ISPs, File Sharing, P2P, UK Law and all that Jazz - A Follow Up
The subject of filesharing is one that will run and run. It's one that elicits emotion and gets people talking. Many many thousands, millions maybe, of people are interested in the subject whether as a file sharer themselves, a copyright holder (or both), an ISP, a legislator or just an outside observer. This subject has people talking and they have many opinions. We posted a couple of months ago about action taken by one software house against people they believed had illegally downloaded and/or uploaded their copyright material and we've responded to David Cameron's call for ISPs to block copyright material. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry wants ISPs to police what their customers are doing and take action seemingly even when there isn't a court order to that effect. We've responded to the idea of operating a "three strike" idea of disconnecting illegal file sharers which Talk Talk have already rejected while Virgin are in discussion about implementing it as a voluntary scheme. MEP's have though voted against such a move. Surely though there have to be alternatives where the customers, the ISPs and the copyright holders can all live in harmony? To have ISPs police their customers is ultimately going to cost someone millions and millions of pounds and will probably only catch a fraction of the illegal downloading. There must be a better way. For a moment let's first look at how as an ISP what we would need to do to act as the Internet's policeman. At the moment our traffic management systems are able to identify the type of traffic a customer is using, if you look at the View My Usage tool on the portal you can see how much gaming or web traffic you've used for example. Each of those categories is made up of several elements and each identified in a different way. So, for example, one person's gaming may be World of Warcraft which we've picked by the IP address of the WoW servers and port the traffic is on, another customer's gaming may be Unreal Tournament which we've matched by deep packet inspection on a non-standard port and a third may be Xbox live which we've matched using a signature on the default ports. Similarly with Peer-2-Peer traffic we can identify it in a number of different ways but crucially we don't look at the content. As far as our traffic management is concerned it doesn't differentiate between someone downloading a copyright file or someone downloading the latest game patch or demo quite legitimately. Many content providers (Sky and the BBC with Kontiki, many open source developers with BitTorrent) use P2P for distribution and while we can see the difference between say Kontiki and BitTorrent we don't see what you are downloading and whether you have the appropriate permission to download it. Because of how P2P works the files don't necessarily come from the copyright holders themselves, so idenfying a particular download by source can be very difficult.. I could quite legitimately download Christmas Day's Doctor Who episode via iPlayer and not download any of the episode from the BBC themselves but instead all the parts would come from other people sharing the file. Same with a WoW patch, you can download the whole file without getting any direct from the game's publisher. One of the calls we hear is to block all P2P traffic, in doing so would you also be blocking iPlayer, Sky Anytime, World of Warcraft patches and other legitimate content? If you don't, how do you separate those that use the same P2P technology like BitTorrent as the illegal filesharing? Plus you leave a nice big hole for the people filesharing to use, they just make their downloads look like one of the legit content distributions. One answer we've mentioned before is Audible Magic's CopySense. This uses a database (around 6 million items at last check) of known copyright material and looks for it within P2P downloads. This though is always going to be a battle, who will be quicker the people releasing the copyright material onto the Internet or people importing the data into the database? What protocols does it check? I can legitimately download songs from iTunes or Napster, would it try and block them because the files look like known copyright material? Does it check HTTP or Usenet and how can it cope with encrypted traffic or files that have been split or archived into Rar or Zip files? This isn't really a solution, trying to block all filesharing isn't going to block all filesharing, there are clever people out there who will just come up with new ways to share files. The closure of the original Napster just meant people switched to Audio Galaxy or Kazaa, when Audio Galaxy closed they switched to BitTorrent. Block BitTorrent and they'll use something else. What also happens to the ISP that misses files and people download things illegally? Does the ISP get sanctioned for missing them? Do they become liable for the downloading if they are responsible for blocking it? Who polices the ISPs? Probably the only real solution is to provide people with an alternative to illegal filesharing so there just isn't the need for it. If you look into the mindset of people that download and try and determine the reasons you can come up with list which is probably something along the lines of the following (in no particular order):
- What they are downloading isn't available where they are (e.g. US TV shows that have yet to be shown in the UK)
- Because they own the movie/music/film on one format (e.g. CD or DVD) but want to watch/listen to it on a different format (e.g. MP3 or AVI)
- They want to try it out before they buy it (e.g. test that software works on their PC or does what they want it to)
- Economic reasons, it's cheaper to download than buy a CD/DVD, or they don't see the product as being of value for money
- Social reasons, friends are doing it so they will too
- Just because "they can"
- To avoid the adverts in TV shows
- To avoid DRM, if you have a couple of different music players and want to play your songs on each, depending on the DRM you might have to buy 2 copies.
- They don't necessarily know they are downloading unauthorised copyright material (e.g. clips from shows on YouTube)
- Because what they want isn't available from the services they subscribe to (e.g. they use iTunes but want to listen to Metallica)
- Because they don't like going to (or can't get to) the cinema. The cinema where I used to live closed down years ago meaning it was a 20 mile round trip to see a film
- Because they want it now, buying a DVD or CD means going to the shop or waiting for the post
There are probably plenty of other reasons as well, but when you look at the majority of reasons there are alternative ways. Take music as an example. Vodafone have recently launched MusicStation, for £1.99 per week you can listen to any of over 1 million songs on your mobile phone. How many people would be interested in something similar over your broadband connection? For the right price and with the right content I'm sure there would be plenty of demand and we'd love to work with the right people and build a bundle deal for our customers if that's what people want. Warner are already looking at something like this and a deal has already been struck in Denmark. The differing formats is another big issue, we've just seen the end of the HD-DVD vs Blu-ray battle not too unlike the VHS vs Betamax war in the 80s how many people have bought the wrong format? If you've already bought your favourite films first on VHS then DVD and probably paid to see it at the cinema do you want to have to buy it again in HD? Same with music, you've bought the CD (or like me, the record) but if want the convenience of using the MP3 player technically you need to purchase the MP3s too. Things like that will only serve to annoy people, there's the fair use arguement and there's the "I'm buying a license to listen to the music not the actual music" consideration so as long as you've paid for the music does it matter what format you use? Slightly different in the software industry in that many license agreements will allow you to make a backup copy or allow you to install from something other than the original media (e.g. network share). Some software licenses also let you install the software on multiple PCs. It's fair use of the software as you are licensing the software itself and it's only fair you have a backup or are able to install it in a different way if needs be. Dave Tomlinson PlusNet Product Team
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