The Washington Post online has a nice summary/directory of articles on the RIAA’s upcoming crackdown on peer-to-peer file sharers. The crackdown seems like a risky move, but it seems the industry can’t think of anything else to do about their P2P problem.
When the industry sued Napster into oblivion, Napster was replaced, hydra-like, by a newer generation of P2P systems that are apparently resistant to the tactics that took down Napster.
The RIAA’s new crackdown, if it works, will most likely cause yet another step in the evolution of P2P systems. P2P systems that provide only weak anonymity protection for their users will fade away, replaced by a new generation of P2P technology that resists the RIAA’s new tactics.
The RIAA’s new tactic is to join a P2P network semi-anonymously, and then to pierce the anonymity of people who are offering files. There are two countermeasures that can frustrate this tactic, and the use of these countermeasures is already starting to grow slowly.
The first countermeasure is to provide stronger anonymity protection for users, to prevent investigators from so easily unmasking users who are sharing files.
The second countermeasure is share files only among small friends-and-family groups, making it difficult for investigators to join the group. If every P2P user is a member of a few of these overlapping small groups, then files can still diffuse from place to face fairly quickly.
All of this must look pretty unfair from the RIAA’s point of view. No matter how strong the RIAA’s legal and ethical arguments against file sharing are, people will continue to share files as long as they view it as a basically benign activity. It seems to me that only a change in public attitudes, or a change in the basic legal structure of copyright, can solve the file sharing problem.