HTTP v P2P – Norms of Filesharing

Ernest Miller points out something that I use in class (usually after a student argues that P2P should just be outlawed) as an example of just how messy this problem gets — how does one distinguish P2P file sharing with a kind of filesharing that we do every day and think far less about – the use of our WWW browser. In both cases files are put up with the expectation that one will download a copy for use; in both cases, there are no reason to assume that the files are owned by the offeror. Yet one is wholly controversial and the other is not.

Take a look at Ernest’s approach: Compulsory Licensing – Where Are the Defenders of HTTP?

I venture that there seems to be a different set of copynorms for the practice of filesharing via P2P and http. Certainly some defend filesharing via both P2P and http, but others strongly defend P2P with nary a word in favor of http filesharing. Although I have no proof, I suspect that the public’s attitude toward filesharing would differ based on the protocol at issue. Would 12-year old Brianna Lahara think it was okay for her to put all her music on a website for the world to copy? Why don’t we see people uploading files to their websites more often? Why aren’t they more upset when told they can’t upload to their website then when they make files available via a filesharing program?

I believe that the difference is that filesharing by http is seen clearly as a public act, while P2P seems more like a private act [Can’t stay away from that Public/Private distinction, huh? – Ed.]. If I were to stand on a street corner handing out CD-Rs to strangers (even were I doing so with no possibility of remuneration of any sort), most people would not consider that proper. If the RIAA were to sue me for such an act, would there be such an outcry over the injustice of it all? Yet, if I handed a CD-R to a friend, most would defend it. The difference is that one is private and the other public.

Books and Memory

A little off-topic, but touching upon a key question facing the digital era — how will we preserve our cultural artifacts given that the technology employed to produce, store and retrieve them becomes obsolete far faster than the artifacts. From today’s NYTimes: So It Is Written: Books Are Memory [pdf]

It is part of the work of a culture to figure out what endures and what is consumed, though the calculations can never be completed, not least because we ourselves are part of the equation. Books and people keep whispering secrets to each other and this relationship, so full of flaws, is perhaps the best we can do.


Music File Sharers Keep Sharing [pdf]

The sweeping legal campaign appears to be educating some file swappers who did not think they were breaking the law and scaring some of those who did. But the barrage of lawsuits has also highlighted a stark break between the legal status of file sharing in the United States and the apparent cultural consensus on its morality.

In a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted this week, only 36 percent of those responding said file swapping was never acceptable. That helps explain why the pop radio hit “Right Thurr,” by Chingy, was available to download free from 3.5 million American personal computers last week, while two million file swappers in the United States shared songs from rock icons like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, according to the tracking company Big Champagne.

The persistent lack of guilt over online copying suggests that the record industry’s antipiracy campaign, billed as a last-ditch effort to reverse a protracted sales slump, is only the beginning of the difficult process of persuading large numbers of people to buy music again.

[…] Fear of being sued or fined can help shape a new moral sensibility — as happened with sexual harassment laws, seat belt requirements and no- smoking laws — despite considerable initial public skepticism. Some legal experts and ethicists say the music industry’s enforcement of copyright law against Internet file sharers may eventually catalyze a similar change in attitudes.

But many experts argue that legal prohibition alone is rarely effective in getting people to behave differently if it runs counter to strong societal beliefs.

“When efforts to ban behavior fail, like with the Prohibition, they may need to be changed,” said Jeffrey Rosen, a law professor at George Washington University in Washington.

The Berkman Session Yesterday

CNet’s got some coverage: Debating digital media’s future. It’s mostly summaries of three key approaches: compulsory licensing, DRM and stricter DMCA enforcement.

Attendees at the conference, held at the Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Mass., posed a number of scenarios to achieve the goal of extending consumer access to media through digital devices while respecting the copyrights of content creators and publishers. Talk focused primarily on the highly visible and controversial practice of downloading music over the Internet, but it touched on all types of electronic media.

Overall, attendees agreed that the entertainment industry has been slow to develop viable business models for the Internet. Meanwhile, unauthorized distribution of content on file-sharing networks such as Kazaa and Morpheus has become commonplace.

“The legal and regulatory environment and the business models have not been able to keep up with this situation,” said James Brancheau, a media analyst at Gartner. “This is a massive problem today.”

Derek’s got two postings – I’m going to have to come back to them, but here they are for your reading pleasure:

Update: John Palfrey points to the article in the Boston Globe: Harvard symposium debates future of online file-sharing

“There was a time that to make a copy, you needed a monk, and a desk, and months,” said Charles Nessen of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, a sponsor of the gathering.

“And then Sean Fanning hit the scene,” he said, referring to the college dropout who founded the wildly popular music-trading Web site Napster, which was shut down in 2001 after battling the music industry over copyright infringement.

The rocket speed of digital media technology, which can put a pirated movie onto the Internet in hours, pirated CDs and DVDs on street corners around the world in days, and allows home computer users to swap music using “peer-to-peer” file-sharing software, is fundamentally changing the music and movie industry.

Ed Foster Knew What He Was Talking About

Ed’s GripeLine column from yesterday, Contract By Typo, seems to have been very on-target — from The Register: Verisign’s SiteFinder finds privacy hullabaloo

On Wednesday, Boston-based Internet security and privacy consultant Richard Smith found buried in the SiteFinder page a so-called “Web bug,” an invisible image file served up by, a Pasadena, Calif.-based advertising company that brands itself as a search engine. The bug delivers a cookie that doesn’t expire for five years.

This certainly means the culling of some information, said Smith. “They’re getting a sense of what domain names are mistyped, and perhaps this can be used by a domain name sales company. In addition, Overture is a pay for click search engine, with questionable affiliates.”

The question on everyone’s mind is, what are Verisign and Overture doing with information gathered through SiteFinder? Will the companies be able to tell that the person looking for a medical marijuana site on Monday is the same person looking for a cancer support group the week before?

And, according to Slashdot, the first lawsuit has already been filed, albeit for reasons other than privacy concerns: VeriSign Sued Over SiteFinder Service; a CNet News reposting of a Reuters item, too: VeriSign sued over redirect Web service

Update: Donna points to another dimension explored over at LawMeme: VeriSign Hijacks DNS Typos . . . And Creates Binding Contracts?