The Not So Honest Thief

I was surprised to receive a call from a journalist today asking me about my apparent endorsement of a new illegal file-sharing network. It was the first that I had heard about it. But sure enough, there I was, quoted in the inaugural press release of Dutch P-to-P network The Honest Thief. What they have done is taken a quote from a BBC article and implied that I am somehow endorsing the network. This categorically NOT the case. I had never had any previous contact with the company and I most certainly did not give permission for my quote to be used. I suspect that this underhand approach is indicative of their overall business manner. Not particularly surprising when you consider their ‘business model’. The irony is that if you read the original BBC story in full you will see that I am using it as a counter argument for developing legitimate music services. (read the full article here)

As far as I can tell, The Honest Thief is one big marketing ploy that has yet to show whether it has any teeth to its bite. Its reason for existence is based upon the Dutch Kazaa Court ruling that ruled in favour of the P-to-P network not being responsible for the content distributed upon its network. HT seem to think that this allows them to operate as an illegitimate file-sharing network with impunity and they have been strutting with a swagger that borders on outright arrogance. However, the court ruling was just that: a court ruling that is subject to appeal, not a piece of legislation. The foundations that HT are built on are flimsy at best, and I think it is probable that they would not benefit from such a ruling, if it came to that.

HT also seem to be very confident that their ‘business model’ is robust enough to survive with or without favourable court rulings. I think they are misguided. The route of building a mass P-to-P user base in order to get round the negotiating table with the majors is no longer open. Napster and MP3.com went that route but no one else has followed. Added to that, the successful P-to-P networks have grown because of word of mouth grass roots support, not by pandering to the mass media, which has been HT’s approach so far.

All that said, there is no doubt that the ‘market’ is ripe for a next generation of P-to-P networks. The second generation (i.e. Kazaa et al) are nearing the end of their natural life cycle. Much like the latter days of the Roman Empire they have become bloated, flawed, unaccountable and irrevocably distant from their origins. The networks are slowing (partly due to bogus files introduced by the music industry) and users are becoming sceptical of spy-ware, excessive advertising, tiered paid services and constant updates. File sharing is essentially a community-based activity, not a commercial one, and file sharers will vote with their feet when a better alternative arises. Which is all the more reason why the music industry (I think we can safely stop calling it a ‘record’ industry) should seize the moment and introduce its own free services before Napster Part III steals the show.

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