museekster has an interview with AllofMP3, exploring key issues such as legality and compensation of artists, and there is another interview with ROMS here, but both interviews date from very early in 2004 (January and February, respectively). A lot has happened since. The Wikipedia page on AllofMP3.com is here, but by far the most legally knowledgeable posting I've come across is from Wahab & Medenica LLC's Biz-Media-Law Blog (an American law firm):

Article 39 of the Russian “Law on Copyright and Related Rights” allows for the broadcast and cablecast of a phonogram “for general public knowledge” without the permission of a performer so long as royalties are paid through collective rights organizations such as ROMS. This has been widely interpreted as creating a compulsory licensing scheme with Internet music sites being classified as “broadcasts” or “cablecasts” for the purposes of this exemption. U.S. copyright law includes compulsory licenses for derivations of musical compositions, or “covers;” however, in order to copy the actual sound recording, a license must be granted by the copyright holder. Unlike U.S. copyright law, under the Russian compulsory license scheme, websites such as AllofMP3 can offer music by the Beatles because they need not receive permission from holders of copyrights to sound recordings. If this is the correct interpretation of Russian copyright law, and AllofMP3 does in fact have the proper license from ROMS, the service is probably legal in Russia.

Organizations such as the International Federation of the Phonograph Industries (IFPI) and the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers (CISAC) have been pressuring Russia to either prosecute these websites or revise the copyright law. CISAC expelled ROMS from CISAC membership in October of 2004 for contravening internationally accepted collective administration principles by issuing licenses to copyright users without being given the authority to do so by copyright holders. Despite this pressure, Russian authorities declined in March of 2005 to take action against AllofMP3.com, reasoning that the Article 39 exception creates a loophole whereby Russian copyright law only covers physical media such as CDs and not digital files. (For more details see alex.moskalyuk.com.) Moreover, according to a recent article in the Register, ROMS has lost the backing of the Russian Authors' Organization (RAO) which the article interprets as placing ROMS in unlicensed waters.

If sites such as AllofMP3.com are legal under a compulsory licensing scheme in Russia, these licenses only apply to music to users within Russia and do not permit the sites to distribute music worldwide. Essentially, digital music files have become a new type of gray market good when sold to U.S. purchasers even though the Russian websites claim that they target Russians exclusively and provide disclaimers stating that users should consult the laws of their own nations. Sites such as AllofMP3.com raise the confounding problem of how one can impose import and export controls on digital files sold legally from a Russian website to U.S. purchasers who download, or import, these files across invisible international boarders. Even if importation of digital music files could be detected and prevented, Section 602 of the U.S. Copyright code permits importation one copy of a copyrighted work without the permission of the copyright holder for personal use.   

With the successful defeat of Grokster handed down by the Supreme Court it seems likely that free file-sharing services in the U.S. are likely to decrease. This void may be filled by quasi-legitimate foreign online music sites offering superior service at a fraction of the price compared to a download from popular legitimate U.S. sites such as iTunes. It appears that there is very little that the music industry players can do besides pressure Russia to change its copyright laws, and even if successful in doing this, it is likely to be a slow and laborious process. In the meantime, the music industry should decide what legal actions to take, if any, and how to compete in the constantly changing global environment.

The status of AllofMP3 differs from country to country: GEMA, the German society for musical performing and mechanical reproduction rights, issued a press release in April of last year making it clear that under an amendment to German copyright law it is illegal in Germany for anyone to download from AllofMP3.com, and the Italian portal was shut down in July.

