May 30, 2024

Archives for June 2004

The Future of Filesharing

Today there’s a Senate hearing on “The Future of P2P”. On Saturday, I gave a talk with a remarkably similar title, “The Future of Filesharing,” at the ResNet 2004 conference, a gathering of about 400 people involved in running networks for residential colleges and universities. Here’s a capsule summary of my talk.

(Before starting, a caveat. Filesharing technologies have many legitimate, non-infringing uses. When I say “filesharing” below, I’m using that term as a shorthand to refer to infringing uses of filesharing systems. Rather than clutter up the text below with lots of caveats about legitimate noninfringing uses, let’s just put aside the noninfringing uses for now. Okay?)

From a technology standpoint, the future of filesharing will involve co-evolution between filesharing technology on one side, and anti-copying and anti-filesharing technology on the other. By “co-evolution” I mean that whenever one side finds a successful tactic, the other side will evolve to address that tactic, so that each side catalyzes the evolution of the other side’s technology.

The resulting arms race favors the filesharing side, for two reasons. First, the filesharing side can probably adapt faster than the anti-filesharing side; and speed is important in this kind of move-countermove game. Second, the defensive technologies that filesharing systems are likely to adapt are the same defensive technologies used in ordinary commercial distributed systems (end-to-end encryption, anti-denial of service tactics, reputation systems, etc.), so the filesharing side can benefit from the enormous existing R&D efforts on defensive technologies.

Given all of this, it’s a mistake for universities or ISPs to spends lots of money and effort trying to develop or deploy the One True Solution Technology (OTSS). Co-evolution ensures that the OTSS would sow the seeds of its own destruction, by motivating filesharing designers and users to change their systems and behavior to defeat it. At best, the OTSS would buy a little time – but not much time, given the quick reaction time of the other side. Rather than an OTSS, a series of quick-and-dirty measures might have some effect, and at least would waste fewer resources fighting a losing battle.

The best role for a university in the copyright wars is to do what a university does best: educate students. When I talk about education, I don’t mean a five-minute lecture at freshman initiation. I don’t mean adding three paragraphs on copyright to that rulebook that nobody reads. I don’t mean scare tactics. What I do mean is a real, substantive discussion of the copyright system.

My experience is that students are eager to have serious, intellectual discussions about why we have the copyright system we have. They will take seriously the economic justification for copyright, if it is explained to them in a non-hysterical way. They’ll appreciate the wisdom of the limitations on copyright, such as fair use and the idea/expression dichotomy; and in so doing they’ll realize why there are not exceptions for other things.

This kind of education is expensive; but all good education is. Surely, amid all of the hectoring “education” campaigns, there is room for some serious education too.

Tech Giants Support DMCA Reform

Big tech companies, including Intel and Sun Microsystems, and ISPs, including Verizon and SBC, will announce today that they have banded together to form the “Personal Technology Freedom Coalition,” to support Rep. Rick Boucher’s DMCRA bill (HR 107) to reform the DMCA, according to a Declan McCullagh story at

The Boucher bill would reform the DMCA to allow the distribution and use of circumvention technologies for non-infringing purposes. (As written, the DMCA bans even circumventions that don’t result in copyright infringement.) The bill would also create an exemption to the DMCA for legitimate research.

This bill has always been in the interests of technologists. The overbreadth of the DMCA has restrained both research and development of innovative, noninfringing uses of technology. The whole tech community – including users – would benefit from a narrowing of the DMCA.

So far, technology companies have been a bit shy about expressing their support for the Boucher bill, apparently out of a desire not to offend copyright maximalists. It’s good news that these companies are now willing to stand up for their interests and the interests of their customers.

I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about the Boucher bill in the coming weeks.

Voting News

The League of Women Voters last week rescinded its support for paperless e-voting machines. The decision was driven by grassroots support among the League’s members, overriding a previous policy that was, according to rumor, decreed originally by a single member of the League’s staff. (I can’t find this story on the public part of the League’s site, but it comes from a reliable source, so I’m pretty sure it’s true.)

Also, tomorrow, June 22, there will be a rally in Washington for supporters of voter-verifiable paper trails. The rally runs from 11:45 until 1:00, on Cannon Terrace, just south of the U.S. Capitol, between the Cannon and Longworth House Office Buildings. (Metro stop: Capitol South; enter at the corner of New Jersey and Independence) Speakers include Rep. Rush Holt and other members of Congress.

Lame Copy Protection Doesn't Depress CD Sales Much

A CD “protected” by the SunnComm anti-copying technology is now topping the music charts. This technology, you may recall, was the subject of a paper by Alex Halderman. The technology presents absolutely no barrier to copying on some PCs; on the remaining PCs, it can be defeated by holding down the Shift key when inserting the CD.

SunnComm execs say that this demonstrates consumer acceptance of their technology. A quick look at the consumer reviews at Amazon tells the real story: the technology causes significant problems for some law-abiding customers, and many customers dislike it. Many customers find the technology bearable only because it is so easily defeated, thereby allowing customers who, say, want to download songs from the album onto their iPods a way to do so.

Alex Halderman reports receiving at least three unsolicited emails this week thanking him for explaining how consumers can stop the SunnComm technology from impeding their fair use of this album. Here’s one:


Thanks for the great article on this topic. I just bought the new Velvet Revolver CD and was not able to listen to it on my computer or import it into my iTunes program. I did use their “Copy” option which saved the files as Windows Media Files but these couldn’t be converted by iTunes. Well this is not acceptable and within about 5 minutes I was able to find your article and disable the lame driver.

Keep up the great work!

Another, in addition to discussing the fair use issue, says this:

If I wasn’t such a fan of this band, I would have taken the CD back in protest. But alas, it’s the only way to be legal and I wish for the artist to reap their financial benefits.

Needless to say, the SunnComm technology has not kept the songs on this album off of the filesharing systems.

Hatch to Introduce INDUCE Act

Fred von Lohmann at EFF Deep Links reports that Sen. Orrin Hatch is planning to introduce, possibly today, a bill to create a new form of indirect liability for copyright infringement. The full name of the bill is somewhat bizarre: the “Inducement Devolves into Unlawful Child Exploitation Act”.

Not being a lawyer, I can’t immediately say what impact this bill would have. But Fred von Lohmann, a very smart copyright lawyer, sees it as a threat to innovation, and Ernest Miller, who is also well versed in copyright law, uses me as an example of a person whose legitimate activities might be threatened by the bill. That’s definitely not the kind of thing I wanted to read over breakfast.

We’ll have to see how the Hatch bill is received. If it passes, it looks like computer security research may become even more of a legal minefield than it already is.