Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Pirates and ships

In the days when there were pirates on the high seas, no one spoke of banning ships. Yet, so much of the debate around P2P networks centres around piracy, mainly of music, that one would think that was all P2P networks were built for. But they aren’t. As the Economist puts it (subscription link):

Imagine an ideal global information-storage system. It would have to be huge, capable of delivering any one of millions of files, some of them of enormous size, to anywhere in the world within moments. It would have to be self-configuring and self-healing, rather than centrally controlled, to ensure there was no single point of failure. And it would have to be secure, capable of supporting millions of users, while resisting constant assault both from physical attacks on its infrastructure and from malicious software circulated within the network.

“[T]his ideal system already exists,” the Economist informs us, “in the form of P2P file-sharing networks such as eDonkey and KaZaA.” Yet, because P2P networks have mainly been in the news for music piracy, the entertainment industry has run a relentless campaign to ban them, and a lot of people think of P2P networks and music pirates as synonymous.

“Musicians Sing Different Tune on File Sharing”, says the Washington Post, speaking about a new report that indicates that most artists are quite ok with P2P networks. This is not contradictory with the stand that the likes of Lars Ullrich have taken in the past against P2P networks like Napster. Ulrich has never spoken out against P2P networks in principle, only on the piracy that takes place on those networks, a distinction he understands, but one that many in the music business do not.

The report itself is fairly lucid. The findings are summarised thus:

Artists and musicians on all points of the spectrum from superstars to starving singers have embraced the internet as a tool to improve how they make, market, and sell their creative works. They use the internet to gain inspiration, build community with fans and fellow artists, and pursue new commercial activity.

Artists and musicians believe that unauthorized peer-to-peer file-sharing of copyrighted works should be illegal. However, the vast majority do not see online filesharing as a big threat to creative industries.

A couple of the reports of the findings are a bit muddled though, and confuse ships with pirates. The New York Times reports, “artists are divided but on the whole not deeply concerned about online file-sharing. Only about half thought that sharing unauthorized copies of music and movies online should be illegal, for instance.” For instance? “Online file-sharing” and “sharing unauthorised copies of music” are not synonymous, and “only about half” contradicts “on the whole”. Don’t believe the news reports that indicate that artists are quite happy to give away the fruits of their hard work for free – Read the report for yourself.

On a related note, here's a nice review of a book that argues for restrictions of copyrights: Lawrence Lessig's Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity.

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