A number of websites, blogs, etc continue to say that ROMS is a member of CISAC, and in this and other respects there is quite a bit of disinformation about AllofMP3 in circulation. Yet as far as I can determine, on the basis of the evidence I've seen, BPI spokesman Matt Phillips, quoted in the Observer in May of last year, also got it wrong when he said that, 'Anyone who is downloading from any Russian website is doing so illegally'. (He went on to say: 'Of course on the grand scale of copyright infringement this is not our number-one priority. We are targeting people who are uploading large amounts of music to the internet and then distributing it via peer-to-peer software. However, we would urge anyone who wants to download music to do so from legal authorised services.') The Observer's own reporter concluded, just before quoting Phillips, 'There has been a lot of coverage of allofmp3 in the international press, which has largely concluded that UK consumers can legally download the music until the dispute is resolved'. (In February 2004, The New Statesman, on their New Media Awards Site, enquired into AllofMP3 and described it as legal. The relevant posting is no longer available online it seems, but I blogged about it here.)

Nevertheless, the legal position does not exactly commend AllofMP3. The music lover who uses AllofMP3 would appear to be using a brilliant facility that is still in operation because of a legal loophole(s). Museekster notes that, in the same Register article as cited above, IFPI's legal adviser for Russia, Vladimir Dragunov, admits: 'Because of these loopholes we don't have much chance of succeeding if we attack these companies who are using music files on the Internet under current Russian laws'. Moreover, like David Berlind I'm left asking, 'If I wanted to make sure the copyright holders got whatever royalties were due to them, how would I do that?'. This must be a major factor in determining how comfortable we feel about the site.

And yet. Much of the attraction of AllofMP3 lies in its addressing, however ambiguously and darkly, the exasperation of customers fed up with the entrenched positions of the music industry on DRM, charges, choice of encoding, etc. This is acknowledged even by a leading industry player such as Richard Wolpert, chief strategy officer for RealNetworks. The WSJ reported (January, 2005, subscriber only; text available here):

Mr. Wolpert acknowledges that U.S. digital-music companies could learn a thing or two from the Russian sites, pointing out that Napster's early success persuaded record labels to open up to the idea of selling music downloads. He says legal services should pay attention, for instance, to the Russian sites' higher sound quality and variety of file types. "It's fair to say they might have some innovative ideas," he says. "In an odd way, that might help push forward the legitimate services."

Museekster carries a translation of a news report from Friday 4 March, 2005 (prime-tass.ru) about Moscow prosecutors refusing to initiate action against AllofMP3: the Prosecutor concluded that, 'distribution of works does not result in making a new copy of the work, but only creates conditions for being utilized by end consumer'. This sounds like an internet-based translation service at work! But through the language I hear the idea of end-user digital freedom being defended.

In one of my favourite quotes from the net, Jon Udell wrote (March, 2004): 'Something wonderful died with Napster: the collaborative discovery and sharing of a wide diversity of music'. AllofMP3 is so cheap there's a social sharing going on — one the music industry should love ($$$): a friend mentions a band and, if they're on the site and you trust your friend's taste, it's so cheap you feel inclined to buy and download their music — or you can first use the excellent 'Preview song' facility. AllofMP3 is not Napster, but it's creating a social buzz that then spins off into sites like Last.fm. More people buying more music, encouraging more people to buy more music …

We can't go on and on repeating the errors of the past. Online digital life has got to change and I note two recent straws in the wind. Neither is about AllofMp3 but both are about the need for realising a new understanding of the digital life (P2P, DRM, charges, etc):

… we hope in the future to contribute actively to developing innovative new ways for consumers to acquire digital content legally, and at a fair price, without succumbing to the oppressive restrictions inherent in today’s DRM technology. PeerPressure

Conceptually, I think the idea of paying a monthly fee and getting to choose from 1000+ movies is what those of us in the “cable generation” consider “normal.” Unlike iTunes’ $2 per television episode, this fits much more naturally in how I regularly consume video content. … the cost [of iTunes video] starts to become a bit much after a while. … If I were a betting man, I’d say that Apple will introduce a subscription service of some kind next week as well. There’s going to be too much pressure not to …   Russell Beattie on Vongo

AllofMP3 is surely now so well-known and celebrated that it must represent a challenge to the RIAA, the BPI, the IFPI et al that can no longer be met just by drawn out legal actions across different countries. That's the dull reaction of retreating, defeated and dying armies. The more meaningful challenge is to the business model of the music industry and the blue ocean opportunity here is striking: 'We argue that beating the competition within the confines of the existing industry is not the way to create profitable growth' (with thanks to Tom Peters).

