Thursday, June 30, 2005

Worldwide Police Action Against File-Swappers

This week, over a dozen countries participated in raids aimed at curtailing illegal file swapping over the Internet. Many arrests were made and a good deal of computer equipment was confiscated.

This multi-national law enforcement action goes to show what a worldwide problem illegal file swapping has become. Here in the U.S., the issue is being consistently litigated in our courts. The Supreme Court recently ruled that companies who provide file swapping software can, in some instances, be held liable for the criminal behavior of their customers. But going after the software developers can only dent but not stop file swapping. For every one Napster taken down, ten Groksters grow in its place.

While vigorous investigation and prosecution of file swappers should continue, the only real solution will have to be a technological one that some how prevents duplication. Otherwise, music companies, movie producers and even book publishers are going to have to deal with diminished profits. And diminished profits for them means less product for us.

If nothing else, we need a cultural understanding that illegally downloading an album from the Internet is no different that shoplifting a CD from a store. File-swapping has the potential to be a serious economic problem. I hope it can be dealt with soon.


At 3:26 PM, Blogger EG said...

Let's look at some facts of music swapping:

- No one can deny that record companies pump albums out with less depth than before. Rarely do you find 'classic albums' being created today. No one appreciates buying an album for one song. You are lucky to find three songs on one album that you enjoy.
- Record companies have a large overhead. I did notice that you stated music companies (rather than musicians, the RIAA storyline) are losing money via file swapping. I suspect (though I haven't done any research to confirm) the label's overhead is higher today than before.
- File swapping is more than sharing the current crop of bubble gum songs on the radio. As you note, current movies also are swapped via these programs. I do not condone either of these genres but what about a song from twenty years ago that you cannot find in the stores? What about movies/TV shows that are not available on DVD or videotape? Are you aware that TV networks were also involved in the lawsuit, charging taped programs couldn't shared? They lost that battle when VHS came out and they attempted to stop taping of TV shows in the 1980s.
- Record companies have placed encryption and other restrictive policies on music CDs. Buyers protested because the CD couldn't be played on both at home on the PC, the PC at work and copied onto a iPod. The record companies could reduce their losses by allowing the downloading of individual songs at a reasonable price (some labels are doing this but not all).

"For every one Napster taken down, ten Groksters grow in its place." I assume this is hyperbole unless you can name ten file-swapping programs.

"File-swapping has the potential to be a serious economic problem." This is another RIAA propaganda line. There is absolutely no proof that anyone who downloads an entire music album (and I dare anyone who can find ten entire albums being shared on the net) would have purchased the album. A movie, yes, but not an entire album.

I recently purchased a mp3 file for $1.49. This is less than a Starbucks Grande and the quality is 320 bps! I couldn't begin to find that file on any file-swapping network at that quality level. The label made money, the artist made money and I got a remixed song of exceptional quality. When record companies start providing this (not a wma file or not at 128 bps quality), they'll have business.

At 4:09 PM, Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...

P2P programs are apparently not that hard to write. Here's a list from wikipedia of platforms that exist and I'm sure they don't have them all. There's a LOT more than just 10.

Also, I don't think it's stealing to share an old song that is not comercially available. But it IS stealing to share a song that IS comercially available. I don't really think it matters whehter or not you'd want buy it--stealing is stealing. As you pointed out, there are a lot of cheap and legal ways to buy a song on-line, so why steal it?

You can't really think that file sharing is benign and has no detrimental effect on entertainment industries and their employees. It might not currently be having a huge impact but it is pretty easy to see how illegal file-swapping can become a large even organized criminal pursuit--particularly as more and more high-speed connections are established.

At 4:38 PM, Blogger Trip said...

1. Mecora
2. Quiro
3. WinMX
4. K Lite Gold
5. Easy File Sharing Web Server
6. Bear Share
7. dDonkey
8. Xolox
9. Shareaza
10. Soulseek has over 400 file sharing program available to donload off it s site. There is NO htperbole here. I am the only one who will say out loud that I have no problems downloading music? I I work for one of the largest media companies in the world and even joking about it out loud at work will give you to the end of the day to pack up your cube. But, I guess I have to ask at what number of people sharing does it become illegal. If I get a show of TV, burn it onto DVD and give it to a friend, is that illegal. If I buy a CD and rip it to my hard drive so i can copy it for a friend is that illegal? Or is it only illegal when I rip a disc to my computer and give it to more than one person?

At 5:26 PM, Blogger Maggie said...

I'm sorry Trip, but yes, ripping a CD and giving it to a friend is illegal. When you purchase media (print, audio and video), you purchase it for your personal use. You can let your friend listen to your music or even borrow your music, but you can not make a reproduction of it and give it away.

I know lots of us wish that it were legal to copy music and books and videos, but it just isn't. Buck up and buy it if you really want it.

At 6:27 PM, Blogger EG said...


I didn't know there were so many programs. I have used one program but the problems associated with spyware with these programs scared me from it.

Thanks for the clarification.

However ....

"I don't think it's stealing to share an old song that is not comercially available."

