P2P apps: built to steal?  OCT 01 2002

Ev sez: "Kazaa was designed to let people get copyrighted material for free, which wouldn't otherwise be free. In fact, looking at their practices, I'd go so far as to say that Kazaa was designed for the creators to profit from people illegally sharing material."

Meg sez: "Kazaa isn't designed to steal things. It doesn't go into your house and take your DVD player. If Kazaa is transfering files that people have illegally placed online, the fault does not lie with Kazaa (or Napster, or LimeWire). It lies with the individuals who placed property online without appropriate permission. And it lies with individuals who download files without ascertaining whether they have the right to do so."

Without getting into who's right or wrong here, let's approach it more constructively from the software developer's point of view. How would applications like Kazaa, Limewire, or Napster be designed if they were deliberately built for stealing? How about if they were not built for stealing? What features would they have that they now lack? What about new features?

My feeling is that if Kazaa is designed to steal software, music, movies, and pornographic images, the people behind it are doing a crappy job. The software does little more than find files based on their metadata and some search terms, the barest of functionality needed to locate files. I should have the option of clicking on a song to download the rest of the songs from the album. I should be able to d/l the top 20 Billboard singles as a collection or separately without having to search for each one manually. A list of new releases by artists I've d/led before? How about a list of Amazon's best sellers? The top 10 movies in America in DivX format? All of the apps that Adobe makes? People love books on tape...how about a list of the titles on the NYTimes Bestseller List in mp3 format? The rest of the images in a particular porno image series? And if any of these aren't available, I can place them on a wishlist that d/ls items as soon as they become available. And those are just the no-brainer ideas.

If it is truly designed to steal, Kazaa should function much like Amazon with recommendations, top 10/25/whatever lists, and collaborative filtering, except with a "Steal now with 1-Click" button in place of the "Buy now with 1-Click" one.

There are 51 reader comments

jkottke47 01 2002 2:47PM

The software does little more than find files based on their metadata and some search terms, the barest of functionality needed to locate files.

And just to follow up slightly on this, I would say that the software is built this way on purpose so that they don't get sued. Or if they do get sued, they can say that their software is built for simple filesharing, nothing more. Of course, that defense didn't work so well for Napster....

Anthony55 01 2002 2:55PM

Well, Kazaa/Limewire/etc. may not be designed to steal (per se) as far as file sharing goes, but their subversive ad ware which steals link commissions from Amazon partners (http://slashdot.org/articles/02/09/27/084209.shtml?tid=98). I would consider that theft - and the fact that it is adware that comes with the system (although you can get Kazaalite) makes it all the worse because of the users who have no clue what they are installing on their system (like Gator or Bonzi buddy, etc)

barlow07 01 2002 3:07PM

I really think Meg's analogy with Blogger fails. Yes, both Blogger and Kazaa have legitimate uses other than violating the rights of copyright owners, but probably 90% of bloggers are not violating copyrights while probably 90% of Kazaa users are. It's a bit like comparing a shotgun shell and a cop-killer bullet. Yes, both can be used for sport shooting (skeet, targets, etc) but it is pretty obvious what makes them different, and only a legal positivist would take the view that we have to make both legal for all uses if either one is to be for some uses.

There is a real problem among internet folks (I count myself as one) about copyright law. The line of argument taken by, for instance, Courtney Love (as weak as it is) has taken hold. People either beg off answering the question and point instead to their local band who didn't make squat from the evil record company, or they point to one of the few absurdities that result from the copyright law (such as orphaned films, comic books, etc. whose very preservation would be in violation of a copyright). I think these special cases are interesting, but the basic fact remains that the U.S. Constitution includes in its very body the power for Congress to establish a period of time during which the originator of intellectual property has the sole right to determine how it will be distributed. Otherwise, imagine the other absurdities that would result. A guy writes the great American novel at age 20. Thirty years later (under many anti-copyright advocates' ideal plan) the book goes public domain, and the KKK decides to reissue a special "GrandMaster Edition" complete with a racist introduction and prologue along with addresses of all the local chapters. Then, they price the edition way below other editions (Signet classics, etc.) so as to get their word out on the backs of an author who is still alive, for pete's sake. This is just one small reason to favor copyrights. The Constitution's original reason was to make the production of such material profitable, and arguably, it has worked to make America (with its sometimes absurd law) absurdly flush with plenty of intellectual property. I'm not that opposed to the Bono ammendment either. I'm just not ready to see Steamboat Willy hawking Tampax without Disney's permission. Especially since parodies are already allowed (think of Robert Smigel's cartoons).

Greg Ritter10 01 2002 3:10PM

If it is truly designed to steal, Kazaa should function much like Amazon with recommendations, top 10/25/whatever lists, and collaborative filtering, except with a "Steal now with 1-Click" button in place of the "Buy now with 1-Click" one.

Nah, that's like saying the Mafia isn't designed as a criminal organization because they don't advertise under "Crime, Organized" in the Yellow Pages.

An activity that was explicitly designed to circumvent the law in the way you described would likely fail because it would lack the "plausible deniability" that Napster and now Kazaa have tried to maintain.

I believe what Ev is express is that while there are legitimate, legal uses for Kazaa technology, no reasonable person would assume that the majority of Kazaa file transfers are legal according to copyright, nor would any reasonable developer create such a tool with the expectation that its usage would be legal.