I remember an experiment at school, performed years ago: we took seeds (peas, I think), mixed them with plaster of Paris and made a hard ball which duly split apart as the germinating peas thrust their way out. The force exerted by the germinating seedlings was startling. Is AllofMP3 going to make the traditional form of the music retail industries split apart? Read Julian Bond's post. Don't forget that those who break the traditional ways of doing something are for a long while dismissed, derided and then regarded (too late) as a threat to be stamped on. Think Dyson. Watch Magnatune. Et cetera.

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Paying for our music

I missed this, Paying for the music, a great posting from Julian Bond, when it appeared in October 2004!

In Internet distribution we have economies of scale that become economies of abundance rather than scarcity. A track that's only downloaded twice a year costs no more to host and deliver than one that's downloaded two million times. If you solve the economies of scale, then one million tracks delivered twice each costs you the same as that one hit, but generates more money. The implication for the record companies is that they should be digitising their back catalogues and all those copyright-free recordings as fast as they can and offering them for sale at a much reduced rate. In fact, the best business model for them for downloading looks to be huge volume of inventory allied to a premium rate for the latest hits, rapidly dropping to near zero for back catalogue. …

Now, for this to work, you, the customer, needs to actually buy all this stuff. Somebody, somewhere, has got to pay to cover the costs. Which finally brings me to the question. How much are you really prepared to pay for music? Here's my answer. The first thing I want is a product I actually want to buy. That's a minimum of an mp3 digitised at 192Kb VBR with no DRM. That's the point where the product is as good as something I rip myself from a CD. It's also quite a bit higher quality than that available from iTMS, Napster, Sony, Rhapsody and the other online services. And I can play it anywhere. On my home PC, on my laptop, my portable music player, my mp3 CD player, or in the car. Without jumping through the DRM hoops and with the ability to back it up.

… for me $0.99 (or whatever the UK equivalent is) per song is too much. I have to think about whether I want to blow $10 on this album instead of that one. … Now, what I've discovered is: if I buy it from AllOfMp3.com at $0.01 per Mb or about $0.06 per song, I don't even think about the cost. $1 per album is so low that I'll just do it. The end result is that I'm buying more music and listening to more music, and I'm actually spending more than I used to when buying CDs.

So for me, at least, the price point where I'll switch from trying to get it for free and actually paying for downloads is somewhere between $0.06 and $0.99, or $1 and $10 per CD. My guess is that for most people the point where they stop thinking about the price and download huge quantities is around $0.25 per song. … So, putting this together with the detail from The Long Tail, it seems clear to me that the best strategy for the music industry is to go flat out for scale so that the overheads drop well below $0.25. And then offer up everything they've got, even it only gets a couple of downloads a year. …

From the labels' point of view, this should look like Free Money. It's from inventory that's already covered its costs and wasn't earning anything anyway. And then we can all just forget about DRM, suing customers, price cartels and regional price differences. And at that point maybe the p2p file sharing networks will just fade away because nobody can be bothered any more.

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Open Rights Group

To London, to the inaugural meeting of the ORG, the Open Rights Group at 01Zero-One (Hopkins Street, Soho). The theme? 'Digital Rights in the UK: Your Rights, Your Issues'.

The evening was introduced by Suw Charman, Executive Director of ORG, who asked Jonathan Zittrain, Chair in Internet Governance and Regulation, Oxford University (Co-Founder, Berkman Center for Internet & Society) to say some words. He was impressive and I look forward to meeting him again tomorrow morning at the OII. He spoke about how the launch of ORG was 'not a moment too soon', the future of the net being so uncertain. After Suw had spoken about ORG, Lloyd Davies (some of us had already seen more of him than we'd bargained for) took over and ran the evening, centred around a number of "conversations": eg, how we should/could engage lawyers; how we engage MPs and MEPs; how we make the ORG an organisation that does for Britain and British law what the EFF does for the US; tackling the challenge of copyright law (including working for the abolition of Crown Copyright) … The ORG has much to do to establish and define itself, but is already being heard. It has my £5 a month and I hope to hear a lot more from it as it works with like-minded organisations (such as The Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure) in the area of digital rights.

