We’ve all heard of some boneheaded moves on the part of the record industry when it comes to dealing with the rampant downloading of music. Take the Sony rootkit, for example, not to mention suing 12-year-olds and then wondering why the PR outcome is less than desirable. But I have to say that this incident really takes the cake. According to Jim Louderback of Revision3, the TV arm of the Digg empire, the company’s BitTorrent server was taken down by what amounts to a denial-of-service attack — an attack that appears to have come from MediaDefender, an “anti-piracy” company whose major clients are the global record companies, TV networks and Hollywood movie studios.
It’s actually even more devious than just that, however. According to a couple of execs at MediaDefender, the flood of SYN requests that overloaded the server came about because the anti-piracy group’s network was actually trying to reconnect to Torrent files that it had stored on the Revision3 server — without the company’s permission or knowledge. According to MediaDefender, the company was only trying to re-establish contact with its own files, which Revision3 had shut off access to. As Louderback describes it:
Itâ€™s as if McGruff the Crime Dog snuck into our basement, enlisted an army of cellar rats to eat up all of our cheese, and then burned the house down when we finally locked him out â€“ instead of just knocking on the front door to tell us the window was open.
I know I said that this particular idiotic move takes the cake, but there’s plenty of cake to go around where MediaDefender is concerned. There’s the whole debacle involving Miivi, for example — a file-sharing network that was set up by MediaDefender as a kind of honey trap for P2P users, whose user info was then turned over to the RIAA and others. And speaking of turning data over to the authorities, Louderback says that the FBI is looking into MediaDefender’s use of what amounts to a DOS attack, something that is illegal in most states.
Remember that lawsuit the RIAA launched against the Russian file-sharing site AllofMp3 awhile back? And remember how the site shut down, and then started up again under another name (Mp3Sparks) with the same look and all the same millions of music files? And remember how the Russian courts found the company not guilty of all charges (at least according to Russian copyright law)? Well, Torrentfreak says the RIAA has responded to all of that — by declaring victory.
So Microsoft is winding down its book digitization and search project (and its related academic research project) because it wants to focus on verticals that have a “high commercial intent.” In other words, there’s no money in book scanning. That presumably leaves Google to scan and index all of the world’s knowledge — and to fight the forces of copyright who believe the company’s project is in defiance of the laws covering fair use. Google doesn’t appear to mind (or at least not yet) that book scanning doesn’t produce any revenue. Farhad Manjoo at Salon says this is a classic example of Microsoft’s failure of imagination.
Speaking of imagination, it doesn’t take all that much to see that books are only a few steps away from joining music and movies (and software) as freely pirated content. E-books are already available, of course, but there aren’t that many of them yet — in part because there aren’t that many people using e-book readers. The Kindle could change that, however, as well as new readers that are coming with e-ink displays and low power requirements. But it was a comment on the TechCrunch post about Microsoft’s decision that got me thinking.
The comment mentioned a company called Atiz.com, which makes a relatively cheap version of a book scanning machine. It costs $1,600 — and that doesn’t include the cameras — but that’s orders of magnitude cheaper than the kinds of machines Microsoft uses, which cost as much as $100,000 each. And then I thought about how much university students like my daughter pay for the textbooks they use in school each year, which can cost upwards of $100 per book for something they may only use a few pages of for a particular class.
I think if I were an enterprising — and not especially law-abiding — student at a university, I might just buy a couple of those Atiz machines and a few cheap digital cameras, and start scanning textbooks as fast as I possibly could. Build up a large enough respository of texts and you could start selling them page by page to students, or just let them swap the files on a p2p network. It would be illegal, of course — but no more or less illegal than Napster. And if a student only used excerpts from the books, the principle of fair use might still apply. Not that I’m suggesting anyone do such a thing, of course.
Speaking of giving books away for free, author Steven Poole did just that with a recent novel he wrote, but says he wasn’t at all impressed with the results. His experience prompted New York Times writer David Pogue to write about his own experiences with book piracy. But as usual, Techdirt writer Mike Masnick (who was kind enough to come and do a presentation at mesh 2008 this week on “the economics of abundance”) takes the argument used by both men apart piece by piece.
Marshall Kirkpatrick has a post at Read/Write Web with some notes from an interview he and some other bloggers did with Neil Young at the JavaOne conference. And why was Neil there? Apparently he’s releasing his entire back catalogue as a Blu-Ray disc, which — thanks to the Java embedded in Blu-Ray — will automagically download new content if there is any when you play the disc. Among other things, Neil in jeans and a T-shirt was probably the only person who could make ponytailed Sun CEO Jonathan Schwarz look stuffy and uptight.
I’m a big fan of Neil’s, and always have been. And not just because my family and his family were neighbours in Toronto about a hundred years ago, or because his cottage is up in northern Ontario (“there is a town in North Ontario” he sings in Helpless) just like my cottage. Neil has always done whatever the hell he wanted to do, regardless of what his record label wanted — anyone remember the album Trans, released in 1982? — and he has a similarly straightforward approach to file-sharing and the dangers thereof, according to Marshall’s post.
“It’s up to the masses to distribute it however they want,” he said. “The laws don’t matter at that point. People sharing music in their bedrooms is the new radio.”
Obviously, he’s not saying that he’s happy people are trading mp3 files of his music rather than buying it. But I think he knows he can’t stop it, and I get the sense that he thinks it’s probably on balance a positive thing — and there will always be people who want the Blu-Ray disc with the whole back catalogue, or the $300 package deal that Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails made $1.6-million or so on awhile back, despite the fact that he was effectively giving the entire album away. You just have to focus on that, and give them the best you can give.
In one of the least-surprising legal moves in recent memory, Swedish authorities have laid charges against The Pirate Bay, one of the largest trackers of BitTorrent downloads in the world (it recently passed the 10 million peers mark), on behalf of several movie studios and record labels. This isn’t surprising for a number of reasons. For one thing, the Swedish authorities have said several times over the past few months that they were going to file charges; and for another thing, the site’s name is The Pirate Bay — I mean, come on 🙂
At first glance, it seems obvious why Swedish prosecutors are suing the company. After all, by going through The Pirate Bay, people can get access to millions of movies, songs, software programs and other digital files, and download them freely without paying for them. The sticky part, however, is that The Pirate Bay doesn’t host any of those files — like Google, the site is nothing but an index of where those files are located. The actual files are hosted on millions of computers around the world, some of which may only have a small part of the original file, thanks to the magic of BitTorrent.
In other words, The Pirate Bay is only pointing Internet users to those files, in the same way that Google and Yahoo and MSN point users to webpages. Is that — or should that be — a crime? In a similar vein, a music search engine called Seeqpod is being sued by the record label EMI because it makes it easy for people to find public mp3 files on the Web (there are half a dozen other services that do the same thing, including Songza and g2p.org). Should that be illegal? G2P.org actually just does a search through Google. If that’s illegal, does that make Google responsible?
Even if The Pirate Bay is successfully sued, it isn’t likely to affect downloading much. The site may have the largest torrent “tracker” in the world, but it isn’t the only one — there are thousands of them. Even if The Pirate Bay is found guilty and goes out of business, the servers that run the site aren’t actually located in Sweden and will likely continue functioning (The Pirate Bay claims to not even know where the servers are). The founders of the service say their tracker will remain operating even if they are found guilty.