September 20, 2020

RIAA Suing i2hub Users

Yesterday the RIAA announced lawsuits against many college students for allegedly using a program called i2hub to swap copyrighted music files. RIAA is trying to paint this as an important step in their anti-infringement strategy, but it looks to me like a continuation of what they have already been doing: suing individuals for direct infringement, and trying to label filesharing technologies (as opposed to infringing uses of them) as per se illegal.

The new angle in this round of suits is that i2hub traffic uses the Internet2 network. The RIAA press release is careful to call Internet2 a “specialized” network, but many press stories have depicted it a private network, separate from the main Internet. In fact, Internet2 is not really a separate network. It’s more like a set of express lanes for the Internet, built so that network traffic between Internet2 member institutions can go faster.

(The Washington Post article gets this point seriously wrong, calling Internet2 “a faster version of the Web”, and saying that “more and more college students have moved off the Web to trade music on Internet2, a separate network …”.)

Internet2 has probably been carrying a nonzero amount of infringing traffic for a long time, just because it is part of the Internet. What’s different about i2hub is not that some of its traffic goes over Internet2, but that it was apparently structured so that its traffic would usually travel over Internet2 links. In theory, this could make transfer of any large file, whether infringing or not, faster.

The extra speed of Internet2 doesn’t seem like much of an issue for music files, though. Music files are quite small and can be downloaded pretty quickly on ordinary broadband connections. Any speedup from using i2hub would mainly affect movie downloads, since movie files are much larger than music files. And yet it was the music industry, not the movie industry, that brought these suits.

Given all of this, my guess is that the RIAA is pushing the Internet2 angle mostly for policial and public relations reasons. By painting Internet2 as a separate network, the RIAA can imply that the transfer of infringing files over Internet2 is a new kind of problem requiring new regulation. And by painting Internet2 as a centrally-managed entity, the RIAA can imply that it is more regulable than the rest of the Internet.

Another unique aspect of i2hub is that it could only be used, supposedly, by people at univerisities that belong to the Internet2 consortium, which includes more than 200 schools. The i2hub website pitches it as a service just “by students, for students”. Some have characterized i2hub as a private filesharing network. That may be true in a formal sense, as not everybody could get onto i2hub. But the potential membership was so large that i2hub was, for all intents and purposes, a public system. We don’t know exactly how the RIAA or its agents got access to i2hub to gather the information behind the suits, but it’s not at all surprising that they were able to do so. If students thought that they couldn’t get caught if they shared files on i2hub, they were sadly mistaken.

[Disclaimer: Although some Princeton students are reportedly being sued, nothing in this post is based on inside information from those students (whoever they are) or from Princeton. As usual, I am not speaking for Princeton.]


  1. i2hub seems to be based on DirectConnect, which is mostly found on private networks because it’s a centralized system which is taken down rather quickly when run on a public network. Maybe that’s the cause of the confusion.

  2. Anonymous says:

    the i2hub client was based on DC++ code that they hacked together so that it automatically connected to their hub and some other things.

    the actual hub used to be run on the UMASS campus, but the campus didnt like that, so they moved it to a colocated server (that i believe is “off shore”)

    what gets me is the blantantcy in which the operators of i2hub worked. they had advertisments on the sides of buses around UMASS, charts (that were hot linked) that showed the internet2 connection usage from many schools

    I dont like the idea of suing, but i thought I would just offer my opinion and some info

  3. The Internet2 consortium web site main page ( currently has an acknowledgement of “the problem”:

    “…However, the hundreds of campus networks, dozens of regional networks, and nationwide networks that make up the Internet2 community’s network infrastructure are not immune to the issues that arise in today’s commercial Internet, including illegal file sharing. Internet2 and its more than 200 university members are working together to prevent and address illegal file sharing by:

    * enforcing policies that prohibit the illegal use of networks,
    * deploying technologies that deter illegal file-sharing, and
    * working with industry to offer legal alternatives.

    Internet2 is working with its members to ensure that the high-performance network environment they have deployed continues to support innovation that will improve research and education today, and the commercial Internet of tomorrow.”

    BTW, that acknowledgment itself seems to suggest that Internet2 is a separate “network infrastructure” made up of other networks (plural). There are people out there who don’t understand the distinction between a network and inter-networking (the basis for the Internet). And try to find somebody who really understands what an “overlay network” is.

    My suspicion is that RIAA is using a “divide and conquer” strategy. Identify sub-communities that have some identifiable characteristsics, and pick them off one at a time. After all, Internet2 is supposed to be a serious effort focused on “research and higher education”, not entertainment or amusement. Kind of like the ARPAnet and NSFNET before Senator Al Gore legislated the “invention” of the “Internet”.

    — Jack Krupansky

  4. Wes Felter says:

    More and more I am coming to the conclusion that universities shouldn’t provide residential Internet connectivity to students. The students want common-carrier, end-to-end connectivity while universities want to concentrate their budgets on education.

    I can think of two ways to accomplish this:
    1. Shut down the dorm networks and let cable and DSL ISPs serve the dorms.
    2. Spin off the dorm network into a bandwidth co-op which peers with the university network but is responsible for buying its own transit.

  5. Cypherpunk says:

    One of the controversies of HDTV is whether it can be shared on the net or whether the data size (~9 GB per hour of content) is so large that HDTV piracy is not a practical possibility. I wonder if there is any documentation on whether I2 users are sharing HDTV shows. That would be the first time this would have happened, if so, and might point towards future problems with HDTV piracy.

  6. I think the RIAA for the time being might think it knows the logic of going after these people from a legal standpoint. I mean they are supposed to be protecting the music community and by cracking down on file sharing theoritically they are doing this.

    My feelings are kind’ve two fold: 1, the RIAA may go after these people now, but I think they should tread softly especially when it comes to attacking the people that in the near future will have access to/if not control of companies and orginizations that have serious influence over the media or the means by which the world accesses these medias(internet2, etc).

    Its a spin off of the whole “dont bite the hand that feeds you” – but more in the context of dont crush the prodigy’s that are going to help shape the future of communications as we know it.

    I think the i2hub may have done things that were not the greatest, illegal sharing is not good, but the means by which they did is the key — “the i2hub client was based on DC++ code that they hacked together” (quoted from an earlier post).

    Arent the hackers of the past the creators of programming langauge today? I wont get into the whole good hacker/bad hacker debate.

    Technology is dynamic and changing on a regular basis, many companies have tried to be static in a dynamic world… they dont last long though.

    If Internet2’s networking technology is developed to the point of distribution throughout the planet and these people that did i2hub help with that, then who has lost out on anything? (maybe just the RIAA).

    ok, I am done with my 2 cents

  7. Anonymous says:

    File sharing is the VCR of the turn-of-the-century. Lawsuits aren’t going to stop much because the probability of not getting caught is still in the general user’s favor (and will always be unless the the music industry is willing to cannabalize itself in the interest of “principle”). The industry will just have to come up with other ways to regulate its music and somehow learn how to tighten one more notch on the belt around its gluttonous multi-billion dollar girth. Adapt or die.

  8. Anonymous says:

    sorry cannibalize.