The need for the ORG is in part summed up (via email) by Danny O'Brien: 'The emergence of new communications technologies has radically changed the civil rights landscape in our society. Privacy, intellectual property, and access to knowledge are just some of the areas where digital rights are being eroded by government and big business.'

As of today, the Wikipedia entry for ORG runs:

The Open Rights Group (Org) is a UK-based organisation that hopes to preserve digital rights and freedoms by serving as a hub for other cyber-rights groups campaigning on similar digital rights issues. Like the EFF, it will campaign against the entertainment industry's attempts to limit what people can do with digital media, as well as highlighting a variety of privacy related issues. It will also provide information to the media and co-ordinate grassroots campaigns.

The organisation was started by Danny O'Brien, after speaking with people at UKUUG and the BBC's Open Tech 2005 and seeing the interest in a UK-based digital rights organisation.

O'Brien first publicised the organisation, and attempted to secure funding for it, with a pledge on PledgeBank, placed on July 24, 2005, with a deadline of December 25, 2005: "I will create a standing order of 5 pounds per month to support an organisation that will campaign for digital rights in the UK but only if 1,000 other people will too." The pledge reached 1000 people on 29 November 2005.

Just as the pledge reached maturity the organisation launched at a "sell-out" meeting in London's district of Soho. The same day controversial plans to surveil British road users as part of a new road taxation scheme were featured on the front page of The Times.

Goals

  • to raise awareness in the media of digital rights abuses
  • to provide a media clearinghouse, connecting journalists with experts and activists
  • to preserve and extend traditional civil liberties in the digital world
  • to collaborate with other digital rights and related organisations
  • to nurture a community of campaigning volunteers, from grassroots activists to technical and legal experts

It was a pleasure to catch up with Thomas again and with a number of acquaintances from previous conferences and meetings (notably, Suw, Stefan Magdalinski, Paula Le Dieu, Julian Bond, David Weinberger and, most unexpectedly, Jimmy Wales), and to meet for the first time others whose work I'd heard of. Central to the evening, though very modest, was Tom Steinberg, founder of My Society — see, WriteToThem and TheyWorkForYou — and associated with the Young Foundation (itself associated with the Skoll Centre, Saïd Business School). He explains PledgeBank here. He is a Demos author and there's a relevant BBC piece here.

I very much enjoyed talking to David Isenberg: there's a webcast available of his OII seminar (given yesterday), 'Who will run the internet?'. More about this soon.


Online Survey: Music and the Internet

Ian Pascal Volz, of the University of Frankfurt, has contacted me to ask if I would help publicise a research survey he's conducting into the impact on the demand for music of online-distribution. He writes:

The University of Frankfurt and the Conservatory of Weimar have created a survey to find out more about consumers' attitudes and needs concerning downloading and information services on the internet. Participants are asked to evaluate different downloading services and to state their habits concerning music downloads (via Peer-to-Peer, Websites, etc.) and music reception in general. The results will be used to describe the impact the internet has on promoting music. A special focus is put on promoting possibilities for young and not yet established musicians.

In order to support this research project we need you to participate in this survey. The link to the survey is: www.music-and-the-internet.com.

All participants can win 20 free songs at iTunes Music Store!

The survey is only for research purposes and is in no way connected to the music industry or any other industry. All responses are strictly confidential and used anonymously by the researcher.

