The file sharing community has been characterised by its ability to continually evade music industry attentions through evolution and change: Music City Morpheus and Kazaa introduced decentralised networks in attempt to avoid legal culpability; Kazaa developed a labyrinthine international corporate structure to dodge federal jurisdiction and global copyright law. And now new changes are being put in place to counteract the RIAA’s high profile subpoenas against individual file sharers.
Streamcast and iMesh have both announced that they will be enabling their users to use proxy servers to evade RIAA ‘evil clients’ (i.e. modified file sharing clients that crawl the networks, tracking and reporting activity). The proxy servers contain dynamically updated caches of content and web pages that are separate from the World Wide Web and only provide access on a permission basis. (It is actually a method employed by dictatorial regimes to impose censorship on their citizens by routing all local web activity through them.) The implication of having a cache of infringed works, though, would be that Morpheus and iMesh effectively had central servers, thus negating the argument that they are not responsible for the content on their otherwise decentralised networks. Which is exactly why they are setting up their own proxy servers, but providing their users with lists of public proxy servers (i.e. those hosted by third parties). There are weaknesses in the proxy server approach. Firstly, it typically results in much slower searches and secondly, the RIAA could counter it in a number of ways by:
a) gaining access to the servers (either covertly or via legal channels) or
b) by actually acquiring one or more of the proxy servers or creating their own as traps
But perhaps the most concerning development for the RIAA is how the subpoenas have radicalised the file sharing community. The networks’ forums, and all other newsgroups and chat rooms are alive with discussions on how to counteract the RIAA’s measures. The era of 2nd generation of file sharing networks is drawing to a close and we are seeing a shift back towards the file sharing movement’s beginnings with a move towards open source applications. The popular reaction against the spy ware and commercialism of Kazaa et al has been hastened by the RIAA’s high profile subpoenas. Ultimately this could be bad news for the music industry. Whereas the theory ran that file sharing would be pushed to the fringes, it seems that many mainstream users are identifying themselves with the more radical and techy elements of the file sharing community. User groups are full of posts with comments like “I don’t actually much about how this technology works” and “I don’t really know much about this but I know the RIAA have got to be stopped”. The movement’s grass roots are reclaiming the initiative form the likes of Sharman Networks and the sense of empowerment among users seems to be contagious.
The sort of solutions that are being discussed and devised are actually short-term fire fighting measures (IP Filters etc), but then it is unlikely that the developers would show their hand in such public arenas and that there are actually much more sophisticated developments in play.
In addition to radicalising much of the file sharing community, the RIAA’s subpoenas may well have kick started the next stage in the technological evolution of file sharing.