July 15, 2005 4:00 AM PDT

Open-source P2P projects keep swapping

The ripples of anxiety from last month's landmark Supreme Court ruling on peer-to-peer software haven't quite made it to Jonathan Nilson's home in Tallahassee, Fla.

Nilson, a programmer who has been working on peer-to-peer software called Shareaza for several years, says the loose band of developers who share responsibility for the open-source project haven't been dissuaded from their work by the court ruling, which is casting a dark legal cloud over the future of companies such as Grokster and Lime Wire.

Nilson cautions that neither he nor anyone else can speak with authority on behalf of the project as a whole. For the most part, that's exactly why he and the others feel sheltered. As is the case with many loosely organized, open-source programming projects, there is no central entity, no "Shareaza" company or organization that issues paychecks or answers lawyers' telephone calls.


What's new:
Although the Supreme Court ruling cast a cloud over commercial file-trading companies, independent open-source projects continue unabated.

Bottom line:
Open-source P2P threatens to mute the court ruling's effect on the file-swapping world, because millions of people a week are already downloading and using those independent programs--but they risk drawing legal attention if they slip over the line of piracy "inducement."

More stories on this topic

"We haven't really altered our direction as a result of the judgment," Nilson said. "We have a strict open-source goal now, and that really frees us up from a lot of responsibility. We're not trying to make revenue, so it's hard to try to sue us."

Indeed, as the dust settles over the post-Supreme Court landscape, a decided split is emerging in the peer-to-peer development community.

The legal threat facing many of the most popular file-swapping software companies may well radically change their operation and strategies. Yet open-source projects like Shareaza, which create software of similar function and popularity, are continuing unabated.

That optimism threatens to mute the court ruling's effect on the file-swapping world, because millions of people a week are already downloading and using those independent programs.

Of course, the open-source developers' confidence may not be justified. Jeffrey D. Neuburger, an intellectual property attorney at Brown Raysman Millstein Felder & Steiner in New York, said they risk drawing legal attention if they make even a small slip over the line of piracy "inducement."

"I think individuals behind it could be liable," Neuburger said. "They have to be very careful about how they position themselves. They have to release the software out there and not say anything about it."

Split decision
For now, the ruling's admonition that software companies that encourage copyright infringement by their users could be liable for that piracy has put commercial file-swapping developers in a very nervous mood.

The defendants in the Supreme Court case, Grokster and StreamCast Networks, are headed back to federal court in Los Angeles, where movie studio and record label lawyers will ask a judge to end the case in their favor. A hearing date has not been set.

Companies that haven't been sued, such as Lime Wire and eDonkey parent MetaMachine, are anxious as well. Lawyers for the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America have made it clear that they view those companies as potential lawsuit targets.

"We are evaluating all our options," said MetaMachine CEO Sam Yagen. "There are things we can do to reduce the likelihood of a lawsuit. We're going to do our best to figure out what's best for the company."

open-source P2P

In the noncommercial, open-source world, programmers have discussed the court case, but few appear ready to abandon their projects. Some are taking extra precautions not to appear as though they are advocating copyright infringement, going so far as to ban users who discuss piracy from online forums.

Development and distribution of the file-swapping software itself continues, however.

"My impression is that people aren't that worried about it," said Ian Clarke, the British founder of the Freenet project and a longtime stalwart of the open-source community. "The primary impact is likely to be on commercial developers of P2P software. Even then, the impact is really to make them more careful about what they say both within their companies and externally about aspirations for their software."

An RIAA spokesman declined to comment specifically on the open-source projects.

Walking a fine line
Open-source peer-to-peer software development takes many forms, ranging from obscure hobbyist projects with only a few users to software programs that have been downloaded tens of millions of times. Many of the most influential peer-to-peer ideas, such as the hydra-headed decentralization of Gnutella or the speedy "swarming" downloads of BitTorrent, have come from this community.

At one end of the spectrum are projects like Shareaza, which are wholly decentralized, without a controlling entity at all that bears

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speak easy
The entertainment industry can make this very easy on themselves, sell songs online for 5cents a piece and movies for 99cents. Then I wont feel robbed everytime I buy (or should I say download??) those things. Production for many companies have become a very cheap endeveur but none of these companies have any intention of passing those savings down to consumers. You have broadband providers trying to prevent subsccribers from sharing their high speed connections, I guess only corporations are entitled to the benefits of technical inovation.
Posted by bit-looter (51 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Wait a while
Business has always set prices - as much as the market will bear. So, while people will pay $1 to download a song, the music industry will keep charging that amount.

But the problem is - intelectual property sale is a monopoly of sorts. Only one record label sells the music, for any band signed to that label. So they CAN keep setting the price artificially high. But slowly, slowly, slowly, the bands can make a difference. If one label is charging less for it's music, and helping to run up huge sales numbers for their bands, the bands signed to other labels may take notice. Perhaps they'd move to the label with lower prices.