I would say that Kazaa and similar tools perhaps are not "designed to steal," but are designed with the full knowledge that their primary usage will not be legal, given current laws.

I don't have an ethical problem with file sharing per se & think the recording industry is really ignorant of the opportunity they're missing. However, when you look at the practices of Kazaa (including spyware, hijacking affiliate program revenue from other sites, etc.), this doesn't strike me as an ethical company.


Mathew06 01 2002 4:06PM

I agree with Greg - it is fairly obvious that the majority of files shared will be commercial material, and the designers would certainly have been aware of that.

I doubt that it was designed to only share legal files,
let me put it that way.

brian33 01 2002 4:33PM

those things are pirate plays, and a person who really believes they're not, is not being honest with themselves. flashback to '99, it was not uncommon to have developers sitting around saying "yeah, its a piracy play, but i think we can get VC money." if jo local artist puts there stuff online on kazaa, how easy is it to find, really? if i don't know the artist, how the hell would i ever find their stuff when the search is based on filename. "brian pink" is never going to come up when someone searches "metallica." and even if the song names happen to overlap, why would you waste the time downloading something if you didn't know what it was? =\ sorry meg!

Steven Garrity00 01 2002 6:00PM

Peer-to-peer software allows anyone with an internet connection to share their files with anyone else. This is an inherently good and progressive concept.

It is important to separate this fact from the use of the medium from the medium itself. That said, it 95% of telephone calls were to conspire to commit crimes, and only 5% were legitimate use - society would probably conceed that the telephone system should be limited.

We need to be careful though, that the limitation doesn't go beyond the original need. For example, there may potential for other, as yet unanticipated, applications for peer to peer software such as easier personal publishing (the Radio Userland model of "desktop website" leans in this direction) or better general infrascturcture. We need to be careful that in protecting the perceived rights of artists by preventing copying of music files, we don't prevent benefits of unknown (but potentially great) value.

Steven Garrity03 01 2002 6:03PM

as the the actually question at hand...

Ev said: "I'd go so far as to say that Kazaa was designed for the creators to profit from people illegally sharing material."

While can't claim to know the motives of the people at Kazaa, my uneducated perception is that they are indeed trying to profit from illegally sharing material - I say this due to the heavy commercialization (read: anyone who creates popups must be evil) and the relatively narrow scope of the software.

I might be more forgiving towards the creators of Gnutella, as here is a non-commercial entity with broader and grander goals.

plot02 01 2002 7:02PM

obviously, you haven't used the latest version of kazaa, with its new playlists feature. it allows you to do exactly what you described, such as downloading the top 10 at the same time.

Gene22 01 2002 7:22PM

I'm with Meg on this one, for the simple fact that moral obligations reside with people and can't be transferred to software. P2P technologies like Kazaa simply enable the copying of remote files--if people use Kazaa or one of its competitors to knowingly do some wrong, the problem lies with the users. This is, ultimately, no different from a photocopier being used to copy textbooks.

John58 01 2002 7:58PM

Gene said "no different from a photocopier being used to copy textbooks." You're saying then that that Kazaa is a tool in the same way a photocopier is a tool. I can duplicate a document with one, and share it with a stranger with another. However, a newer law prohibits me from using that newer tool (DMCA of 1998), although others would argue that breaking the law is breaking the law.

I agree, fault goes to those who use the services any P2P system offers in a way to distribute or copy copyrighted intellectual property. But aren't the creators of such systems--aside from alternate motives--using the same technology for reasons that we say some 95% are?

I say Kazaa, Napster, et al. are responsible for making a faulty product that's unsafe. It allows its users to break the law too easily, just as a cheap new bike allows a kid to fall off because it's got shabby wheels. Do we sue the uncoordinated kid, or the company that makes the bum bike?

jkottke06 01 200210:06PM

You're saying then that that Kazaa is a tool in the same way a photocopier is a tool. I can duplicate a document with one, and share it with a stranger with another. However, a newer law prohibits me from using that newer tool (DMCA of 1998), although others would argue that breaking the law is breaking the law.


Photocopiers and P2P apps both let people duplicate documents. Photocopiers work with paper, P2P apps work with anything you can represent in bits and transfer between 2 computers over a network. Photocopying a magazine article is illegal (personal use excepted, perhaps). D/ling a copy of Photoshop over a P2P network is illegal, as is allowing someone to d/l that copy of Photoshop from you. That's what Gene was arguing I think...different technologies, same situation.

So, back to the original question: what could you do to Kazaa to make it just a file sharing application and not an application for stealing software?

tomas53 01 200210:53PM

So, back to the original question: what could you do to Kazaa to make it just a file sharing application and not an application for stealing software?

What about requiring that all files you share be tagged with information that would make it traceable back to you as an individual? This wouldn't restrict what you could share, but would make the possibility of consequences for sharing illegally real.

It'd have to be a key that only the software maker could use to determine your identity, based on your registration of the software.

So that's one thing you could do, but I don't think it'd be a popular piece of software, as sharing things anonymously (or at least with the illusion of anonymity) is part of the fun.

eric00 01 200211:00PM

Shouldn't we include the sales mechanism aspect of P2P in this discussion? I download (steal) the odd tune because it's the flavour of the week (see: Kylie Minogue, Can't Get You Out of my Head) but more often than not I download to try something out. If I like it I go buy it and that's happened ALOT to me.

