It’s all a mystery to me

A week or so ago I posted and asked about the available options for buying music legally across the Internet. I discovered that the alternatives seem to be quite limited in Australia; there are some pretty good sources, but the biggies like iTunes and Napster don’t offer their services here yet.

It seems extraordinarily foolish of the big music industry corporations, given that they’re apparently spending so much time and effort tracking down and prosecuting people involved in illegal file-sharing (Kazaa, Morpheus etc). Even if you want to behave legally (as I certainly do), it’s quite difficult.

One of our comment box contributors made mention of a file sharing system called BitTorrent that seems to be all the rage at the moment. Some estimates suggest it is now responsible for the astonishing proportion of 30% or more of total world-wide internet traffic!!! Apparently that’s because of the way BitTorrent segments and uses the upload capacity of its “members'” PCs to deliver very large files (especially movies and TV programs) at high speed. See this long-ish article including an interview with BitTorrent developer Bram Cohen.

Unsurprisingly, the music and movie companies now have BitTorrent in their litigious sights. They raided a Perth ISP yesterday which was allegedly involved in some way in the BitTorrent ‘network’. And coincidentally or otherwise, Bram Cohen also released a new version of BitTorrent today, boasting that it’s even more blindingly fast than the existing one. I wonder why the big corporations aren’t targetting Cohen himself? Is it just because he apparently isn’t attempting to make money out of his invention, except by way of a Paypal donation button? Or that he’s been much more careful than Sharman/Kazaa and others not to say anything that could possibly be construed as encouragement to users to swap files illegally? Or is it that BitTorrent is open source software, the source code for which is now held by thousands of people if not more, so that there’s no real point in targetting Cohen because the horse has already bolted?

I must be in a curious mood today, because all this raises various other questions that puzzle me, but which readers may be able to answer:

What effect does BitTorrent have on users’ bandwidth usage? By the sound of the description in this article, it would gobble large amounts of it, which would be a major worry even for people with an Australian-style “unlimited” bandwidth ADSL broadband account. These accounts are’t actually unlimited at all; your download speeds drop back to 55k modem snail’s pace after you reach a designated monthly usage figure (typically 6-10 gigabytes depending on the plan and ISP).

Why don’t the music companies make more strenuous efforts to facilitate legal music purchasing across the internet in markets like Australia? You would think it would be more cost-effective than spending a fortune on lawyers and private investigators.

Why don’t music and movie companies more universally incorporate anti-copying protocols on their CDs and DVDs? I gather those sorts of measures are fairly readily available, so again, why not use them instead of spending a fortune on lawyers and PIs?

Or do the corporations secretly want people to engage in a certain amount of illegal file-swapping, because it’s an effective form of costless marketing (a bit like giving out free samples to market opinion leaders), as long as the quantity of illegal copying is kept within tolerable bounds by frightening the crap out of ordinary law-abiding citizens (like me) with highly visible aggressive prosecutions of a tiny number of scapegoats?

And lastly, why do so many ordinary Australians think they’re doing nothing wrong/criminal by illegally downloading music or movies across the Internet? Do they see it as somehow different from shoplifting at Woolies? Or is there some other reason? For example, a belief that the music companies are greedy and unreasonable in the way they handle their intellectual property rights? Or is it simply that most people obey the law only out of habit and fear of getting caught, and that they have an illusion that they won’t get caught because they’re stealing from the privacy of their own homes? I suspect that last factor might well be a part of the picture, because criminology research highlights the incidence of large numbers of generally law-abiding citizens who steal from shops when there is a police strike or prolonged blackout.

I’d be most interested in readers’ observations on any of the above questions.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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2024 years ago

1. Bittorrent does have a large effect on user’s bandwidth. My ISP has unlimited usage between 2am and 9am, and this period is very heavily utilized (although probably by a small minority of users). I would bet my bottom dollar this is largely Bittorrent traffic.

2. I would like to know why iTunes, for instance hasn’t yet started up in Australia. I suppose that distribution rights for music have been delegated to Australian companies which are less interested in online sales than the US copyright holders (on the assumption that most of the music originally belongs to US labels). I wish I had a credit card with a US billing address, which I believe would allow me to but from the US iTunes store — how can I get one?

3. Anti-copying for digital media is very hard — as soon as it has been broken once, the cat is out of the bag — that copy can be distributed again and again, and the method used to break the copy protection can be widely disseminated via the internet. To really protect digital media you need to ensure that *all* devices which can read the media are distributed with tamper-proof hardware.

