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Peer Review - Richard Koman

Is All Music File-Sharing Piracy?


"File transfers have been temporarily suspended while Napster upgrades the databases that support our new file identification technology. Keep checking this space for updates. Thanks for your support!"

That's what it says on napster.com today. But exactly who is supporting Napster these days? With the service having moved from severely hobbled to completely unusable, does Napster think there are hordes of users patiently waiting for the service to go online? Obviously, they're not. Kelly Truelove and Andrew Chastin report in OpenP2P's Clip2 Report that the Morpheus system run by MusicCity regularly boasts more than 300,000 simultaneous users, blowing away not only Napster but also Gnutella, which averages a mean of about 40,000 users.

Morpheus (which is based on the KaZaa system from FastTrack) is a closed-protocol, decentralized system, and right now it's a pretty good bet for finding those copyright-violating tracks that everybody loves to download. (Point of interest: One totally legit purpose for these systems is finding Grateful Dead concert tapes.) Morpheus launches a custom web browser, with an embedded Windows Media Player as the interface, and boasts helpful features like the ability to pick up an interrupted download where you left off, and the ability to group multiple providers of the same file together.

Richard Koman is a featured speaker at the O'Reilly P2P & Web Services Conference, Sept. 18-20 in Washington, DC.

Yes, Morpheus is cool and is getting lots of users but with the glowing embers of Napster on the screen, and AIMster apparently being lashed to the stake, one has to wonder what future any popular file-sharing system will have. As Truelove and Chastin point out, Morpheus is a decentralized system using HTTP as a transport mechanism. That means each member of the network is essentially a Web server, just as with Gnutella. For more on this point, see Kelly Truelove's "Gnutella and the Transient Web"

It's a lot more difficult than attacking Napster itself, but presumably the RIAA could send any Morpheus user a cease-and-desist letter. It also seems likely that Morpheus could be ordered to block certain users from the system, associating IP numbers with individuals. That seems a slow and cumbersome process, and the RIAA and MPAA have signalled their willingness to attack via ISPs instead.

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Unfortunately, this is a cat-and-mouse game that may continue for some time -- at least until Hollywood recognizes that users are wanting to use music in new and creative ways, and becomes willing to give consumers some control over how they purchase music. The courts may rule that file sharing is piracy -- and it no doubt is in some cases. But many, many people surely want to use these networks like interactive radios -- to check out new artists you've heard about, or to listen to a favorite old song when you want to. What is lost in all the debate about piracy are all the ways that the Web has evolved to accommodate people who want to consume information.

The record companies should get their consumer services online as quickly as possible, but they should also be willing to treat online music as radio, as night club, as party tape, as all the ways that copyright-protected music has been used for decades. They ought not to try to collect licensing fees everytime a file is played.

The Clip2 Report

Morpheus Out of the Underworld
Napster last week disabled all previous versions of the software. So where have all file-sharers gone? Would you believe Morpheus -- a system that has far surpassed not only the hobbled Napster but also Gnutella. Clip2 takes an in-depth look at the Morpheus system. Jul. 2, 2001

JXTA Search: A look at the future of searching
Searching on the Web is ridiculous -- searching through an index of keywords often weeks old. JXTA Search, the marriage of P2P searching with Sun's Project JXTA, promises to turn searching into a real-time endeavor. We talk to JXTA Search developers Gene Kan and Steve Waterhouse. Jun. 6, 2001

OpenNap Use Crashes
A Clip2 study shows that OpenNap usage has plummeted since February, probably due to RIAA's notice to ISPs May. 11, 2001

The JuxtaNet
With the unveiling of Project JXTA, Sun is launching an open and decentralized peer-to-peer network, that will likely eclipse Gnutella. Apr. 25, 2001

Gnutella and the Transient Web
Gnutella returns the Web to Tim Berners-Lee's original vision of a two-way web, where every machine is a server. Gnutella is essentially a two-way, but very transient web. Mar. 22, 2001

Gnutella: Alive, Well, and Changing Fast
While Gnutella was almost given up for dead at the end of 2000, recent developments and innovations show that the platform is quickly evolving. How it will evolve, however, is still up in the air Jan. 25, 2001

P2P Weblogs

Richard Koman Richard Koman's Weblog
Supreme Court Decides Unanimously Against Grokster
Updating as we go. Supremes have ruled 9-0 in favor of the studios in MGM v Grokster. But does the decision have wider import? Is it a death knell for tech? It's starting to look like the answer is no. (Jun 27, 2005)

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