Date:         Wed, 26 Jul 2000 22:38:42 +0000
Sender:       The Internet TourBus - A virtual tour of cyberspace
From:         Bob Rankin 
Subject:      TOURBUS - 25 Jul 00 - Napster, Gnutella & Friends
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              TOURBUS Volume 6, Number 03 -- 25 July 2000
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          TODAY'S TOURBUS TOPIC:  File-Sharing: Good or Evil?
Howdy all!  Today I'm going to talk about something that I've been
putting off for quite a while, because I wasn't quite sure how I felt
about the issues involved.  Napster and Gnutella... is it harmless
file-sharing or blatant theft?  Now that I've tried them for myself
and pondered the implications here's my analysis...
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Napster -- is it a file-sharing service for music lovers, or a conduit
for the illegal distribution of copyrighted material? Napster, which
has attracted over 20 million users in less than a year, has also
attracted the wrath of the recording industry bigwigs, who feel
they're losing piles of money because so many people are downloading
MP3 music files online. 
Just a week ago, the research firm Jupiter Communications released a
report which shows that Napster users are actually more likely to buy
music than people who don't engage in online music file swapping.
But the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) begs to
differ.  Personally, I side with Jupiter on this one.  I used Napster
to find and download an MP3 file with a song I heard on the radio, and
it motivated me to buy the CD at a local store.  I'm also certain that
many people use the service just to download free music they should be
paying for...
Today, a federal judge in San Francisco will hear a suit brought by
the RIAA to stop Napster from posting certain popular songs to its
site. Ironically, both Napster and the RIAA plan to use the 1984 "Sony
vs. Universal" Supreme Court decision (the one that legalized the
Betamax) to make their case.  Napster, fronted by Microsoft-killer
David Boies, will argue that their technology is capable of
"substantial non-infringing uses" and should be protected by law.
The recording industry lawyers will argue that Napster exists ONLY to
facilitate the theft of copyrighted material.
But in the end, the outcome of this case may not be terribly
important.  Here's why:
 - Napster still has not figured out how to make money from their
service.  With no revenue to show to anxious investors, and an endless
stream of legal challenges ahead, the company may not last long.
 - Napster gives people the SENSE of anonymous file sharing but in
reality all transactions go through the Napster's central servers.
Someone is watching...
 - There are other Napster-like services that offer anonymity AND
which are immune from legal threats.
Among these file-sharing alternatives are Gnutella and FreeNet.
Gnutella is a file-sharing program that was originally developed by
AOL subsidiary Nullsoft, the folks that brought you the popular WinAmp
software to play MP3 music files. When AOL got wind of the project
they attempted to squash it, but all they got was the peel -- the
banana slipped out onto the Net.  Gnutella is now supported by a
loosely organized group of unpaid volunteers, who make Gnutella
"clients" (and source code) freely available for many operating
Unlike Napster, Gnutella does not have a central database to track
user downloads, and also enables the sharing of any files, not just
MP3.  Although Gnutella has no built-in tracking, it does use the same
data-transfer protocol as the Web, so transactions could be traced,
although with a bit more effort.  And since Gnutella is a technology
and not a company, nobody can be sued.
Similar to Gnutella is Freenet, the brainchild of Ian Clarke, a
London-based Web designer who created FreeNet as a final project for
his degree in Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science. The goal
of FreeNet is to allow people to distribute and retrieve information
with complete anonymity, and to operate without any central control. 
A year from now, it's possible that Napster, Gnutella and FreeNet will
all be yesterday's news, eclipsed by something bigger and better.
But it seems certain that anonymous, lawyer-proof, file-sharing
applications will not go away.  And with a bit of work, we'll figure
out how to make things fair for both content creators and consumers.
That's all for now, see you next time!  --Bob Rankin
The Internet Tourbus - U.S. Library of Congress ISSN #1094-2239
Copyright © Bob Rankin and Patrick Crispen - All rights reserved
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