Ian Pascal Volz, of Frankfurt (ivolz@wiwi.uni-frankfurt.de)


Music like running water

John Naughton, writing in today's Observer, recalls a 2002 NYT article about David Bowie in which the musician speculated on the future of music:

'The absolute transformation of everything we ever thought about music will take place within 10 years,' he wrote, 'and nothing is going to be able to stop it. I see absolutely no point in pretending that it's not going to happen. I'm fully confident that copyright, for instance, will no longer exist in 10 years, and authorship and intellectual property is in for such a bashing. Music, itself, is going to become like running water or electricity...'

If you want to read the NYT piece, you can go here and pay $3.95 for the pleasure. And it's worth reading. Alternatively, you can go here and read it for free. Or here. I find it … amusing that the NYT carries an article prophesying the end of copyright as we know it, then tries to charge you for the same article — only to find itself defeated by the power of the net.

And that's the point. As Naughton's Observer article explains, what has happened so far (mp3/compression technology, Napster/etc, iPods/etc) to change the music-as-packaged-product model for the broadcasting and entertainment industries is but

… half a revolution, because it's still [my emphasis] based on the music-as-product model. For the record industry, it has been an unqualified disaster, because millions of people aren't paying for their packages. Legal download services like Apple iTunes are beginning to mitigate the disaster, but it's not clear that even iTunes can compete with illicit file-sharing.

So what's to be done? Here's where the water analogy comes in. It's as if we lived in a world where water was only made available in Perrier bottles, so that if you want the stuff you have to buy (or steal) bottles. But in fact water is also available as a public service, piped through mains and available by turning a tap. We pay for this either via a flat tax or a charge based on how much we use, and everyone is (reasonably) happy. We have access to water whenever we need it; and the companies that provide the stuff earn reasonable revenues from providing it.

As broadband internet access becomes ubiquitous - and wireless - this model suddenly becomes feasible for music. At the moment, the only way we can have the stuff we crave is to buy or steal the product. But if we could access whatever we wanted, at any time, on payment of a levy, our need to own the packages would diminish. We could just turn on the tap, as it were, and get Beethoven or So Solid Crew on demand. Not to mention the collected works of David Bowie. And then we could give him a Brit Award for being so far ahead of the game.

Bowie's vision of the future (2012!) is wilder/more radical than Naughton's, of course.


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 future for BitTorrent

A great piece by Marc Pesce on BitTorrent — what it is and what happens to, and with it, now:

This morning I woke up to find that the torrent had died. Someone - no one knows who - had put enough pressure onto the operators of Suprnova.org and TorrentBits.com to shut them down. SuprNova.org was amazing, the Wal-Mart of torrents, a great big marketplace of piracy, all neatly dished up and aiming to please. You want this new Hollywood release? Here's a recording from someone who smuggled a camcorder into a screening. - How about the latest episode of that hit HBO series? There you go, and no subscription fees to pay. Just fire up your favorite BitTorrent client - BitTornado, Azureus, Tomato, or that good old-fashioned Bram Cohen code. Click on the torrent, and you're up and downloading, sharing what you're getting with hundreds of others. Share and share alike. What could be more friendly? …

If you're just one person with one recording of one show, and it's a popular show, your computer's internet connection is going to get swamped with requests for the show; eventually your computer will crash or you'll take the show off the Internet, just so you can read your email. And in the early days of peer-to-peer, that's how it was. Someone would find a computer with a copy of the song they wanted to listen to, connect to that computer, and download the data. It worked, but anything that got very popular was likely to disappear almost immediately. Popularity was a problem in first-generation peer-to-peer networks.