4. Perhaps some people feel that they are downloading things which they wouldn’t buy at the going rate, even if the download wasn’t available, and hence aren’t costing the copyright holder anything, but I’m sure that believing that one is unlikely to be caught is a decisive factor.

2024 years ago

P.S. A good reason for bittorrent downloads of TV shows is the desire to see a series before it is released in Australia. With a global culture you can’t afford to be a season behind in Buffy.

Stewart Kelly
2024 years ago

There was an old episode of the twilight zone where a strange man gives a woman a box inside of which was a switch. She was told if she flicked the switch she would receive one million dollars, however someone unknown to her would die as a result. It was stressed she did know the person, and would never know them. So she hums and hars over it for days then eventually flicks the switch convincing herself that she can live with it since she is not harming anyone she knows. I think something similar goes on peoples head with illegal downloads, they don’t know or feel any real empathy with the victims so it’s easy to not feel guilty.

Funnily enough in the Twilight Zone episode as soon as the woman flicked the switch there was a knock at her front door. It was the guy who gave her the box and he had a suitcase with one million dollars in it. He took the box off her, gave the money then informed her the box would now be given to someone else, who would be given the same choices. He stressed it would be someone who did not know her, then walked out the door.

2024 years ago

Or do the corporations secretly want people to engage in a certain amount of illegal file-swapping, because it’s an effective form of costless marketing

I’m a firm believer in this theory.

DVD’s can’t be made uncopyable. If you can read the content then you are two steps away from copying it. Some ppl blog for a hobby – many others crack codes for the same reason.

Ppl don’t regard IP theft in the same way as other theft. We used to fotocopy in the library until the cows came home. It was completely socially acceptable. I know they’ve tightened up now. Ppl always have to be taught that such & such is wrong. Plus it seems so easy to do that it’s hard to believe it’s wrong. Point & click & nobody need ever know.

Andrew Frazer
Andrew Frazer
2024 years ago

BitTorrent obviously has a significant effect on a user’s bandwidth. If you’re downloading a gig of data then you’re downloading a gig of data, whether you’re using BitTorrent, ftp or Kazza. On top of that, with BitTorrent you’re also acting as a server for the bits of the file that have already been downloaded so the total bandwith used will always be greater then the size of the downloaded file. The BitTorrent clients that I’ve played with allow you to choke the amount of bandwidth allocated to upstream connections so you do have some control over the total bandwidth used during the download.

As far as illegal downloading is concerned, I’m sure that all the points made so far are valid. Perhaps there’s aslo still a sense that CDs/DVDs are overpriced, so users are just getting some of their own back. There can also be unreasonable barriers to legally acquiring content (eg dvd regional protection), maybe that’s a factor as well.

2024 years ago

The problem with Napster was that it actually relied on a central server which stored an index to songs people had on the Napster network. In which case that index contained address’s of other users on the network who had the song/program/movie/etc available for downlaod. In the Napster case, if you take down the index server you take down the whole networks ability to search and hence the network is useless.

Subsequentally Kazaa and various other P2P programs where developed to run off a de-centralised network, this network was call Fasttrack. Which involved computers called “Supernodes”, these supernodes allowed clients to connect to them. When a client searched the Supernode will palmed off the search to all of its clients that were connected to it. The clients which had the file would then respond DIRECTLY to the original client who innitated the search.
In this case even if you were to take down a Supernode it would just mean that the clients could connect to a different Supernode. Or even if a client was connected to many Supernodes, it would not make a difference taking one down. The authorities had to battle this one for a very long time, even today, Kazaa still exists with freely available illegal material for download. Never the less, Kazaa the program has now been filled with so much spyware and adware its not even worth looking at anymore. There had been rumors though that, since copyright holders(in particular record companies/artists) had started to flood the Kazaa network with fake files. eg. Songs which only played for 2 seconds then there was silence for the next 3mins.

Other more recent Peer-2-Peer programs were developed with de-centralisation in mind as well.

To get more to the point about Bit Torrent. Users download whats call a torrent file. Normally about 20kb or so, that file directs to you too whats called a tracker, a tracker is a web server which handles and controls connections from clients. The tracker will then return addresses of people who are downloading that file, in which case the client can connect to those other clients and download off them. Therefore its all really client-client downloading. The catch is that you MUST upload as you download, so other clients who do not have as much as the file as you do can download it as well and ease the load off the seeders(person with 100% of the file and is purely uploading).

Anybody can run a tracker, even you can do it Ken, all you really need is the tracker software which is free.

Even if they do go after Bram Cohen its not going to change anything, because its everyone else who is running the trackers with illegal content on them. The only thing Bram Cohen did wrong was develop the software/protocol.