Beth Orton, BJORK, Coldplay, Cake, and many others got bought b/c I downloaded a few of their tracks, liked it and then bought the CD. I'm buying at least 3-4 times as many CDs now as I did 2 years ago and a great deal of it was because of P2P.

juby17 02 2002 1:17AM

I think I'm going to have to go more towards Ev's side than Meg's. Granted, Kazaa et. al. can be used for purposes other than sharing copyrighted material, that was their original purpose and design. Maybe a good, generic example would be the automobile - you can slap a stereo in, and a sunroof, and reclining heated bucket seats, and GPS whatever it is this week, but in the end it's still a machine that gets you from one place to the other. By the same token, Kazaa may be a media player, and an outlet for new music, and feature documents and software for download, but its original design had one goal in mind: sharing of audio files that, more often than not, were still under copyright.

Now, whether trading music and other types of data is right or wrong is an argument in and of itself, but I think there's no denying that Kazaa was designed to facilitate the trading of illegal software and files.

jason j50 02 2002 1:50AM

I agree with the photocopier example. Add this: a photocopier at your college library with a bulletin board next to it.

While I never saw the posting, "Got 100 Derrida articles copied, will trade for your copies of Deleuze", I see it as the same-- You have a clandestine meeting with a stranger who likes the same shit as you, you go through effort and spend money (time copying/time downloading; 5cents a page/50$ a month dsl), you sacrifice quality (xerox looks like shit, 128bits sounds like shit) and (I guess) you have broken the law.

Is it wrong? No. While you are copying "data," you aren't stealing product. You are not stealing. You don't end up with that French theory journal and you don't end up with that lovely jewel case and the well-designed CD booklet. You get something new, something less. The edge of the page is blurred, the drum solo sounds crappy. The difference is book worms like to have their collections of the Paris Review, they don't want a stack of xerox pages. Music people would rather have their 10,000 songs in one place, easy access, no jewel boxes. The new mp3 is in some ways better than the original high quality product.

There should be copyright laws, but I do want to see Mickey Mouse selling tampons someday soon. This is what is fair and morally right.


tomas58 02 2002 2:58AM

Is it wrong? No. While you are copying "data," you aren't stealing product. You are not stealing. You don't end up with that French theory journal and you don't end up with that lovely jewel case and the well-designed CD booklet. You get something new, something less. The edge of the page is blurred, the drum solo sounds crappy.

Last I checked, not all mp3's sounds like crap. In fact, I have quite a collection of mp3's of very fine quality.

Kazaa, Napster and the like are all made for stealing, with the exception of AudioGalaxy. The developers of the products were all very aware of how the product were going to be used: to download illegal(fair use?) mp3's.

While this is true, I think it is still right. We need a revolution, the music business needs to be cleaned up. Free music is, to me, just a pleasant side-effect.

John27 02 2002 4:27AM

The intended purpose of LimeWire et al. is irrelevant.

What is relevant is that there is a phenomenon -- file sharing -- that exists today and almost certainly will not go away. Napster was the first, and was defeated, and in dying it spawned a dozen superior knock-offs. If these are defeated, dozens more will appear.

What we have is a Prohibition-like situation where corporations and the government will try stop a phenomenon that is so popular that millions of people do it. However, they use the wrong tactics (e.g., lawyers, laws) and target the wrong people (2600 & the Norwegian kid in the DeCSS case). Creating more Jon Johansens won't scare people into not downloading MP3s or Photoshop or whatever.

Maybe what needs to change is our way of thinking about this whole copyright thing. The only reason such laws were enforceable in the first place was the fact that the media was difficult to reproduce -- no longer. The laws today are only somewhat enforceable and will continue to become less so. Society and law must adapt.

Jonathan Ragan-Kelley25 02 2002 5:25AM

I should have the option of clicking on a song to download the rest of the songs from the album.

Kazaa is very consciously designed to enable you to do exactly this. They have, since the first versions I used some ~18 months ago, enabled right-clicking on a song to find the rest of the content from the given artist or album. It doesn't automatically download those files, but it's functionally no different: they built in tools specifically designed to enable and encourage the downloading of whole albums.

Greg Ritter37 02 2002 5:37AM

Gene says, "I'm with Meg on this one, for the simple fact that moral obligations reside with people and can't be transferred to software...This is, ultimately, no different from a photocopier being used to copy textbooks."

I think Gene is missing the point here. Ev original statement was "the software is designed to steal things." I think we can agree that Ev is bright enough to realize the software didn't design itself!

Ev wasn't imbuing the software with moral obligations; he was placing that moral obligation on the designers of the software.

I don't buy the strategy Gene and Meg are employing -- absolving the producer of ethical responsibility by placing the burden entirely on the consumer. Technology is not ideological neutral, any more than art is. Technology is designed with uses in mind (ethical or unethical, legal or illegal), and it's valid to critique the producers based on their intent.

And it is the intent of design that distinguishes Xerox copiers from Kazaa file sharing. True, both a Xerox copier and Kazaa file-sharing app can be used for legal and illegal purposes. The difference is that, most of the time, photocopiers aren't used for copying and sharing copyrighted books while, most of the time, Kazaa is used for illegally copying and sharing copyrighted content (software, music, etc.).

I can't believe that the Kazaa creators did not expect that the primary use of their software would be to illegally share copyrighted content -- "e.g. steal things." In fact, I believe they expected it and fully intended to leverage that usage to rake in the greenbacks.

Note: whether you consider file-sharing the equivalent of "stealing things" is an interesting discussion in and of itself, but not very pertinent to this discussion. Legally speaking, sharing copyrighted content via Kazaa is, under current law, "stealing things," and I think it's disingenuous to assume that Kazaa's designers didn't know -- and embrace -- that.

Jason asks an interesting question: "What could you do to Kazaa to make it just a file sharing application and not an application for stealing software?"

Honestly, I think the answer is "you can't." It's certainly possible to create P2P software that, like a Xerox photocopier, has primary purposes other than sharing music files, but may still have that as incidental use (e.g. think Groove).

But I think that, at least for the time being, the primary purpose of P2P file-sharing applications (esp. that incorporate P2P search methods) is to violate copyright laws because the overwhelming majority of what people want to share through this technology is copyrighted.

I am less offended by technologies like Gnutella that don't piggyback advertisements, spyware, and other offensive stuff on top of the file-sharing. While I would say both Kazaa and Gnutella are "designed to steal things", Kazaa is (to extend Ev's statement) "designed to profit from helping other people steal things." Ugh.

Legally, they are both "stealing things," but since I don't completely agree that file-sharing is ethically the equivalent of "stealing things," I'm less concerned about the ethics of the Gnutella designers than I am about Kazaa's.

tamim57 02 2002 5:57AM

barlow: the basic fact remains that the U.S. Constitution includes in its very body the power for Congress to establish a period of time during which the originator of intellectual property has the sole right to determine how it will be distributed.

I could not find the phrases "originator of intellectual property" and "sole right to ... distribute[]" in my copy of the US Constitution. I guess along the same lines these declarations would also not be false:

the basic fact remains that the U.S. Constitution includes in its very body the power for Congress to require that residents of the various states not discharge odorous gas in public transportation.

the basic fact remains that the U.S. Constitution includes in its very body the power for Congress to establish a period of time during which citizens are forbidden from peeing in the pool.

the basic fact remains that the U.S. Constitution includes in its very body the power for Congress to establish a period of time during which the originator of fecal matters will be solely responsible for wiping ....

You get my point. It's kinda fun to put in words in the constitution. I should do it more often.

tamim20 02 2002 6:20AM

File sharing is a fundamental computing task. Without the ability to transfer data there would be no "Internet."

I don't see people rushing to sue companies that make FTP software. Before Napster, Kazaa, etc. brought sharing ability to the masses, many used FTP for many of the same things. It's true that FTP users were mostly technologically proficient and did not always have the choice to search for something specific, but they did use the technology for less than noble cause. Shooting down the technology because of how some uses it is rather shortsighted.

One thing that was neat in Napster, but missing in Kazaa is the ability to add buddies. If you add all your co-workers as your buddies, you can share work documents with eachother. Napster, unlike Kazaa and other newer filesharing softwares, advertised itself as an mp3 sharing venue and the software didn't recognize any other encoded data. It was not a "true" "file sharing" software. That pretty much sealed its fate. I really don't see Kazaa and others being a forum for theives.

Also, I never get why people are up at arms with Kazaa getting some money from Amazon commissions. It's not like people always deliberately click on "small sites" and find their Amazon refer codes to send some money their way. Kazaa is not taking money out of your own wallet.

barlow24 02 2002 6:24AM

Maybe you missed Article 1, Section 8:

The Congress shall have Power ... to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries...

tamim43 02 2002 6:43AM

My mistake. I was looking for the wrong phrases. Thanks for pointing it out.

[But don't you think we'd all be better off with anti public farting, anti pool-peeing and pro ass-wiping clauses written into the constitution?]

Greg Ritter55 02 2002 7:55AM

Tamim: "Also, I never get why people are up at arms with Kazaa getting some money from Amazon commissions."

Let's say you have a weblog, Tamim-log. You've set up affiliate links on your weblog to Amazon, so you get some miniscule payment from Amazon for recommending books to your readers. Let's say I come to your weblog and click on your Amazon link. If I have Kazaa installed on my computer, Kazaa gets paid, not you.

The Kazaa application literally re-directs anyone else's affiliate links through their own affiliate program. I don't think anyone would object to Kazaa making money from Amazon commissions as long as they're not taking it out of someone else's pocket by redirecting web traffic.

Explain how that's ethical. Kazaa's explanation: 'Well, you, the Kazaa user, agreed to it in the EULA that you probably didn't read.' Problem is the people whose links have been re-directed didn't agree to it, and they're the people who are losing money.

xradiographer03 02 2002 8:03AM

Maybe you missed Article 1, Section 8:

The Congress shall have Power ... to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries...


Limited Time. that's why we have Snow White, Ariel the Mermaid, and Quasimodo hawking French Fries. After a limited time, creations go back into the public domain, enriching that meme pool we all draw upon. You take out for a while, then it goes back in.

what this all has to do with Kazaa I've totally forgotten....

Jonathan18 02 2002 8:18AM

Computers have been around a long time. File sharing at some level or ease of use has been around a long time. Computers have speakers. People listen to music on their computers.

