/** Tools */

02 July 2005

BitTorrent - Liberation of the Pepsi Generation

The Senate/Grokster-ruling fallout continues with most of the world hung up on the concepts of victory, loss, and how to defend copy 'rights' which depend on being able to strictly control and regulate the distribution of the goods and services to which those 'rights' apply.

In the age of the Internet, digital media and peer-to-peer, this paradigm of control of distribution to create artificial product scarcity, and therefore value, at the discretion of suppliers is no longer an option.

As everyone wonders against whom the next legal action should be issued while trying to understand how to reinstate 'rights' which depend on a market environment that does not exist any more, news hits the streets of a meme penned by the creator of the BitTorrent protocol Bram Cohen which outlines the fundamental ethos that underlies the cooperative nature of the Internet and the peer-to-peer networks which have grown on it, both of which have rapidly become the anathema of content owners, big business and government.

Cohen's words are reproduced here in full to avoid any hysteria that may arise from quoting selective sections. Comments are given below:
A technological activist's agenda:

"I am a technological activist. I have a political agenda. I am in favor of basic human rights: to free speech, to use any information and technology, to purchase and use recreational drugs, to enjoy and purchase so-called 'vices', to be free of intruders, and to privacy.

I further my goals with technology. I build systems to disseminate information, commit digital piracy, synthesize drugs, maintain untrusted contacts, purchase anonymously, and secure machines and homes. I release my code and writings freely, and publish all of my ideas early to make them unpatentable.

Technology is not a panacea. I refuse to work on technology to track users, analyze usage patterns, watermark information, censor, detect drug use, or eavesdrop. I am not naive enough to think any of those technologies could enable a 'compromise'.

Despite my emphasis on technology, I do not view laws as inherently evil. My goals are political ones, even if my techniques are not. The only way to fundamentally succeed is by changing existing laws. If I rejected all help from the political arena I would inevitably fail."

-Bram Cohen
Before getting upset and losing sight of the fundamental tenets on which this statement was based, ask yourself if the basic concepts of human rights, free speech, privacy, freedom of choice, or the right to use information and technology are fundamentally wrong?

If these basic beliefs are not wrong then no technology that evolves from them or which facilitates them can be fundamentally 'wrong' either. In fact, technology is always neutral and BitTorrent serves as a timely example of how this is the case, flying in the face of the Senate decision that the technology makers can be held liable for the uses of their technology.

On one hand are the stated intentions of a lone-programmer who seeks freedom of speech, information and privacy for all, and on the other are the corporate giants like Microsoft and the international media companies who recognise, finally, that they are missing out on something and are scrambling to adopt the protocol as the basis for their own attempts to catch up with the peer-to-peer revolution that they have, for the most part, missed.

As big business adopts the BitTorrent protocol which grew from the tenets of human rights, freedom and liberty, the question necessarily becomes, "What is the difference between the version of the BitTorrent protocol offered by Cohen and the one offered by Microsoft?"

The answer is, "Nothing." In both cases the technology is the same and can be used for either 'good' or 'evil' so the value judgement which then needs to be made is whether the private interests of a few corporate entities are greater than those of the interests of the public that includes every single one of us.

In the case of Bram Cohen, the BitTorrent protocol, and the fundamental essences of the Internet and peer-to-peer networks, the driving forces behind development are those of human rights, freedom of speech, privacy, freedom of choice, and the right to use and share information and technology for all.

In the case of Microsoft and their implentation of the BitTorrent protocol, the driving forces behind development are those of private profit and growth, and neither private profit nor private growth results from facilitating free speech, privacy, freedom of choice, or cultivating any rights to use and share information and technology. Instead, private profit and growth result from the restriction of free speech, choice, privacy and any freedoms to use technology and information without the application and enforcement of significant costs and a long list of conditions and caveats that require submission of almost all rights to anything.

Bram Cohen had the right idea.

No comments: