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Bringing P2P in from the cold

Chris Castle catches up with El Reg

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"'Bollocks' I believe is the word?"

Now that the Pirate Party actually got themselves elected to something, they’re going to be more closely scrutinized. This five-year copyright thing is, if you ask me, a dodge. How do you say in your language? “Bollocks” I believe is the word?

It is a way that they can say that they pay lip service to creators rights and try to engage the discussion on some red herring while the stealing continues. It’s sort of like Lessig saying that he opposes orphan works because it’s unfair to copyright owners, and what would be fair to copyright owners is a five-year copyright term.

You've come out really strongly against the statutory or blanket licence solution to P2P recently. Can you explain?

If you collect an unallocated pool of money that's based on something other than usage of the works involved, you automatically have to make some decisions on how that's divided up. You have to make that decision before you decide what the rate is.

The fundamental arithmetic problem is that on a per-user basis, the EFF plan (for example) has each user paying a fixed rate. An ever increasing number of works then have to fight for that fixed rate. So the more robust the service - the better it is and the broader the usage - then the per-rights holder payment on a per user basis will only decrease as the number of works increases because the thing being shared is a fixed rate.

This is an idea whose time has passed. Napster had a version of this idea back in 1999. The Napster subscription model we proposed identified works, it used fingerprinting, it was a walled garden P2P system. EFF wants a “voluntary/voluntary” plan. I can sum it up in one word: Ponzi.

The only people who make money in the EFF plan as far as I can tell are the people who set it up and whack their 10 per cent off the top (or whatever the percentage is). They don't really care what the creators make. The promoter's share is only going to increase with the number of users. They'll get their 10 per cent no matter what the 90 per cent is. Talk about gatekeepers!

Versions of this story already exist: Snocap, in particular, PRS, ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, Harry Fox, SACEM … So, why start yet another gatekeeper from scratch?

So what was the thinking at Napster? It's called the Big Switch - you'd try and allow legitimate file sharing?

The thinking was at both Napster and Snocap that if you were going to monetize P2P you would have to do it at the client level - trying to do it at the network level is very practical and is very hard to audit and build trustmaking systems.

Snocap had a plugin that monitored through fingerprinting what's in your share folder, and then looked up that track to see if it's in the Snocap registry. If it was, it would return information based on the track and at what price. So some tracks might be blocked; peers wouldn't see tracks that weren't approved for sharing or for sale. It would shroud them. Well, who knows if that would have worked, but trying to sue infringers into legitimacy hasn’t worked either.

In the Napster days there was thought given to a tiered subscription model. Once you threw the “big switch” and changed to subscription, even if Napster lost 90 per cent of its users there would still be two to three million subscribers. That's a nice little group to start a service with. And you'd have got some of the people who left back if the service was compelling.

It was amazing it was all there 10 years ago. And we're still here 10 years later, and we don't have anything like it that's legal.

The technology was sort of there. That software was there, and it was good - I wouldn't do it that differently now. The basic model was just as appropriate then as it is now.

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Next page: The Snocap mountain

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