The advancement of technology on one front should not be delayed or made "criminal" because of a lack of advancement in another part of society. What I mean is that the advancement of file sharing and P2P communication should not be stifled by the music industry's lack of advancement. The can seek more laws and try to prohibit trading, but until they get a clue and use the existing technology to augment the distribution of their product, they are just going to be ignored and laughed at.

What if you could go to a legal site or P2P network and download *any* song at 96bits to listen and then have the option to immediately order the CD or a higher quality mp3 in a completely secure networked setting complete with 1-click and buddy list? Would you still use Kazaa, Gnutella? Maybe, but people are attracted to quality and legitimazy at a fair price. The music industry could buy out the P2P brain-trust and roll out the super P2P network complete with high quality images, sound, commerce, fan clubs, artist weblogs, etc.

There would still be "stealing" and rogue P2P would be used, but that is a fact of life - black markets exist. The only way to overcome the illegal sharing is to come up with a compelling legal way to do P2P.

jason j35 02 2002 8:35AM

Why is everyone hung up on "well they knew -most- people using their software would steal".

1. What difference does it make what the designers knew or intended? The MP3 format, 99% of the time is now used for "illegal" copying of CDs. Regardless of whether they "knew" or "desired" for the codec to be used like that, does that mean the technology shouldn't exist? The software designer with ill intentions can no more make the public use her creation "illegally," anymore than the MP3 codec guy with good intentions can make people use it "legally."

2. What difference does the percentage make? "90% of people who use this technology are stealing". What percentage of people who used tape decks in the 80s made copies of albums, radio shows, mix tapes and traded with friends? 90%. Last I checked every tape deck at Good Guys still had a record button. Another example: crack pipes and bongs. 90% of them are used for illegal drugs. Still sold everywhere.

Discussing this technology as if it is this insidious little virus with some dooms day scientist behind it intending to destroy the world of music is not reality. Reality is, young and old, a good chunk of people with computer and internet are trading MP3s (and porn mpegs, and who knows what is next). The massive adoption rate of this practice means, like smoking pot, like drinking on in the US in the 1920s, like driving 68 in a 65 zone, it might still be "illegal" but it is not wrong. Like a radar detector, like the bong maker, their intention has nothing to do with legal or illegal, but to meet the needs of the pubilc.

Fraser10 02 200210:10AM

Depends on your definition of theft. The RIAA will claim that file-sharing is theft, and that Kazaa was built to facilitate this. Others would argue that for theft to occur there has to be a loss involved, and this is much harder to prove. In the end, I'd suggest this is an argument over semantics.

Gene45 02 200210:45AM

Greg said: Technology is designed with uses in mind (ethical or unethical, legal or illegal), and it's valid to critique the producers based on their intent.

A good point, and I didn't intend to completely absolve the producers of responsibility. But still, a technology can't be bad on its own no matter what the producer intends. It just can't--only the uses of a technology can be morally evaluated. Which is why I think the users of an application, in the end, ought to be held responsible for how they use it.

The problem is that a vast majority of users of P2P apps use it for an illegal purpose, without compunction, and show no signs of changing. And I guess I'd agree that the makers of Kazaa set out to exploit this trend.

But so what? Like Meg says, Kazaa (the application) doesn't steal things on its own. Its users use it to steal things (you know, just like you used to tape your friends' records). Kazaa the company may engage in some unethical practices--and affiliate-revenue hijacking is right up there--but that too doesn't make Kazaa (the application) bad.

On an unrelated note, I've been looking lately at eMusic as an alternative to file-trading. It offers unlimited downloads, a song catalog that appeals to my tastes (emo/punk/electronic, plus every single Slayer album), quality mp3s, low price.

sjc15 02 200211:15AM

There are a lot of histrionics in this thread, as always happens in file-sharing threads, to justify the fact that people don't like paying for shit and want it for free.

Kazaa was built to enable massive file-sharing. For anyone to claim that "we didn't INTEND for people to trade millions of gigabytes of copyrighted materials" is kinda like lockpick manufacturers saying, "We didn't INTEND for thieves to use our tools to rob houses!" It's plausible deniability, that's all it is.

People: just fucking come out and admit it. "I like getting things for free." It doesn't matter if you go out and buy the CD later, it doesn't matter if the record companies are EEEEEEEEEEVIL, it doesn't matter that technology is inevitable. File-sharing applications are built to trade files, with a wink-wink "we don't condone you using our application to trade copyrighted files, even though the program and our entire marketing push is telling you to just that", and people like their free shit. Stop trying to justify it. Stop trying to call a bhong a water pipe.

Now, to create a file-sharing application that did not illegally share files: it would be incumbent upon copyright holders to compile a master database of all owned works. The file sharing app would have to reference the database before executing any kind of search. "What about renaming files?" If you have to rename the file, then it kinda defeats the point of having it easily searchable, doesn't it?

One last point about technology: don't try and say with a straight face that intent doesn't matter. A shoe isn't intended to be a telephone. A gun isn't intended to be a butter knife. And a file-sharing app that connects to millions of computers across the world that specifies "audio" and "video" as subsearches isn't intented to be legal.

tamim06 02 200212:06PM

I like free stuff. I'd not assume that millions of parents are not sharing video footage of their toddlers with distant family or ametour pornographers and vouyers aren't sharing video of their life and maybe erotic sound clips with strangers via these file-sharing softwares. I'd rather that millions of these people have a way to share their life with others and that their audience can easily sort these memories by media type: "audio" and "video".

