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Silent tech majority invites Mickey Mouse to poison P2P

The killer app that killed innovation

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Comment It happened years ago. The "KA" appeared, and everyone embraced it. They hugged that "KA" with all their might, hoping it might correct a collapsing technology scene. Then, when the "KA" grew a sore, they dumped it.

The "KA" or killer app was Napster - and on a larger scale P2P software. P2P file-trading started to thrive around the same time that the Nasdaq started to dive. Intel saw P2P as a way to sell more processors and publicly cheered the technology. Sun Microsystems followed suit with the JXTA P2P protocols. A host of smaller software companies crafted flimsy business models around the P2P idea. These players recognized that the time to whine about not having a killer app had passed - one was gyrating right in front of them.

Now we find P2P software in front of the Supreme Court. And not only P2P software. Hollywood today will ask the Supremes to overturn an ancient decision protecting the use of VCRs and indirectly other devices that can be used to copy content for personal use. A huge chunk of innovation is on the line.

Has the tech industry that once salivated over P2P software's ability to chew through processors, hard drives and bandwidth run to the rescue? Not exactly.

The only company willing to stand out on its own and back the P2P software makers is Intel - the most vocal advocate of the old, illegal Napster (not the boring new Napster).

In a brief turned over to the Supreme Court, Intel dutifully told the judges of its patent and copyright love and insisted that people worship said patents and copyrights. Then, it got to the point. Intel begged the Supremes not to overturn the old "Sony" decision that protects VCRs and the like.

The Sony rule

"The development of innumerable technology-based products has depended on the Sony rule and its erosion would chill innovation and put a damper on one of the largest components of the U.S. economy: computer, software, consumer electronics, and telecommunications companies, many of whose products and services are built on technologies developed by Intel, contributed some $844 billion to the U.S. Gross Domestic Product in 2003," Intel wrote in the brief (PDF).

Intel's lawyers did everything they could to weaken the company's pro-P2P stance with fluffy language, but the message came through in the end. Intel, like many vendors, is most afraid of Hollywood's quest to clamp down on any product that could potentially be used to infringe on a copyright.

(Funny thing is Intel pulled in $34.2bn last year all on its own, while the worldwide music business made roughly double that at $75bn, according to the well-researched The Future of Music. Intel's looking a bit more important to the old bottom line from where we sit.)

While Intel was the lone vendor willing to speak on its own, a few more companies did find their voice. AT&T, Bell South, MCI, Savvis Communications SBC, Sun Microsystems and Verizon filed a brief together as a type of internet coalition. They too extolled the virtues of copyrights and then made similar arguments, as Intel, in favor of unfettered technological innovation.

"The surest way to depress capital investment in new Internet technologies, such as wireless data services, on demand video, and 'seamless mobility' - the transmission of content from television, to computer, to cell phone, to new devices yet to be created or marketed - is to modify Sony by adopting any of the malleable, multi-factored tests proffered by petitioners [Mickey Mouse and Friends] and their amici," the vendors wrote (PDF).

Other than these few companies, the direct IT vendor votes in support of P2P and Sony were sparse. The rest of the pro-Grokster briefs came from lawyers, professors, recording artists, civil liberties groups and free software fans. The Consumer Electronics Association, the Computer and Communications Industry Association, and the Home Recording Rights Coalition also spoke up for their members.

You might think some smart folks over at Seagate, AMD, Cisco, Adobe, IBM, Apple, HP or EMC would consider for a minute how a P2P revolution could benefit them. No such luck.

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