BT does chew up alot of bandwidth since you will be uploading and downloading at the same time as well as handling all of the client/seed connections. In order to get this program working perfectly you need some experience and understanding of how it works and also know how to balance the upload load on your connection. Typically if you get on a torrent with a large number of seeders(100% uploaders) your connection will quiet easily max out. I know people who easily do about 17GB a week downloading from Bit Torrent alone on a 512k(~55kb per sec) connection. People on 1.5mbit or more can do alot more than that.

Mind you, i do believe Bram Cohen has said he has been disappointed that his protocol has been used mostly for illegal purposes. But there is still much legal material is avilable on the BT network, this is a good way to reduce usage costs to website managers who have large amounts of files downloaded off there servers per day. Its what people use the programs for, they can use them for illegal purposes or legal purposes.

Copy protection on CDs has been used for a very long time. It has become some what of a joke the way crackers smash through the protection the big corporations spent millions on overnight. Here is some information on it:

I think some piracy on the market does very well for some companies, for example Microsoft, if everyone uses Windows XP, pirated or original, it would make Windows XP the choice of the world. People dont want to learn how to use another OS when everyone uses Windows, hence Mircosoft retain their dominance in the operating system market. But for other types of corporations i dont see there is anything to gain, even in marketting. In my honest opinion they only make losses from having their material pirated, although you really wonder how much more money they waste with all the litigation. The truth for them however is that P2P cannot be stopped, as technology becomes better and internet connections become faster i do believe we will see a number of high de-centralised secure p2p programs. This as a result will make it close to impossible for any law suits to be filed because:
a) They wont know what files you are downloading. ie. They could be legal.
b) They wont know who you are. ie Your ip will be secure.
c) If the server is completely de-centralised who the hell do they sue? Every single client? No, point. You want someone with money. Which is the reason why they do there best to sue other big corporations with money. eg ISP’s.

People Telecom(Swiftel) was raided for being accused of having a “database of music video files which can be very quickly downloaded,” he was talking about hosting a BT tracker site. Many of the big BT trackers were brought down about 2 months ago. Swiftel also had a Direct Connect Hub running, Direct Connect is another p2p program.

I think most people realise they are doing something wrong with all the legal action and education, but also at the same time realise how hard it is to be caught doing it. After all, the amount of illegal material on the internet, espically on the P2P programs makes it seem like these things are actually being handed out not taken or stolen.

I think ill stop there. I apologize for any errors i did not catch.

derrida derider
derrida derider
2024 years ago

If the music and movie industries weren’t so thoroughly corrupt and lazy I reckon they’d get more sympathy and more compliance. Doubly so if they stopped viewing consumers as suckers and started trying to meet their needs.

The *really* galling thing about buying a $30 CD is that far too much of that $30 goes on the cocaine habit of the marketing executives rather than the performer. The rationalisation by downloaders that they’re sticking it to people who deserve to be stuck is not without foundation.

2024 years ago

1. Yes, but remember most ISP plans don’t meter uploads in the same way as downloads. Since BitTorrent relies upon the (mainly unused) *upload* half of your bandwidth, most people consider it a reasonable trade-off.
2. Search me.
3. It is a universal rule of thumb that the only people copy-protection systems annoy are those who actually *bought* the product legimitately. Any other method of protection will be near-instantly cracked and distributed on the Internet.
4. Probably.
5. Many justifications are used for piracy, and most revolve around the near-zero cost of making copies of the IP while charging monopoly rates. In any case, it is irrefutable that Internet piracy *is* forcing media companies to rethink their distribution channels to reduce this loss of income. Personally, I have occasionally pirated a music file, but I attempt to purchase the file legitimately first, either through a bricks-and-mortar store or online.

Jim Steel
2024 years ago

I don’t think having an American credit card will help you with the iTunes store. From what I remember, there are two checks, and only the second is based on your credit card. This will stop you paying and thus downloading, as I found while trying to buy from the French iTunes store using an Australian card. The first check is based, I believe, on IP address, and will stop you from even browsing the store. I’ve seen this work both from Australia and from Switzerland.

Speaking as a technology researcher, BitTorrent is a very impressive protocol. The real advantage that it has over traditional download is its scalability. Basically, older techniques get bogged down as you got more and more clients, but BitTorrent actually gets faster under increased load. Unfortunately, it only really comes into its own with big data, particularly video and sound, and thus its major applications to date have been illegal ones.

If the music example is anything to go by, at some point the video industry is going to get around to doing more serious and widespread deals with an online seller (pundits like Cringely seem to think it could very well be Apple again). It’ll be about bloody time, too. I can’t afford to buy my quota of films at 25 euros a DVD, but a delivery mechanism without the paper/plastic/silicon/salesperson overhead (not to mention trudging to Fnac each weekend) would bring it right back into my ballpark.