I'd write more, but someone phoned my shoe. I have to take this call.

megnut24 02 200212:24PM

Stop trying to justify it.

I don't think I'm trying to justify anything here, and honestly my remarks have nothing to do with whether I like to use P2P file-sharing systems to get music or not. What worries me is the direction we head when we blame the technology, not the individuals.

What steps are taken to prevent the illegal activities if the tech is to blame? Suing the companies that produce technology out of business. Regulating the development of technolgy and its uses. Outlawing technology that may have viable legal uses because it can also be used illegally. Hindering, or downright prohibiting, technological advancements. I don't know about you, but that's not a direction I'm happy to see society go in.

There's nothing inherently illegal in the architecture of Kazaa's system. The law-breaking stems from how a large portion of society's chosen to use it to date. If large media companies embraced technology and rescoped their business models to reflect its potential and the marketplace, we wouldn't be having this discussion. People would be downloading music and paying their two bits to whomever required it, using the same technology, in a perfectly legitimate manner.

Of course some people will still abuse it, just as some people abuse FTP to download copies of Photoshop from a friend's server. Should we prohibit FTP because we can do that? What about HTTP? Because you know, I could post a *.exe on megnut.com and you could find it through Google and then click on a link and download it.

The fault cannot lie with technology. If it does, we hand over the future of our ability to control technological innovation to the government and big businesses.

John50 02 2002 2:50PM

"There's nothing inherently illegal in the architecture of Kazaa's system. "

I don't know if I agree with this or not. Any tool can be misused, I imagine, to break the law (say a hammer against my friend's car). I think Meg's case is that the agent of that tool (hammer, photocopier, Kazaa software) is at fault. I'd agree with her, if she's saying that the users are to blame.

My point earlier was that Kazaa is to blame too, I think. But to address Jason's question "what can we do to make it legal" makes two assumptions: (a) the agents (users) can change and (b) technology will have to change. I guess I don't think Kazaa is innocent unless you can take the soul out of it. It's soul (let's say the inspiration of its creators) probably had the notion that it could be used to share "anything." "Anything is GOOD."

I'd agree with others here about the attractiveness of getting "free" stuff, whether for preview, or long-term use. Whether you do it, or you like it, is inconsequential. You have the right to make tapes from a CD (there's a law that says you can do that and even give a copy to a friend). The point is, the wholesale distribution of files to a large audience (music or any other type of digital media) is absolutely illegal under the DMCA of 1998. Don't say it isn't illegal. It is. But you have every right to say you don't agree with the law.

We all have to make moral judgements. Clearly, with the widespread use of P2P software for the sharing of files that are protected by copyright, "we" aren't too morally or ethically bothered by the practice. Maybe the world would be a better place where everyone shared their high quality "stuff." Not only will technology have to change ('b' above), but the world in which we live (the rules of society and law) will also have to be protean as technology develops.

Napster got controversial because Mr. Fanning came up with a way to share music files before anyone really considered the possibility. To make the illegal file sharing stop, the technology will have to adapt, and hopefully at some stage, come before the newest version of whatever the next Fanning will release. Hopefully it won't require a phone call to register my software, or 48-digit keys each time I boot up Photoshop.

Lastly, I think some people frown upon Napster, Kazaa, and Gnutella because it has become so easy (through a GUI) to get stuff. Back in 1992-94, I felt a certain sense of exclusivity in having an e-mail address, access to the early web, and the know-how to share files (legal or not) with others. Now the masses are doing it all and for me that realisation comes with a few growing pains--good or bad, I can't judge.

omit21 02 2002 3:21PM

Didn't the US courts establish what Kazaa would have to do to make their software legal before with the decision in the court case against Napster? Let's not forget that Napster was crippled/limited before it ended.

Here's my ideas off the top of my head:

Analyze file content and either ban it, assess a charge for it based on previously established algorithms or if it is free, allow it to be traded without a charge. No files can be swapped without being assessed as to whether they are legal to trade or not. Compressed files are banned unless they can be identified. Or files could be encoded and locked, with people having to enter a password to play the file. Confine the service to secure formats.

Saying Kazaa isn't designed for stealing is like saying guns aren't designed for killing. It seems disingenuous.

Let's not even get started with the Blogger red herring.

pb00 02 2002 4:00PM

I'd like to see someone develop a Napster-like system that truly is designed to assist in the *discovering* music. What if Kazaa only enabled the trading of "imperfect" copies (e.g., partial, noisy, pre-pended message, etc.)?

And whoever said that 99% of mp3 use is for stealling is way off. In my circle (admittedly a weak proxy) the number is maybe 5%.

mybigopinion41 02 2002 8:41PM

If there is so much rampant illegal MP3 downloading, why hasn't the RIAA gotten smart, purchased Kazaa, and charge 1 cent per transaction? I'd think they'd be the richest company on the planet if their numbers are correct.

The RIAA simply hates the idea of market forces. The public wants more music and a cheaper price in an electronic medium. No one is offering that, so the current option wins...steal them.

And though I hate to praise the RIAA, I must commend them on their compromise with internet broadcasters...they did the right thing in this case.

