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Leading P2P activists have reacted to the prospect of the extension of a legal crackdown on file swappers in the UK with plans to build greater anonymity into their networks.

The developers of popular P2P app Blubster, which boasts an estimated four million users, plan to incorporate encryption technology and other techniques to give file-sharers greater anonymity. The scheme would mean that files were downloaded through a number of machines and only pieced together at a requesting computer.

Wayne Rosso, CEO of Optisoft, the company which develops Blubster, said the file verification and encryption technology (partially based on Freenet) would make it easier to recognise legitimate MP3 files from the garbage files that increasingly plague P2P networks. The technology, currently in beta testing, is partially limited by only working between users of the Blobster network.

Upping the ante

Rosso, the founder of trade group P2P United and former head of the Grokster network, said adopting measures to frustrate music industry attempts to hunt down file sharers was justified by the latter's refusal to adapt its business models to new technology. The heavy-handed approach it has taken to enforcing its intellectual property rights also irks Rosso.

Rosso's comments came during a Parliamentary Advisory Forum on P2P technology, organised by the ISPA, in Westminster last Tuesday night. This saw the P2P activist facing off against music industry representatives.

During the event, British Phonographic Industry (BPI) boss Andrew Yeates said it was vital to the music business to get a return on business investment. File sharing networks are hitting music sales, he said.

Yeates floated the possibility of a crackdown on file-swappers in the UK but he came across as a reluctant litigator. "It's not like anybody is anxious to sue, it's a last resort," Yeates said.

Before going after individual file swappers, The BPI has indicated that it wants to make sure authorised download services are available and that the necessary legislation is in place. With last year's introduction of the European Union Copyright Directive and at least some music download services available it would seem arguable that these conditions are now satisfied.

Writs and wrongs

So is the BPI about to sue individuals? Yeates suggested it was keeping its options open and refused to quash suggestions that it was in talks with a major ISP on how they could work together to locate major file swappers.

Any action the BPI might take needed to be proportional to the (alleged) infringement taking place, Yeates said. Which means, we think, that its intent is the targeting of heavy duty pirates, and not occasional file swappers.

Yeates talked up the need to win the "hearts and minds" of net users in discouraging copyright infringement, but aspects of the BPI's stance are likely to irk many music lovers.

For one thing, the BPI wants to "streamline legislation" so that takedown notices can be actioned more quickly, a suggestion P2P activist Rosso said would make it easier for the music industry to harass people.

Yeates also related how, as an 11 year-old, he'd used a microphone held towards his TV to make crude recordings of Top of the Pops.

Despite this history of personal criminality, Yeates defended the RIAA actions in making legal threats against a 12 year-old girl for file swapping.

A representative of Sony Entertainment piped in at this point to argue that the main issue of some people "uploading hundreds of files to the Internet" had been lost in publicity about the 12 year-old.

"And anyway that 12 year-old was using a sophisticated computer to upload files," she added.

Ah yes, using sophisticated computers, we can see how that makes things much more insidious.

A representative from BMG bemoaned the negative PR surrounding the music industry which "colours people's perceptions". "This negative view is based on historical baggage and misinformation."

Infamy, infamy, they all got it in for me

These views cut no ice with Russo. He said the industry is exaggerating the impact of file swapping.

Rather than looking at the ways peer-to-peer technology could open up the opportunity to develop fresh business models, record industry execs simply want to kill off file sharing networks, Russo alleged.

Russo and Alan Morris, executive vice president of Sharman Networks (the firm behind KaZaA), both suggested that music labels could use file sharing networks as a distribution mechanism for licensed music tracks, wrapped up in DRM technology.

"The best way to stop the flow of unauthorised networks on P2P network is to release authorised content," Russo commented.

Starting from sheet music sales and progressing through broadcast radio, dual cassette decks and P2P the music industry has a history of opposing new technologies, Russo said.

"Each time they say that the sky is falling in. Now they want to blame file-sharing for all their problems."

"It's hurt their business - but nowhere near as much as what they claim," he added. ®

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