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Master Debaters

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CNET’s Declan McCullagh hosts a debate on P2P between Freenet inventor Ian Clarke and Matt Oppenheim, RIAA’s senior vice president of business and legal affairs:

    News.com: Should file swappers have any expectation of privacy?
    Ian Clarke: Everyone, including file swappers, should have the ability to communicate freely without someone looking over their shoulders. Free communication is essential to free thought, which is essential to democracy.

    Matt Oppenheim: An individual who illegally distributes music on a peer-to-peer network has less of an expectation of privacy than a bank robber wearing a mask when holding up a teller. And, just as the bank robber cannot be heard to complain when the guard pulls off his mask, an infringer on a P2P network cannot complain. The bank robber can at least claim that until his mask is pulled off, nobody knows who he is. In the case of an infringer on a P2P network, the (Internet service provider) knows exactly who the individual is and has typically told the user in advance in their terms of service that they will turn over information when they receive a subpoena.

    But don’t just accept my thinking on this. Look at what Judge John Bates said in the Verizon case: “If an individual subscriber opens his computer to permit others, through peer-to-peer file-sharing, to download materials from that computer, it is hard to understand just what privacy expectation he or she has after essentially opening the computer to the world.”

    Remember, the RIAA does not seek the identity of someone engaged in speech. The RIAA seeks the identity of those engaged in copyright infringement. That is not speech. That is theft.

    ….News.com: Is it possible to guarantee completely anonymous online activity using technology alone? If yes, should using that technology–regardless of what is traded–be illegal?
    Clarke: It is impossible to guarantee anonymity against someone with infinite resources and no constraints, but it is hopefully possible to guarantee anonymity against someone with the resources of, for example, the Chinese government.

    ….Just last year the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed that the right to anonymous speech is an essential part of the right to free speech. This concept is pretty obvious when you think about it–if you are forced to disclose your identity whenever you express your opinion then you put yourself at risk of retaliation.

    ….Oppenheim: We are not aware of any technology that can provide a user with complete “anonymity.” At the end of the day, we believe we can find infringers regardless of what network they use to try to cloak their illegal activity.

    Having said that, companies and individuals who try to help others hide their illegal behavior are themselves culpable for the misdeeds of the underlying infringer.

The responses are interesting but rather predictable to anyone who has been following the greater debate.

Oppenheim seems to be the new heavy for the RIAA: “they are stealing, we should be able to do anything we want to make them stop” is what hisargument boils down to. He also needs to learn when to use the word “that” and when to use the word “who”: people are “who’s” not “that’s” but this may be a classic Freudian slip, the depersonalization of people, customers into “that’s.”

When they make a movie about the P2P wars, it should look like the future scenes from Twelve Monkeys, and the RIAA will be those huge all-seeing heads.

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About Eric Olsen