FiRN38 02 200211:38PM

The only way to make Kazaa legal would to tag every legal file and only let said files be transfered through the system, this would be nice, but for two things, it would take a godawfull amount of time to see if files are legal or not, and someone would crack the taging algorithim within a day making all the work useless

Also I'ld like to point out that the mp3 format was not intended for ilegal trading of music, but merely to create much smaller soundfiles for legal purposes....or for backing up one's music library, which does not seem illegal or unethical to me.

but Kazaa was created to capitalize on illegal trading, which makes the creators of the program just as responsible as the users for such actions. And for anyone trying to point out the legal uses for p2p sharing....it's much easier to post your music to mp3.com and have people download it there, then have them search on a p2p network.

don't try to justify your illegal actions by blaming it on someone else, admit that you commited a crime by sharing copyrighted media.

jason j08 03 200212:08AM

The gun example is a good example. Guns can be used for shooting targets, animals or humans. They are designed to destroy shit. It could be argued that most of the time handguns are used in the US against people is not for self-defense or even police work, but for murder. Yet this is a country that still sells them at Walmart, despite the murder rate. Despite the download rate, I think file sharing technology should be protected.

At the end of the "guns don't kill people..." cliche you get dead people, at the end of "P2P doesn't steal music..." Phil Collins loses royalties. I can live with the latter more than the former.

Dan05 03 2002 2:05AM

Apache allows people to provide public access to files over the Internet for download. Although this is not P2P technology the principle is the same.

Also Google allows us to search for images available on the Web and All The Web allows us to search for MP3 and Video files.

Where do we draw the line?

Patrik40 03 2002 8:40AM

Technicly, Kazaa isn't illegal. It's just the most succesful tool used to find and download copyrighted muziek.
Two reasons why? It's ease of use, and more importantly, the fact that it makes it much harder to track and find the pirate on the other side.

Kazaa is simply the technologicaly advanced version of the double cassette deck and network of friends.

People copied then, people copy now. Even though the scales have changed, they remain at the heart of the problem.

If the music industry was smart, they would accept the fact that digital media is easily copied and there is no way to prevent it. Searching for secure delivery systems is an expensive waste of time and will only restrict the freedoms of consumers that are willing to pay for their music.

The fist question the music industry should as is how much the common music consumer is willing to pay for a song before he or she turns to piracy.
(They should also question the fact if bringing out albums still makes sence in the digital age)

Once they have established a realistic pricing, they should be the ones to release the songs into the wild. Each song should be flagged as copyrighted and have link to where it can be purchased.

When applications such as kazaa encounter such a flag, they should notify the listner. It's then up to the listener to choose to either purchase it, delete it.

You will always have people that will keep songs without purchasing them, but that doesn't really matter if you can convince the majority of people to actually pay for your stuff.

If you want to educate the public, don't tell them that they are stealing. Tell them that if they like the music, and they want to hear more stuff like it, they should support the artist.

Mike46 03 2002 9:46AM

My beef with these networks is that they place all the emphasis on downloading. I've never used a P2P app, but I do regularly participate in mix CD trading clubs. I guess you could say my file sharing network of choice is the US Postal Service. I would argue that these offline networks have certain merits not found in the internet based P2P networks. The beauty of these trading clubs is that you must give in order to receive, there are practical limits on how much can be pushed thru the pipe (in the form of postage and the cost and capacity of cds), and most importantly, you don't get to choose what you get. These characteristics mean my participation is focused on choosing which files to share. This turns file sharing into more of a creative activity, rather than just a greedy, acquisitive activity. Is it illegal? Yes, it is if I choose to share copyrighted material. I don't wish to argue that point. I will say that I think anything that encourages creative expression (no matter how minor) is probably better for society in the long run than something that just encourages another form of shopping. I think as a society, we may need to accept some piracy for the benefit of our creative souls. I realize this is somewhat counterintuitive.

So what do I want? I want a P2P network that doesn't allow me to choose the files I receive. Instead, for every 'package' of files I choose to share (and there should limits on the amount of data per package, how many times a package may be shared, and how many packages a member may make available at any time), I would be entitled to receive one package from another member. I must download the full package, and again, I don't get to choose which one, or who it comes from. There should be some sort of feedback system in place where you can give points to members who produce good packages. These points shouldn't necessarily be redeemable for anything though.

Mike09 03 200210:09AM

One other thing... technology is never amoral. All technologies are political, and those of us who are involved in the design of technology must never forget that (or delude ourselves). The interfaces and capablilities we choose to implement do have an influence on how something is going to be used. As designers, we have power. How are we going to use it?

jorge12 03 200210:12AM

I totally agree with Meg when she says: "What worries me is the direction we head when we blame the technology, not the individuals"

Technology is going to continue to exist and evolve. If the death of Napster (and the subsequent rise of KaZaa and the like) has taught us anything it's that.

What would be ideal is if the current powers that be would take queue and begin to take advantage of this powerful (at least widely used) technology and improve on it by implementing no-brainer improvements such that Jason offered up. Of course this would mean that charges of some sort would be implemented as well so maybe I'm going down the wrong path here, but I just feel there is a way for both users and artists/creators to benefit.

As this thread shows, there's a lot of ways at looking at this topic.

rob adams30 03 200210:30AM

The only thing you can own is money.

Copyright is dead, and the capitalists are just starting to figure it out.

Makes some money, without the dishonest notion of idea-property, and you'll figure that out.

