Wallace Wang's new book promises to reveal "what they won't tell you about file sharing." In essence, it's a primer on file sharing, filled with blunt assessments of why people engage in file sharing, how peer to peer networks work, and how to, as Wang puts it, "steal files." I was struck with the candor of the book from the dedication page forward, as Wang somewhat ironically writes:
This book is dedicated to all the recording artists, movie studios, and other copyright holders who find their works traded over file sharing networks. Their creations have helped make file sharing networks as useful as they are today, so the next time you download a file that you find particularly useful, support your favorite artists, movies, authors, and so on by buying their products so they can continue to create more useful files that you and everyone else can enjoy for the future.
In a nutshell, Wang manages to encapsulate much of the file sharing debate in these few words. The content traded across file sharing networks hasn't just made those networks "useful;" it was the only reason for their development and remains one of the principal reasons for their continued existence. In other words, file sharing exists because people want to trade copyrighted digital material easily, and the challenge is finding ways to "support" the creators so that additional content will be created. Emerging technology can't change one basic principle: content is king. It was true of the VCR and the cassette tape, of the CD and the DVD; fears of the new devices ultimately gave way to a recognition that they were just another form of distribution. File sharing is ultimately no different, and all the lawsuits in the world aren't going to change the fact that people like the ease of networked distribution. As Wang writes:
A computer file can be anything from a single song to a photograph, a full-length motion picture, the complete text from a book, or a computer program that sells for thousands of dollars. Because a computer file is made up of electronic data, all it does is fill up the space on your hard drive. And large hard drive are really cheap today, which means you can fill them up with many, many files at relatively little cost. Storing this stuff is just not an issue.
Computer files can also be copied with perfect accuracy and transferred flawlessly to nearly any computer in the world. In most industries, such qualities might be admirable, but in the computer industry, those same qualities spell trouble for copyright holders. If someone can make multiple copies of a song, a book, or a computer program at no cost, what will stop people from blatantly copying everything they own and passing it around to their friends?