Business Week to RIAA: 'You've lost the p2p war'
Big, BIG, mistake.
That's the verdict on the RIAA's decision to continue its assault on file swappers with its sue 'em all campaign.
Although this has been the opinion on the 'other' side of the fence since day one, the RIAA's vicious terror tactics have been vigorously defended by the establishment, and in particular by the media whose representatives have slavishly regurgitated the RIAA's every utterance on the subject as if the music industry trade organ was a credible source.
However, that may be changing.
One of the latest pieces on the subject of the RIAA's (Recording Industry Association of America) most recent assault on p2p file swappers comes from Business Week, a major representative of the mainstream media.
"The RIAA's newest legal assault on file swappers is pushing them to encrypted networks, where the damage could become catastrophic," it says here, referring to the 532 lawsuits filed by the the RIAA against alleged copyright breakers.
"One has to admit: The RIAA sure is tenacious in pursuing its strategy," writes Alex Salkever.
"What it doesn't seem to realize, though, is that it has already lost the war. The recording industry's hardball tactics have fueled a technological shift that'll make it nearly impossible to pursue file swappers in the future.
"How so? The culture of fear and loathing that the RIAA has created is starting to put encryption on the must-have list of every Joe and Jane Internet user. The results will be wide-ranging and will pose a threat to the movie industry, the software industry, and just about any other industry involved with the creation and sale of intellectual property."
The courts have tread lightly since file swapping is a new technology that could provide a useful service to society in the future as a venue for sharing and even selling information, Salkever says, continuing:
"That forced the RIAA and other copyright holders to go after the weak link in the chain: individual users. It did so with great gusto in the spring of 2003, unleashing a torrent of lawsuits and a fearsome public relations campaign.
"This offensive against file swappers, however, hinged on a simple fact. The current generation of decentralized file-swapping networks makes little or no effort to mask the digital fingerprints of individual users. Researchers working for the RIAA can easily log onto the networks, download pirated songs, and note the IP addresses of particularly egregious file sharers. The RIAA defines those as anyone offering 800 or so songs for download."
By "ripping off the thin veil of anonymity and hitting hundreds of users for thousands of dollars per case in settlement costs," the RIAA has inspired the most tangible fear yet seen among Web users, he says. -- something neither credit-card thieves, nor hackers, nor even the U.S. government has managed to inspire.
"No one wants to open their mailbox and see a letter from the RIAA. Parents of school-age children live in terror of just such a letter and the potential costs to their family. In truth, however, the likelihood of the average user getting nailed remains very small, largely because the RIAA can't individually sue the millions of less prolific file swappers."
Quoting Clay Shirky, he points out that media coverage has unleashed "a frightening specter of the corporate Big Brother reaching out and swatting ordinary Net users" and inevitably, although encrypted p2p file-sharing networks are less polished and less popular than the unencrypted variety, the masses will inevitably switch to those protected networks if the RIAA continues to sue.
"Then it'll have a lot of trouble because lawyers won't be enough," says Salkever. "The industry group [the RIAA] will need cryptographers and security experts to break the protocols used for cloaking the traffic in order to merely determine whether a song traveling on the Blubster, FreeNet, BitTorrent, or Earth Station 5 P2P network is pirated or an amateur recording with no copyright restrictions."
He also highlights an aspect frequently missed with the RIAA's sue 'em all tactics are discussed: that beyond music, they've contributed to a changed security landscape where encryption is becoming more accessible to everyone - ie, "Apple Computer (AAPL ) has built a drag-and-drop system where anything stored in the home folder can be easily guarded by potent 128-bit encryption".
Should Microsoft, and others, succeed "in building a generation of computers with copyright controls built into the core operating system or onto the chips, then encryption will hardly help a pirate when an MP3 won't launch without a valid digital certificate," he adds.
"That scenario, however, remains highly unlikely as the complications of accurately categorizing and reading each individuals' copyrighted content, from old CDs to iTunes purchased online, is daunting at the least.
"In the end, large chunks of computing and the Internet will go behind a much stronger curtain of anonymity, and the pirates will remain untouchable underground - thanks to the RIAA's misguided legal missiles."