2024 years ago

I blogged a lengthy rant on downloading music some time ago. Link is below. Part of the problem is that the record industry seem stuck with the idea that any file-sharing is bad. For commercially released items I agree. But for bootlegs etc (which is what many use BitTorrent for) these are items of devotion for hard-core fans and a good way for new fans to get into new bands. If band goes on tour the record companies could have a nice little earner releasing copies of the show (at a fee) for downloading.

2024 years ago

Why do people pirate and do they think they are doing anything wrong?

1. For music especially, the mp3 system is far superior to purchasing albums, especially in today’s music market where everything is based around singles. You can simply download the songs you want from each artist without having to buy an entire album. Most people who download MP3 music only use them for listening to music whilst using the computer. Having to continually swap CDs is distracting and no longer necessary.

2. For movies and TV shows, someone has already mentioned the delay in release between the US and Australia. Especially now with the huge popularity of online review sites like IMDB, it’s very easy to see spoilers for a TV show or movie that hasn’t even been released in Australia yet. Also, online friends in other countries may recommend the movie, and you don’t feel like waiting 2 months to see it.

A lot of my friends are big Sci-Fi fans, and they all downloaded the entire series of Battlestar Galactica months before it started on TV here.

Price is also a factor. Most people don’t have a problem shelling out $15 to go to a cinema to see a movie that they know they are going to like – but lesser known films are more of a problem. Watching a movie on a computer screen isn’t the ideal way to do it, so when people do download it’s usually for a movie they weren’t planning on spending money to see anyway.

I don’t think most people believe they are doing anything wrong by pirating. There is a feeling that music and movies belong to the person experiencing them – the fact that someone holds the ownership of the thing being enjoyed rarely crosses the mind. Some are probably nervous about getting caught, but I would think they are a tiny minority.

Isn’t recording songs from the radio or videotaping a TV show a similar crime? I’ve never seen anyone concerned about doing that either.

People have been pirating music since the invention of the cassette recorder – napster didn’t invent it, they just made it easier and of better quality. I remember dubbing tapes on my cassette recorder when I was 10 years old, I didn’t think myself to be a criminal then and I still don’t now.

The basic argument that you are stealing doesn’t hold water – to steal something you have to deprive the true owner of an asset. Pirating software or music for personal use isn’t stealing if the alternative is to simply not buy it. As a 10 year old kid I wouldn’t pay money for a tape because I didn’t have any money, so all the music I liked was dubbed. When I had the income as a teenager I spent huge amounts of money on CDs, much of it on the same artists whose work I had stolen earlier on.

I certainly wouldn’t be shelling out $350 for Adobe Photoshop in any circumstances, and if it wasn’t possible then nobody would (except professional artists and graphic designers). If I didn’t have a pirate copy then I simply wouldn’t use it, and nor would millions of other internet hobbyist.

The word “Photoshopping” has come to mean altering a digital image for comedic or artistic purposes, and if it wasn’t for piracy then Adobe wouldn’t have such brand name recognition – I fail to see how they can not benefit from that situation. Can anyone even name a rival commercial image manipulation program? 15 years ago there were many competing products.

If someone was to pirate and then sell copies for profit, then that would be morally equivalent to stealing, because you are accepting income from potential customers of the artist concerned at their expense.

But if you’re just pirating because you are curious or simply can’t justify the expense, then I don’t think you are really hurting anyone.

Of course, the question is how many people *would* otherwise buy product x if pirating was not possible?

I think the answer is very small for software, most software pirates are hobbyists who would otherwise not bother with programs like Photoshop or MS Office.

For music it’s probably a lot higher, but the problem is not so much the cost as the delivery method. Music pirates primarily download singles, but the main method of buying music in a store is by the album. The problem in this case is that the producers are simply refusing to embrace change up until now. Singles-based iTunes is proof that the market is out there, they’ve just taken their time responding. It’s worth noting that they’ve got it right now. In the old days of the “cassingle” and CD single, you would pay about 1/3 -1/2 of the price of a full album for 1 solitary single. It was an absolute rort and the market predictably died when they refused to lower the price.

For movies I’d again guess it’s quite low. You wouldn’t want to watch anything on a tiny computer screen if you had a choice, so to resort to it you basically have no choice. Either you can’t afford to pay to watch, or the movie you’re watching isn’t available at all.

Anyway this is a bit rambling, but hopefully it will give you a bit of an insight into the mind of a pirate, Ken.