Copyright watchdogs are breeding a bigger enemy

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) have recently drawn more blood with a massive drive against server administrators running peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing services such as eMule and BitTorrent.

A peer-to-peer (or P2P) computer network is one that does not rely on specific servers for communication, but instead uses direct connections between clients, or peers, to share files—for example, music or movie files.

SuperNova.org, a widely used directory service for files available on the BitTorrent network, recently shut itself down voluntarily, coinciding with the dates of the MPAA action.

Since the early days of Napster, the technology behind P2P file sharing has developed at a rapid rate, partially in response to the legal actions taken to shut down networks such as Napster and AudioGalaxy. 

Both Napster and AudioGalaxy relied on a centralised listing service for the location of files on each user’s computer, making it easy for the RIAA to take action against the organisations running them.

The reason the MPAA and RIAA dislike BitTorrent so much is that it does not rely on the presence of a centralised listing service. Individuals can post links to their files on websites, via e-mail or chat applications, and so it becomes significantly harder to track who is sharing what.

However, the contents of the file can still be seen and many sites have sprung up listing massive numbers of BitTorrent links to make the process of finding a file easier for users looking for something specific.

With attacks on websites such as SuperNova and N4P.com, the P2P community has started to step up the levels of encryption and anti-detection mechanisms. The near future will probably see a breed of P2P file-sharing tools that make it virtually impossible for the RIAA and MPAA to identify which files are which.

As things stand today, there is no reliable option available for South Africans who would like to buy movies and music online that takes into account the lower production costs of shipping a single digital song via the internet as opposed to packaging it on a CD. 

The Apple iTunes store, currently the most popular online store for digital music, charges approximately R6,60 per song and the service is not available in South Africa. This represents almost a 50% reduction in the cost of a single CD, so let’s hope they figure out how to make the e-commerce side of things work here soon.

Musica.co.za has set up its own online digital music retail store with single tracks costing as little as R8,33 and up to R9,99, which means you can compile a CD of your favourite songs for less that the price of buying them as singles in a real-world shop. 

The problem, of course, is that many people would still not want to pay for music or videos if they could get them for free. This means that, as the RIAA and MPAA push file sharing software to new levels of sophistication, their opportunity to do something positive and take hold of a massive new market grows ever slimmer.

In the end I predict that movie and music piracy will continue until the prices drop significantly enough for it not to be worthwhile anymore. Old industries like physical distribution agencies face a tough challenge by this new market but it is a battle they will win by creative thinking and innovation rather than bullying via litigation.

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