[d@DCC] NYT on music P2P
Tom at Abacurial.com
Tue Sep 23 15:56:26 EDT 2003
September 22, 2003
Music's Struggle With Technology
By JOHN SCHWARTZ
IFE, like television, is full of reruns. And long-time watchers of
technology trends say the entertainment industry's attack on peer-to-peer
software - the technology at the heart of the song-swapping mania -
follows a familiar pattern.
Every technology can, of course, be used for evil or good purposes. Cars
can be used in bank robberies, and radiation can cure cancer. But many
new technologies go through a stage of demonization, and communications
technologies come in for an especially tough hit from people who feel
threatened by them.
Long before girding against the Internet, for example, the entertainment
industry objected to cassettes and videotapes because they would allow
people to copy music and programming without making additional payments.
Even FM radio was opposed by the record companies at the outset because
the high fidelity broadcasts were free. The early defenders of the
industry did not understand the ways that the power of the new
communications tool would help them market their goods to a broader
The current fight over peer-to-peer technology closely resembles a grand
battle in the 1990's over encryption technology, which secures the
contents of communications from prying eyes. In that case, the opponent
was not the entertainment industry, but the Clinton administration and
its law enforcement and intelligence agencies, which tried to restrict
the use and spread of strong encryption ("crypto," in geekspeak). The
technology was an essential tool for businesses and consumers who wanted
to protect privacy; because of their resistance to the government
crackdown, many encryption restrictions have been lifted.
But, at the time, government officials argued that crypto, if
unrestricted, would bring disaster upon disaster. The Clinton
administration encouraged the adoption of encryption products with a
"backdoor" that government could unlock. "Uncrackable encryption will
allow drug lords, terrorists and even violent gangs to communicate with
impunity," Louis J. Freeh, then director of the F.B.I., testified before
a Senate committee in 1997.
Similar accusations have been lodged against peer-to-peer - or P2P, as it
is commonly known - which also has the potential to become a powerful
tool for network communications and pooling computer resources. The
entertainment industry has tried to portray the networks as hotbeds of
crime and havens for child pornography. Yet many in the tech world say
there are so many possible uses for P2P that "it's impossible to imagine
them not being developed," said Lance Cottrell, the president and founder
of a company that provides tools for enhancing privacy online. "Music was
just the first killer app, but I think it will be the first of many."
Mr. Cottrell said that efforts to restrict access to P2P technology will
not deter bad people but the efforts will hinder honest users. "People
who really desire to steal will find ways of doing it," he said. But as
with encryption, "restricting it means it is only available to the real
The potential public benefits - like new computer networks that make
worker collaboration easier, à la the entrepreneur Ray Ozzie's Groove
Networks, or clusters of PC's linked to pool their power and resources -
could be delayed in the P2P fight, just as the tug of war over
cryptography hindered the ability of business to protect communications
and databases from intruders, said Bruce Schneier, a security expert and
author of "Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Uncertain
World." "In both cases, a large well-funded organization is fighting the
The similarities do not stop there, Mr. Schneier said, because in both
cases legal remedies have been sought "to solve an inherently
technological problem." Those seeking to restrict the new technology are
using "legal intimidation" to fight their battles, he said. And, he
predicted, the ultimate outcome will be similar: "Strong crypto would
inevitably be used. Digital files are inevitably copyable." The real goal
of the pushback in both cases, he said, is to delay change.
A former government official who fought on the opposite side of the
crypto battle from Mr. Schneier says the similarities between that fight
and the battle over file sharing are striking - but so are the
differences. Stewart Baker, former general counsel for the National
Security Agency, said, "The N.S.A. had a lot of clout, but it didn't have
political action committees." The entertainment industry's political
influence has already manifested itself in such laws as the Digital
Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, which made it easier to go after
But file trading has things going for it that encryption never did, Mr.
Schneier said: ease of use and products that millions of average
consumers crave. That popularity, he said, could eventually tip the
balance in favor of the file traders. Federal lawmakers are questioning
the industry's tactics, and he predicted that politicians at the state
level - "where intellectual property interests just haven't been active"
in making political contributions - would begin rising to the file
traders' defense. When that happens, he said, the tide is likely to turn,
because "people who have to buy their friends don't have any when it
matters,'' he said.
"Money is nice, but voters matter," he added.
If Hollywood cares to learn from the crypto wars, the lesson might be
that it is more realistic to adapt to powerful technology, rather than
quixotically try to block it. "It's unstoppable," said Elan Oren, the
chief executive of iMesh, a peer-to-peer file sharing company based in
Technologies can be stubborn. Efforts to knock them down can send them
rebounding back with a new twist. In the case of encryption, the
technology continued to grow more powerful and researchers poked holes in
the government's weaker alternatives. In the case of peer-to-peer
applications, the makers have found increasingly clever ways to help
traders act anonymously, and without a centralized service that can be
shut down. "That's where the behavior of the industry up to now actually
got us," Mr. Oren said.
If pushed further, he said, the P2P makers will eventually offer complete
anonymity for users. If that happens, he predicted, "we'll see something
nobody wants, including the industry": a cumbersome and expensive system
of high-tech copyright protection required by law. Mr. Oren said he
believed that the industry could reshape itself to woo file traders,
converting them to file payers and saving their businesses. "If we
convert 10 to 20 percent, it's a huge success," he said.
But for now, Mr. Oren says, he sees only counterproductive delays, and an
underlying attitude from industry that seems almost Luddite. "From 1999
to 2001, if you enabled the R.I.A.A. to have the plug of the Internet,"
he said, referring to the Recording Industry Association of America,
"they would unplug it."
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