Leading P2P activists have reacted to the prospect of the extension of a legal crackdown on file swappers in the UK with plans to build greater anonymity into their networks.
The developers of popular P2P app Blubster, which boasts an estimated four million users, plan to incorporate encryption technology and other techniques to give file-sharers greater anonymity. The scheme would mean that files were downloaded through a number of machines and only pieced together at a requesting computer.
Wayne Rosso, CEO of Optisoft, the company which develops Blubster, said the file verification and encryption technology (partially based on Freenet) would make it easier to recognise legitimate MP3 files from the garbage files that increasingly plague P2P networks. The technology, currently in beta testing, is partially limited by only working between users of the Blobster network.
Upping the ante
Rosso, the founder of trade group P2P United and former head of the Grokster network, said adopting measures to frustrate music industry attempts to hunt down file sharers was justified by the latter's refusal to adapt its business models to new technology. The heavy-handed approach it has taken to enforcing its intellectual property rights also irks Rosso.
Rosso's comments came during a Parliamentary Advisory Forum on P2P technology, organised by the ISPA, in Westminster last Tuesday night. This saw the P2P activist facing off against music industry representatives.
During the event, British Phonographic Industry (BPI) boss Andrew Yeates said it was vital to the music business to get a return on business investment. File sharing networks are hitting music sales, he said.
Yeates floated the possibility of a crackdown on file-swappers in the UK but he came across as a reluctant litigator. "It's not like anybody is anxious to sue, it's a last resort," Yeates said.
Before going after individual file swappers, The BPI has indicated that it wants to make sure authorised download services are available and that the necessary legislation is in place. With last year's introduction of the European Union Copyright Directive and at least some music download services available it would seem arguable that these conditions are now satisfied.
Writs and wrongs
So is the BPI about to sue individuals? Yeates suggested it was keeping its options open and refused to quash suggestions that it was in talks with a major ISP on how they could work together to locate major file swappers.
Any action the BPI might take needed to be proportional to the (alleged) infringement taking place, Yeates said. Which means, we think, that its intent is the targeting of heavy duty pirates, and not occasional file swappers.
Yeates talked up the need to win the "hearts and minds" of net users in discouraging copyright infringement, but aspects of the BPI's stance are likely to irk many music lovers.
For one thing, the BPI wants to "streamline legislation" so that takedown notices can be actioned more quickly, a suggestion P2P activist Rosso said would make it easier for the music industry to harass people.
Yeates also related how, as an 11 year-old, he'd used a microphone held towards his TV to make crude recordings of Top of the Pops.
Despite this history of personal criminality, Yeates defended the RIAA actions in making legal threats against a 12 year-old girl for file swapping.
A representative of Sony Entertainment piped in at this point to argue that the main issue of some people "uploading hundreds of files to the Internet" had been lost in publicity about the 12 year-old.
"And anyway that 12 year-old was using a sophisticated computer to upload files," she added.
Ah yes, using sophisticated computers, we can see how that makes things much more insidious.
A representative from BMG bemoaned the negative PR surrounding the music industry which "colours people's perceptions". "This negative view is based on historical baggage and misinformation."
Infamy, infamy, they all got it in for me
These views cut no ice with Russo. He said the industry is exaggerating the impact of file swapping.
Rather than looking at the ways peer-to-peer technology could open up the opportunity to develop fresh business models, record industry execs simply want to kill off file sharing networks, Russo alleged.
Russo and Alan Morris, executive vice president of Sharman Networks (the firm behind KaZaA), both suggested that music labels could use file sharing networks as a distribution mechanism for licensed music tracks, wrapped up in DRM technology.
"The best way to stop the flow of unauthorised networks on P2P network is to release authorised content," Russo commented.
Starting from sheet music sales and progressing through broadcast radio, dual cassette decks and P2P the music industry has a history of opposing new technologies, Russo said.
"Each time they say that the sky is falling in. Now they want to blame file-sharing for all their problems."
"It's hurt their business - but nowhere near as much as what they claim," he added
Firstly, how good is blubster? Anyone else use it? And secondly, can the techniques they are using be incorped into klite/clean kmd networks?
Good to see that people are still downloading and sharing. Keep it up guys and galsIllegal music downloading could be making a comeback, according to market researchers who note a surge in the use of peer-to-peer services.
The NPD Group, an independent market research firm, reported on Friday that peer-to-peer usage was up 14 percent in November 2003 from September. This upturn comes after six straight months of declines in digital file sharing. Usage dropped dramatically starting in April 2003, when the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) began its well-publicized campaign of threatening individual file sharers with legal action.
"It's important to keep in mind that file sharing is occurring less frequently than before the RIAA began its legal efforts to stem the tide of P2P (peer-to-peer) file sharing," Russ Crupnick, vice president of NPD, said in a statement. "We're just seeing the first increase in these numbers. NPD will continue to monitor whether it's a temporary seasonal blip or a trend that suggests that the industry should be more aggressive in capping the use of illegal methods to acquire digital music."
The RIAA has launched more than 300 lawsuits since it started its campaign against file swapping. Officials for the organization have been optimistic about its success, pointing to polls that suggest that people are more aware of the risks involved in the practice.
But data from research firms like NPD throws more cold water on the music industry's claims that its lawsuits are working to actually deter people from illegally downloading music files. Even though overall usage of peer-to-peer services has declined by almost half since April 2003, earlier studies by NPD and others also suggested that large numbers of people have still been illegally downloading music files.
NPD uses two tools to monitor peer-to-peer activity. MusicWatch Digital is a tool that continuously examines PCs of roughly 40,000 participating individuals, recording which sites they have gone to and what they have downloaded on their hard drives. The ongoing survey has been compiling and analyzing data on a monthly basis since April 2003.
The second tool, called MusicLab, is a traditional paper survey mailed to 5,000 individuals asking them to report their usage and Web surfing. The results represent the U.S. population.
Information obtained from the MusicLab survey, which is compiled every other month, confirms the trends found by MusicWatch Digital. MusicLab data suggests that there was a sharp drop in usage starting in May 2003, when roughly 20 million individuals had downloaded music from peer-to-peer services. In July, the number dropped to 18 million, and in September it was down to 11 million.
By November, the number of individual file sharers jumped to 12 million. Although the difference of one million may appear small, NPD said this is a statistically significant increase, based on the size of the survey sample.
So what's causing this increase? Crupnick had several suggestions.
For one, he said waning media coverage of lawsuits could have something to do with it. Even though the RIAA continues to file lawsuits, reporting of the issue by major consumer media has dropped dramatically from what it was in the months leading up to the September subpoenas.
Another possibility is that this increase is simply a reflection of traditionally high interest in music during the fourth quarter. Approximately one-fifth of music sales generally occur in November and December, according to NPD.
Crupnick also noted that in late October, several high-profile legal music downloading services were launched. Some people may have been checking out the illegal peer-to-peer sites again to compare music lists with what's now being offered on legal sites, he said