In November 2002, an unemployed programmer named Bram Cohen decided there had to be a better way, so he spent a few weeks writing an improved version of the protocols used to create peer-to-peer networks, and came up with BitTorrent. BitTorrent is a radical advance over the peer-to-peer systems which preceded it. Cohen realized that popularity is a good thing, and designed BitTorrent to take advantage of it. When a file (movie, music, computer program, it's all just bits) is published on BitTorrent, everyone who wants the file is required to share what they have with everyone else. As you're downloading the file, those parts you've already downloaded are available to other people looking to download the file. This means that you're not just "leeching" the file, taking without giving back; you're also sharing the file with anyone else who wants it. As more people download the file, they offer up what they've downloaded, and so on. As this process rolls on, there are always more and more computers to download the file from. If a file gets very popular, you might be getting bits of it from hundreds of different computers, all over the Internet - simultaneously. This is a very important point, because it means that as BitTorrent files grow in popularity, they become progressively faster to download. Popularity isn't a scourge in BitTorrent - it's a blessing.

It's such a blessing that, as of November, 35% of all traffic on the Internet was BitTorrent-related. Unfortunately, that blessing looks more like a curse if you're the head of a Hollywood studio, trying to fill seats in megaplexes or move millions of units of your latest DVDs releases. And, although BitTorrent is efficient, it isn't designed to make data piracy easy; BitTorrent relies on a lot of information which can be used to trace the location of every single user downloading a file, and, more significantly, it also relies on a centralized "tracker" - a computer program which registers the requests for the file, and tells a requester how to hook up to the tens or hundreds of other computers offering pieces of the file for download.

As any good network engineer knows (and I was a network engineer for over a decade), a single point of failure (a single computer offering a single torrent tracker) is a Bad Thing to have in a network. It's the one shortcoming in Cohen's design for BitTorrent: kill the tracker and you've killed the torrent. But network engineers know better than to design systems with single points of failure: that's one of the reasons the Internet is still around, despite the best efforts of hackers around the world to kill it. Failure in any one part of the Internet is expected and dealt with in short order. Various parts of the Internet fail all the time and you only very rarely notice.

Back to today, when the hammer came down. SuprNova.org and TorrentBits.com each played host to thousands of BitTorrent trackers. When these sites went down the torrents went Poof!, as if they'd never existed. This evening the members of the MPAA must be feeling quite satisfied with themselves - they see this danger as passed; never again will BitTorrent threaten the revenues of the Hollywood studios.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

As Hollywood is so fond of sequels, it seems perfectly fitting that today's suppression of the leading BitTorrent sites bears an uncanny resemblance to an event which took place in July of 2000. Facing a rising sea of lawsuits and numerous court orders demanding an immediate shutdown, the archetypal peer-to-peer service, Napster, pulled the plug on its own servers, silencing the millions of users who used the service as a central exchange to locate songs to download. That should have been the end of that. But it wasn't. Instead, the number of songs traded on the Internet today dwarfs the number traded in Napster's heyday. The suppression of Napster led to a profusion of alternatives - Gnutella, Kazaa, and BitTorrent.

Gnutella is a particularly telling example of how the suppression of a seductive technology (and peer-to-peer file trading is very seductive - ask anyone who's done it) only results in an improved technology taking its place. Instead of relying on a centralized server - a fault that both Napster and BitTorrent share - Gnutella uses a process of discovery to let peers share information with each other about what's available where. The peers in a Gnutella peer-to-peer network self-organize into an occasionally unreliable but undeniably expansive network of content. Because of its distributed nature, shutting down any one Gnutella peer has only a very limited effect on the overall network. One individual's collection of music might evaporate, but there are still tens of thousands of others to pick from. This network of Gnutella peers (and its offspring, such as Kazaa, BearShare, and Acquisition) has been growing since its introduction in 2001, mostly invisibly, but ever more pervasively.

If Napster hadn't been run out of business by the RIAA, it's unlikely that any need for Gnutella would have arisen; if the RIAA hadn't attacked that single point of failure, there'd have been no need to develop a solution which, by design, has no single point to failure. It's as though both sides in the war over piracy and file sharing are engaged in an evolutionary struggle: every time one side comes up with a new strategy, the other side evolves a response to it. This isn't just a cat-and-mouse game; each attack by the RIAA, generates a response of increasing sophistication. And, today, the MPAA has blundered into this arms race. This was, as will soon be seen, a Very Bad Idea.