According to the law, it is illegal. How do you know when something is not commercially available? For example, if an old album released on some Japanese label (lots of classic Jazz albums have been re-mastered in Japan), is it commerically available in the U.S.? It might not be sold at BestBuy or Circuit City. Ignorance is not considered an legal excuse.

"It might not currently be having a huge impact but it is pretty easy to see how illegal file-swapping can become a large even organized criminal pursuit..."

If the files are free, what would attract organized crime to it? Secondly, music sales is corolated to the general market forces. Music album sales fell during the turndown of 2000-2002. Music sales are increasing. Is file-swapping less today than in 2000? More people have faster, dedicated internet connections ... I dunno know.

I have digitized some of my record collection. If I have a scratched cut, should I be able to download a clean copy?

I do believe that there is an impact on music sales. But I think that its effect is exaggerated by RIAA.

The issue I have is my download of some 1982 song (not available on CD) is as illegal as someone who downloads Britney Spears' latest hit.

At 7:18 PM, Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...

Bad use of the word organized. Just meant that there are already people who organize the illegal file-sharing--not for profit but just because they want to. This will likely only increase.

You do bring up some good points about the difficulty of enforcing this. I would counter that none of us has a right to own these old music tracks--just because they exist doesn't mean we get to have copies. But I would also say it is rather pointless to prosecute someone just because they download an old jazz track. Nor do I think it's unethical to download such a piece of music.

My assumption would be that only those who conduct massive amounts of illegal file-sharing are targeted by law enforcement. And, as I said initially, this is not a problem that will be solved through law enforcement. It's a technological issue.

BTW, the much bigger problem with P2P is how it's used to share stolen identities and child porn. But that's a whole other matter.

At 5:01 AM, Blogger Ted Carmichael said...

Maggie - I hate to disagree, but from everything I've read on the subject, making a copy of an album for a friend is NOT illegal. At least, it's been protected under the "fair-use" principle for decades. The Supreme Court ruled that the fair-use principle doesn't extend to making hundreds or thousands of copies available to annonymous "friends" on the internet. But I'm pretty sure they never struck down the original.

If you buy a book or an album, you have certain rights of ownership. As long as you're not making a profit on the copies - either by selling them outright, or through ad revenue on a website - you're not violating the copyright.

Anyway, things are in flux right now, so I'm not sure where current case-law is on this. But here's a great summation of the history of copywrite, etc, current up to a few years ago.

BTW - while patent protection has changed little over the last 200 years or so (currently, I believe it is 15 years), copywrite protection has steadily increased. Set at 28 years in 1790, 42 years in 1831, and in 1976 changed to the "life of the creator" plus 50 years. Since that deadline was approaching for some of the bigs - think: Mickey Mouse - it was extended in 1998 by another 20 years.

Personally, I think this trend should be seriously reversed. Inventions are protected for a reasonable time, then fall into the public domain, so that technology can advance from those patents. But, for some reason, derivatives from creative works are not given the same due. I think we could have a much richer world by putting copywrite law more in line with patent law. Are they really that different?

At 8:45 PM, Blogger Lokon said...

I think that the main problem is that most file swappers do not feel as though fileswapping is morally wrong... and god knows it's hard to prosecute them. I think that this is because most people are taught that the reason stealing is wrong, is because when we steal we deprive someone of something (IE I take your bread and you don't have bread any more). The deprivation that occurs when someone illegally copies data is more metaphorical and theorietical. Until a new more sophisticated morality can be widely accepted, or until prosecution can be vigorous and effective... file shopping will be wildly popular. The ease at which data is copied that allows for tremendous profits for meida corps also makes their wares incredibly stealable.

I worry however that if media corps got their way, and incredible amount of inovation and development would be stifled.

Balance in all things.

At 12:10 PM, Blogger Sonny said...

Alan, you are simply wrong. The very day a new encryption method hits the store someone will post a way to break it. What one man can make another can break. The RIAA and their allies are defending an obsolete business model. They're using their lobbying dollars to pass laws to try to protect their antiquated way of doing business.

This is at the expense of fair use rights. Why the hell shouldn't I be able to copy a CD and play songs on my MP3 player? How many times to have to buy the same damned content anyway. I've bought some of the same Led Zeppelin songs 5 times in my life, vinyl records, cassettes, 8-track, CD and MP3 format. How many times do I need to pay artist royalties to enjoy the same friggin' music?

Has others have pointed out the approach you're advocating simply protects a monopoly enjoyed by content holders. They want to destroy fair use rights. You are helping them. They're busy trying to extend the copyright monopoly past 100 years right now. Why should we, as a nation, offer what a amounts to a "right to make money" for that long. Will all music suddenly come to a stop if we back down copyright to a reasonable say 20 years?

What we need to do is adopt a Canadian-like solution, where there's a fee added to the sales of CD recorders, blank media and MP3 devices that's used to fairly compensate artists and content owners. Putting people in jail for using commonly available technology and trying to outlaw other types of technology is stupid, pointless and futile.


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