It needs the bands to care about more than their bottom line & be aware of the record labels, that are passing on tehcnological savings to the fans - but how many bands care enough about their fans to give up revenue?
Posted by (409 comments )
Link Flag
Allofmp3 has songs for about 5 cents
You can buy them there. But I still support p2p and plan on using that.

Oh Oh, I bet Cnet gets sued now from the RIAA ah0les. They are storing comments from me about inducing piracy!
Posted by bobby_brady (765 comments )
Link Flag
Here's what it costs to make a CD
According to independent market Research firm -Almighty Institute of Music Retail, here's the breakdown on the cost of a $15.99 CD -

$0.17 Musicians' unions
$0.80 Packaging/manufacturing
$0.82 Publishing royalties
$0.80 Retail profit
$0.90 Distribution
$1.60 Artists' royalties
$1.70 Label profit
$2.40 Marketing/promotion
$2.91 Label overhead
$3.89 Retail overhead

So OK - you can save pretty much 80c on "Packaging/manufacturing". Figure to save some but not all 90c on distribution. Maybe there's a cut in "Retail overhead" (don't need a store in the mall) - so figure you're down to maybe $12-$13. You can still see that downloading has done NOTHING to significantly alter the cost of music - Sorry :-(

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.rollingstone.com/news/story/_/id/6558540/thekillers?pageid=rs.Home&#38;pageregion=single1&#38;rnd=1097616001120&#38;has-player=unknown" target="_newWindow">http://www.rollingstone.com/news/story/_/id/6558540/thekillers?pageid=rs.Home&#38;pageregion=single1&#38;rnd=1097616001120&#38;has-player=unknown</a>
Posted by (409 comments )
Link Flag
The Court's ruling and open source
There is a big flaw in the Court's ruling. They say any company that "induces" or "encourages" the users of their software to piracy can be held liable. But they do not provide a means to quantifiably measure de "inducement level" of potential infringers. Just when does a company go over the line with a product that can used for infringement? When a certain number of infringements is detected? It's not specified, at least, not that I heard of. This makes the Court's ruling ambigous. Such ambigous ruling is likely to be exploited by the music/video industry to sue even more P2P developers.

As for the open source people, I would be very careful. Just because the music industry has so far targeted only commercial P2P, it doesn't mean they can't pursue open source, too. Their argument about "not being a company and not having a central authority or controlling entity" is weak at best. There is always a central group of people who are in charge of project, even if authority is shared between them. The members of the central group can still be sued as indiviuals. As for their "noble" effort to ban piracy, it's a nice gesture, but far from convincing. Just who do they think will pay attention to a message at the beginning of the program that says "Piracy is Bad. Don't do it"? Even if there are currently emerging new uses for peer to peer technology (like distribution of open source software), those new efforts are still at a minority. Most people use peer to peer for piracy purposes. One could even say that the very fact that you are making a P2P program is inducing to piracy (because the "over the line" border has not been established). So banning users who talk about piracy, and saying "Piracy is Evil" on the splash screen is only a small protection, which I think would not be much defense in the courtroom.

Now I am not saying to stop making P2P software, either. Just that, in order to continue developing open source P2P, developers need to look for better arguments than "we don't advocate piracy, it's in the license agreement" to defend themselves if they are sued. They should also begin looking for even more new and advanced uses for P2P technology, so that eventually piracy uses will be a minority.

Just my two cents.
Posted by Sentinel (199 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You said
"They say any company that "induces" or "encourages" the users of their software to piracy can be held liable. But they do not provide a means to quantifiably measure de "inducement level" of potential infringers."

This is why the lawyers won. You see, in order to make it in the country, you become a lawyer. Not a programmer. If you become a programmer, lawyers are out to destroy your job.

If you can't beat them, join them.
Posted by bobby_brady (765 comments )
Link Flag
No thanks to 80 year old Rehnquist
Who is trying to hang on at the Supreme Court for as long as humanly possible! These judges, once they get in, they take advantage of the fact, they are in for life.
Posted by bobby_brady (765 comments )
Reply Link Flag
'5 minutes of Fame?'
Just think about the high court ruling. It talks about a
commercial entity promoting a p2p service for copyright
infringement being liable. You have just written an article
stating that their is p2p software that is available to do this. Is it
a stretch to think that those people / organisation / companies
that bring peoples attention to software that can do this by
stating p2p and copyright infringement in the same article might
also be held liable because they give information on how to do
it. After all Thinksecret.com was found not to be a true media
service because it was on the internet and therefore not
protected as a journalistic service. You guys could be next. The
funny thing is by me making this statement I am adding myself
to the list of people that could be held accountable because I
have linked the two issues as well. Really we are no longer
heading towards a society that the almighty dollar runs. We are
already there. We now live for profit and not make profit to live.
Companies run us. We all move to cities so that we can be close
to each other only to look for our so called 'human right' of
personal space and cut ourselves off from real communication
with people. It use to be said that everybody in the future will
have their 5 minutes of fame. I say in the future every one will
have their '5 minutes of pain'... because someone will bring
legal action against you for some obscure breach of law that did
not exist before you started your action.
Posted by (19 comments )
Reply Link Flag

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