Re: A polite Napster rant...

Date: Mon Mar 12 2001 - 16:59:54 MST

I've been following the P2P activity pretty closely. It will be very
interesting to see which side wins this ongoing war.

Two sites which I find useful to keep up to date with what is happening
are and
Both specialize in P2P news.

Alex Future Bokov writes to
> 1. Give one scheme of keeping current intellectual property laws
> enforceable without implementing legal and technical measures that can
> (and therefore eventually will) be abused as censorship and
> anti-privacy measures.

This is a good point, and it is one of the issues raised in the battle
over the DeCSS software (which decrypts DVD movies). The DMCA allows
copyright holders to design protection systems and criminalizes efforts to
break them. This is justified on the grounds that it simply implements
the existing rules about copyright. However copyright has limitations,
such as expiring after 100 years or so. The DMCA has no corresponding
rule to force holders to give up their rights. It also allows people
to protect even uncopyrighted material. It actually expands the rights
of publishers a great deal. Hopefully the courts will be receptive to
this argument and weaken the DMCA.

> 2....
> My question is simply
> this: is an industry that would otherwise collapse entitled to use the
> government as a crutch indefinitely? Is overall wealth and progress
> maximized by such practices?
> 3. Supposing the public is willing to accept an abridgement of privacy
> and free speech, given the increasing availability and sophistication
> of cryptographic software, will such an abridgement even be
> technically possible?

A good reference for this is the Kelsey and
Schneier article on the "Street Performer Protocol," These
expert cryptographers describe technical, legal and practical problems
with the various cryptographic schemes which have been proposed.

> PS: I notice in your essay on why Napster can't relocate to Sealand,
> you overlooked another option. The protocols used by Napster are known
> and there is no reason why an anonymous party can't simply release a
> reverse-engineered, open source version of Napster, allowing hundreds
> of independent, non-profit, and possibly anonymously owned servers to
> spring up all over the world overnight?

Yes, this has been happening with the "OpenNap" protocol,
See for information on OpenNap servers around the world,
and software that can make your Napster client access these other servers.

However, there are reports that the recording industry has begun to put
legal pressure on operators of OpenNap servers. It remains to be seen
whether this is a viable solution.

> Furthermore, if I was running
> the company, the temptation would be strong to release all my source
> code as a parting shot to those who drove me out of business. Finally,
> what is to prevent something completely decentralized like Gnutella,
> ( from driving the final nails into the intellectual
> property coffin?

I think in general your questions are devoted more to the pragmatic
issues of enforcing copyright, whereas the author you are replying to
was arguing the moral question.

I agree that there are reasonable justifications for copyright,
but nevertheless I also agree with the points Alex makes here that
to actually implement copyright in today's world appears to require
invasive technology. I strongly believe in privacy, and if this comes
into conflict with copyright, I would rather retain privacy than submit
to the kinds of surveillance and control that appear to be necessary to
enforce intellectual property rules.

VR pioneer Jared Lanier proposed an "if this goes on" scenario last month
in which even possession of ordinary stereo speakers would be illegal.
Sound reproduction devices would have to have digital rights management
(DRM) technology in them which would confirm that you had purchased the
rights to any music you were trying to listen to. He shows what extreme
measures would be necessary to allow content publishers to enforce the
restrictions they desire. It's an absurdist, Kafkaesque nightmare.


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