.rob

Tom Working37 03 2002 4:37PM

Rob Adams -- Copyright is NOT dead. Hell, I'm a cartoonist and I'll be damned if anyone else says they own any kind of right to my work.

I LIKE the idea of idea property. There's nothing dishonest about it. But I think there's a responsibility that comes with it. I ALSO like the idea of sharing and IF someone pays for something, you give them something of QUALITY.

If anything, quality is dead in this era. I think people have been lied to one time too many. Having a product with sleek packaging no longer cuts it. Having a movie preview with mind boggling visuals flash in nigh seizure-inducing successionbefore our eyes is no longer enough. With P2P and the dubious likes of Harry Knowles, the power of studio and industry BUZZ is now dead.

When's the last time anyone really got psyched about something coming soon? We've all become the kid that peeks at the last page of the comicbook to assure ourselves that indeed, MagmaMan will pull through. We've become a nation of spoilers.

People actually want a good product that stays good longer. And it shows. What did people go out and actually pay for this last year? Good movies. Good games and good music. And I think more than ever, what we see bringing in a lot of money and sustaining any kind of market presence is what's good. "XXX" was hot for a couple weeks at best and then bam -- gone. "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" has stuck around and made a modest amount of money (more than its money back) and why? Quality. With the advent of increased forewarning, what's engineered as a box office smash is no longer guaranteed to be a box office smash.

Greg Ritter51 04 2002 3:51AM

Gene: "Kazaa (the application) doesn't steal things on its own. Its users use it to steal things."

Meg: "What worries me is the direction we head when we blame the technology, not the individuals."

It interests me that you don't seem to distinguish a critique of the developer's intent from a critique of the technology itself.

Why has the developer disappeared in this conversation? Why are the users (as opposed to the developers) the only individuals with responsibility for the technology?

Simple question:

What responsibility (ethical or legal) does the developer (producer) have in the creation of an application (product)?

Feel free to take that question in the limited context of this thread (file-sharing technology that has widespread illegal use) or a more broad scope of producers & their products (handgun and assault weapon manufacturers, cigarette companies, oil companies, etc).

Eric Vitiello13 04 2002 5:13AM

I personally think meg was right. However, Kazaa probably did know that it would be used to trade copyrighted material, just as I'm sure that Xerox knew that the copy machine would be used to copy copyrighted works, and her's the kicker - I'm sure Tim Berners-Lee probably thought about HTTP being used to transmit copies of copyrighted material.

Where is the line drawn? I don't believe Kazaa was designed for the sole purpose of trading copyrighted material. It just has that use, just as a copy machine, FTP, HTTP, WebDAV, Fascimle Machine, and the Assembly Line.

Hey - why don't we sue the estate of henry Ford for developing the Assembly Line, since it IS ALWAYS used to make duplicates of copyrighted material.

Greg55 04 2002 9:55AM

If Kazaa wasn't designed to facilitate the trading of highly desirable, hard-to-obtain, copyrighted material, then its mission statement essentially boils down to "Let's create a product that makes it more of a hassle to obtain easily obtainable material that no one wants anyway."

In other words, if you truly want content whose creators have authorized its free dissemination, there are plenty of centralized sources to find that content (mp3.com, newgrounds.com, etc.) that generally aren't plagued with the problems of p2p file-sharing: misnamed files, incomplete files, interrupted downloads, security issues...

Also, it's important to remember the RIAA has never sued the MP3 format or the concept of file-sharing, or the technology of any specific file-sharing program. It pretty much sticks to companies who operate networks where the majority of trading going on involves copyright-protected content. So there's really no precedent for statements like "why don't we sue the estate of henry Ford," or reason for hand-wringing over the potential loss of the public domain and Big Media's desire to control content on the web.

Ensuring the future of the public domain is as simple as creating something yourself and putting it in the public domain. And the biggest danger to the future of p2p file-sharing is users who aren't interested in trading anything other than unauthorized copyrighted material.

Greg Farries11 04 2002 2:11PM

Whether the software designers behind Kaazaa, and the many p2p software packages available, actually designed the software to facilitate stealing is besides the point. The idea behind many of these software packages is the sharing of information mediated by a third party. These software packages could just as easily be used for very legal open source purposes, and in many cases they are. If Kaaza were to encourage theft, by provide a Amazon like atmosphere, they would be literally encouraging their own destruction. They would be showing there true colors for the world (and the feds) to see. At this point they can sit back and say they're doing nothing wrong, they're simply facilitating the sharing of information.

Greg Farries



Just as Wright Brothers didn't intend

Mike56 04 2002 4:56PM

At this point in history, "facilitating the sharing of information" isn't lofty enough of a design goal. What's needed are tools that not only allow the easy sharing of information, but also encourage people to create something new. To contribute back to the well, as the saying goes. Weblogging software does this. P2P software, so far, really doesn't. As a user of P2P software, my options are limited to making copies of existing material. I suppose developing software like this could be profitable, but really, how boring. And given the potential for lawsuits, I don't know why they bother. The creators of Kazaa are guilty, if anything, of a lack of vision.

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.

this is kottke.org

   Front page
   About + contact
   Site archives

You can follow kottke.org on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Feedly, or RSS.

Ad from The Deck

We Work Remotely

 

Enginehosting

Hosting provided EngineHosting