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25 February 2005

Kick-Starting The Cold War

It looks like those that run the planet's Truman Show have remembered the story about the boy who cried wolf. It seems they've realised that if they continue to fill our airwaves, newspapers and Internet newsfeeds with never-ending stories of alleged terrorism and terrorist threats in countries in which there has been no terrorist activity since at least September 11, 2001, slowly and gradually they, and their stories, lose credibility and people become cynical.

This cynicism and lack of crededulity is further compounded by the fact that the only vaguely terrorist activity occurring, largely unreported, is that which is perpetrated by those that warn us to beware of terrorists.

When cynicism and complacency sets in among the people, it's time for a new common enemy. Who better than the Bush war consortium to pluck a new addition to the 'Axis of Evil' out of thin air?

When George Bush met Vladimir Putin earlier this week, Bush - wearing that grin that makes it look he's trying simultaneously to shit and calculate the sum of two and two - told Putin that he had concerns about democracy in Russia. Unsuprisingly, Putin told him that democracy in Russia was Russia's business and the stage has been set for Cold War - The Sequel.

23 February 2005

"The music industry is shit-scared of the Internet"

These were the words a Sony Music executive uttered to The Register back in 1998. Seven years and lots of legal threats later, not much appears to have changed if the furore about Steal This File Sharing Book by Wallace Wang is anything to go by. Wang's book explains, in old fashioned printing-press form, how to use a bunch of peer-to-peer (P2P) networks for finding whatever it is a user of these networks might be looking for.

So what? Well, the hubbub that surrounds this book brings me to a pertinent point that doesn't seem to have received a whole lot of coverage in the peer-to-peer debate thus far, and it's a point that needs bringing to the consiousness of the masses before we all lose sight of the facts, such as they are.

Traditional media coverage of peer-to-peer networking technologies and issues has concentrated on the trading of music as MP3 files thanks to the narrow focus afforded to the issue by the Recording Industry Ass. of America (RIAA) in their various attempts to sue peer-to-peer users in America. More recently, the trading of movies has entered the peer-to-peer debate thanks to moves by the Motion Picture Ass. of America (MPAA) to follow the RIAA's lead in attempting to sue users of peer-to-peer networks.

However, this isn't quite the full story. In fact, it's quite a long way from the full story because peer-to-peer technologies are far more useful than a cursory glance at the actions of the RIAA/MPAA would first suggest. These two organisations represent the interests of the music and film industries - in America - and that's it!

Peer-to-peer networks aren't quite so limited in their scope - they can carry music and films, and they can also carry books, games, applications, utilities, talks, speeches, presentations, photographs - in fact, anything that can be turned into a file on a computer. Not only that, but file sharing networks enable these files to be distributed far beyond the borders and industries within which the jurisdictions of the likes of the RIAA and MPAA fall.

So, what happens to all the games, books and software that end up on peer to peer networks? What about shared music, films, games, books and applications in all the countries in the world outside of America?

As a result of the misguided efforts of the RIAA and MPAA, the laborious and costly process of finding a source of potential infringement, attempting to locate the specific individual responsible, and issuing proceedings against that individual has been born. Each stage of the process is fraught with well documented difficulties and, thus far, we're only talking about music and films being traded within America's borders. Nor have we accounted for the process of dragging each of these alleged infringers through the courts.

This convoluted process might work relatively well for a handful of individuals in a single country, but try applyling the concept to the ever-growing millions upon millions of peer-to-peer users users that span the globe and that share music, films, games, applications, books, etc., and you can see how the notion of each industry suing alleged offenders quickly renders itself entirely redundant. Really, people, you can't sue everyone, everywhere, forevermore.

The RIAA have thrown their weight around on a few high profile occasions in true 'women and children first' fashion by suing kids, mothers and even dead grandmothers. Now the MPAA are adopting the same approach as the music industry in their quest to maintain the huge profits that holding a captive audience to ransom for decades has allowed them to reap and are suing their customers too.

Sure, both the RIAA and MPAA are big, scary organisations with lots of money at their disposal to protect their highly profitable racketeering industries - and if you've bought or rented any music or films, ever, it's your money. In reality, their only weapon is fear, and by committing themselves to this perverse die-not-adapt logic, the music and film industries of America have decisively committed to a superbly flawed method of attempting to preserve themselves in the face of technological developments that they cannot hope to survive in their existing incarnations.

As Wang writes (and anyone with a decent grasp of simple logic can fathom):
"The bottom line is that the corporations, who currently hold all the power and make most of the money, are going to have to change, and that's something they aren't willing to do."

In reality, change is something that the corporations should have embraced a long time ago when MP3 evolution and MP3 portability were fledgling technologies. For the best part of ten years change hasn't been an option and, as Wang concludes in his book:
"The question isn't whether file sharing technology will put today's corporate powerhouses out of business. The question is when, and that future is closer than they think."

Of this fact peer-to-peer users everywhere should take heed.

The media giants have made their choices and decided that they would rather die than adapt. In sounding their own death knell the corporate behemoths have also issued a resounding message to peer-to-peer users everywhere - share your files or we've won.

Note: A sample chapter of Steal This File Sharing Book offering an overview of the peer-to-peer file-sharing network technologies is available from the No Starch web site for anyone that's interested. No doubt a full version of the book will be available on your friendly file sharing network soon!

13 February 2005


"I know where I'm going and I know the truth and I don't have to be what you want me to be. I'm free to be what I want" -- Muhammed Ali

03 February 2005

A Question of Semantics

Watchers, listeners and readers of the news over the last few years may have become inreasingly familiar with the word 'insurgent' which, according to dictionary.com is defined as follows:

in·sur·gent adj.
  1. Rising in revolt against established authority, especially a government.
  2. Rebelling against the leadership of a political party.
If Iraqis had risen in revolt against Saddam Hussein, perhaps the term may have been justified in its use. However, that's not what happened and quite how politicians and the media can begin to use the word 'insurgents' to describe those resisting and defending against an invasion by a conquering global power is beyond the realms of rational credulity.

Using the same logic that labels Iraqis as insurgents, if Canada invaded America for harbouring some of the worlds most devestating and prolific international terrorists - however legitimate this charge may be - any American resisting the invasion could also legitimately be described as an insurgent. Somehow, I don't think Americans would see it quite like that.

Update: Someone even complained to the BBC about the inappropriate use of the word 'insurgent'.