Pointing up the single greatest weakness of BitTorrent take down the tracker and the torrent dies - has only served to energize, inspire and mobilize the resources of an entire global ecology of software developers, network engineers and hackers-at-large who want nothing so much, at this moment, as to make the MPAA pay for their insolence. Imagine a parent reaching into a child's room and ripping a TV set out of the wall while the child is watching it. That child would feel anger and begin plotting his revenge. And that scene has been multiplied at least hundred thousand times today, all around the world. It is quite likely that, as I type these words, somewhere in the world a roomful of college CS students, fueled by coke and pizza and righteous indignation, are banging out some code which will fix the inherent weakness of BitTorrent - removing the need for a single tracker. If they're smart enough, they'll work out a system of dynamic trackers, which could quickly pass control back and forth among a cloud of peers, so that no one peer holds the hot potato long enough to be noticed. They'll take the best of Gnutella and cross-breed it with the best of BitTorrent. And that will be the MPAA's worst nightmare.

Hey, Hollywood! Can you feel the future slipping through your fingers? Do you understand how badly you've screwed up? You took a perfectly serviceable situation - a nice, centralized system for the distribution of media, and, through your own greed and shortsightedness, are giving birth to a system of digital distribution that you'll never, ever be able to defeat. In your avarice and arrogance you ignored the obvious: you should have cut a deal with SuprNova.org. In partnership you could have found a way to manage the disruptive change that's already well underway. Instead, you have repeated the mistakes made by the recording industry, chapter and verse. And thus you have spelled your own doom.

It's said that the best sequels are just like the original, only bigger and louder. Ladies and gentlemen, prepare yourselves for one hell of a crash. This baby is now fully out of control.

This from Susan Mernit, via Boing Boing


Shorts

via Unmediated:

  • BBC Radio today announced that a trial of an MP3 downloading service, which saw 70,000 downloads of Radio 4’s In Our Time programme in November, had been a massive success. MediaWeek
  • blinkx.tv — 'allows you to search the web for video and audio clips. Unlike other search providers, blinkx TV not only lets you search using standard keyword and Boolean queries but you can also use conceptual search. This type of search is provided by blinkx only, and allows you to enter normal text for which blinkx TV will return results whose content is conceptually similar to your search text.'
  • P2P TV: Guido Ciburski, a television software engineer, wants to launch Cybersky, a Web service that aims to do for TV what already applies to music and video, which can be downloaded free from the internet. At the end of January, his company, TC Unterhaltungselektronic, will unveil its Cybersky TV web service which will enable broadband users to distribute video programmes free, and exchange them with others. Unmediated
  • Lifestyle governs mobile choice: Consumers are far more interested in how handsets fit in with their lifestyle than they are in screen size, onboard memory or the chip inside, shows an in-depth study by telecommunications company Ericsson. "Historically in the industry there has been too much focus on using technology," said Dr Michael Bjorn, senior advisor on mobile media at Ericsson's consumer and enterprise lab. "We have to stop saying that these technologies will change their lives," he said. "We should try to speak to consumers in their own language and help them see how it fits in with what they are doing," he told the BBC News website. … Dr Bjorn said that people also used their camera phones in very different ways to film and even digital cameras. "Usage patterns for digital cameras are almost exactly replacing usage patterns for analogue cameras," he said. Digital cameras tend to be used on significant events such as weddings, holidays and birthdays. By contrast, he said, camera phones were being used much more to capture a moment and were being woven into everyday life. BBC News
  • mozilla is planning to release a version of Minimo (Mini-Mozilla browser for portable devices) for mobile phones.
    "Due out in January of 2005, the 0.3 version of Minimo is already in use by two mobile phone companies, however they cannot release their names due to an embargo. Mozilla Firefox has been taking over the share of Internet Explorer users very quickly, Minimo on the other hand, will be much harder to bring to market since manufacturers make the choice as to which browser to use, rather than consumers." Unmediated

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.