Interesting bit of radio from NPR on EVERYONE’S FAVORITE SUBJECT: RIAA vs file sharers:
- LAURA SYDELL reporting:
The Recording Industry of America, the industry’s trade group, announced it would go after individual file swappers on a Wednesday. On the following Monday, OptiSoft, maker of a file sharing software called Blubster, announced new privacy features that promised to hide the identities of users. But this isn’t about helping people steal music, says the Madrid, Spain-based Pablo Soto, developer of Blubster.
Mr. PABLO SOTO (OptiSoft): I’m not helping anyone doing any crime. I’m helping them to keep their rights.
SYDELL: After the RIAA’s latest salvo, privacy rights suddenly had new appeal. Blubster downloads doubled the day after it announced the new security feature, according to Download.com, which offers the program.
Mr. CARY SHERMAN (RIAA): I really think that you can run but you can’t hide.
SYDELL: Cary Sherman, the president of the RIAA, says no program is going to stop the association from tracking down and suing people doing unauthorized music file sharing.
Mr. SHERMAN: This is one of those situations where activity on a public network is ultimately detectable, and people should not think–just because somebody tells them, ‘We’re going to protect you,’ they really shouldn’t believe that because it’s just not true.
(Soundbite of door closing)
SYDELL: But the RIAA is going to be fighting a cyberguerrilla war against some pretty savvy soldiers. Here in the computer science building at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, students like Jason–not his real name–are ready for the challenge. And it isn’t about music, he says.
“JASON”: People like us, who are working on computers, hate to see really neat programs be destroyed. So something like a peer-to-peer system, which has very nice properties from a technical point of view–to see someone come in and throw that away is like throwing away a nice work of art.
SYDELL: Michael, another computer science student, says that a government that can stop songs from being shared can stop political messages, too.
MICHAEL: There’s no real difference between like a copyrighted song and something like the Constitution of the United States–Right?–if they can be declared arbitrarily illegal.
SYDELL: The challenge for people like Jason and Michael is to develop a program that makes it possible to openly share music files without giving access to snoopy RIAA agents. Princeton University computer science Professor Edward Felten says it’s already been done. The program Freenet was developed to be used by people in China and other repressive nations so they could safely trade information. Felten explains how it works.
Professor EDWARD FELTEN (Princeton University): So if, for example, a file goes from user to user to user to user before finally getting to the final user, then the final user who gets the file is not going to know necessarily who the original source of it was.
SYDELL: What will the industry do then? Jonathan Zittrain, a professor at Harvard Law School, says it could go after users who have downloaded the software and thus turned themselves into conduits for illegal trading.
Professor JONATHAN ZITTRAIN (Harvard Law School): That will in turn pose for the courts the question of are those who participate knowingly in such systems willfully ignorant, and as a result, maybe they should be penalized if it should happen that copyrighted material passes through them even if they didn’t have any ability to know that it was.
SYDELL: Zittrain says they may also target Internet service providers. But the legality of both strategies is untested in the courts, and such efforts may energize programmers to develop even more sophisticated weaponry to hide user identities, says Princeton Professor Felten. He thinks the RIAA has embarked on a technological arms race with no end.
Prof. FELTEN: And it seems unlikely to me that the recording industry can win this arms race. I think at best they can fight to a draw and force the people who want to share files to keep advancing their technology and working hard at it.
SYDELL: But RIAA President Cary Sherman thinks consumers may tire of the battle.
Mr. SHERMAN: At some point, people will feel like it’s just so much trouble to go so far underground to get music illegally that it will just be much better and much easier and legal and the artist gets paid to go to a legitimate service.
SYDELL: The RIAA’s legal threats already have had some effect on the file-sharing world. The number of files shared on Kazaa, the most popular such program, has dropped by about 15 percent in recent weeks. But the service still boasts more than three-quarters of a billion files and more than three million users on the network at any one time.