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The War of Anti-piracy Organisations against P2P Users

With the advancement in internet technology, activities concerning piracy have taken a different path which has shaken the meaning of novelty these days. To tackle and keep track of these hooliganisms, divergent anti-piracy organisations stepped forward. They have put on the shoes of both good and bad wills. Their grey part was extensively exposed when they targeted the legal and innocent P2P users across the web. It is now more than an obstacle to continue their web activities without the un-necessary intercession of anti-piracy organisations.

Who are the P2P users?

A P2P, which is a common abbreviation of peer-to-peer, is a distributed network architecture that is comprised of participants who make a portion of their resources to be directly available to other network participants, without the need for central coordination instances. It is a network protocol for computer users, which is used for downloading torrents or P2P files. Rather than connecting to specific servers on the Internet, P2P software allows surfers to connect with each other to search for and also download the content needed. Peers are very specific because they are both suppliers and consumers of resources, which is in contrast to the traditional client–server model where only servers supply, and clients consume.

What do they serve for?

Peer-to-peer was firstly popularized by few file sharing systems. Peer-to-peer file sharing networks have inspired many new structures and philosophies in other areas of human interface. In such social contexts, peer-to-peer as a meme refers to the egalitarian social networking that is currently emerging throughout society, generally enabled by Internet technologies. Because of the unique structure that a P2P network has, it is extremely efficient for downloading large-size files. A quick comparison between standard and P2P downloading explains why:

Standard content downloading features

The Internet connects users or surfers to many, among others, website servers. By cruising the Internet a user establishes a one-on-one connection with each website he visists. If the user wants content in terms of files from that website, the server that archives the website, transfers the files that have been requested. In this case, clients only share the demands, and not the sources. However, since a website can have hundreds or even thousands of visitors at any moment, file transfer can be slow or even sluggish at times. Generally, download speed slows a lot.

P2P content downloading features

On a P2P network, when a user needs a file, installed P2P software locates any copies of the file within the P2P network. Then it allows the user to create multiple connections with several sources that have all or part of the file requested. As parts of the file are received, they are also uploaded to other users that are requesting that same file. This protocol of matching several sources to a single request makes for an efficient content download scheme. Because files are received from various sources rather than only from a single one, large files can be downloaded quickly by P2P.

However, it is not all that simple. P2P software keeps a record of how much a user downloads, compared to how much he shares. If someone does download more than they do upload, bandwidth for downloading will be decreased or choked. Provided one maintains a 1:1 ratio or even better, download speed is increased. Most users have asynchronous connections to the Internet, which means that they can download several times faster than they can upload. Therefore, uploading data to a P2P network, in contrast to downloading, can take considerable time. To guarantee good P2P download speeds, what users do is they commonly stay connected after receiving their requested files in order to seed the file back to others. P2P software has the possibility to be configured to automatically disconnect the user from the P2P network when a particular share-ratio is reached.

P2P users inviting piracy

P2P technology is legally approved, but sharing copyrighted materials, on the other hand, is not. There are many websites that archive illegal P2P files, which have been targeted by organizations representing recording artists and the movie industry. P2P, similarly to the nuclear technology, is a double-edged and powerful weapon. It could be used by pirates to illegally and massively distribute pirated and copyrighted content, and that is why people are easily misled into establishing the misconception that P2P has little to zero legitimate use, and its only usage is in terms of piracy.

Legal use of P2P

Although effective in helping the stretch of pirated content, P2P is also feasible and has been already extensively used in legal content allocation because of its excellent scalability, high availability, and low cost. There are four available ways for using P2P in legal confines:

1.Free Content Distribution

Using P2P is an ideal way to disseminate free content such as GPLed software like Linux and free videos. Since such content is usually very large- sized, if it is delivered in the standard Client/Server way, the cost is high and the performance is low.

Bad user experience would gradually kill the motivation of people to make a contribution to free online content. Thus, P2P becomes free content’s best distribution channel, generally because of its low cost and high performance.

2.Non-free Content Distribution

When considering non-free content distribution, P2P is even more widely used than the previous way. Proprietary software, like most of the online video games software, which people can get for free but pay for use, are distributed exactly by P2P.

3.User-generated Content Distribution

This kind of content, which is apparently lawful, is distributed by P2P too. One popular type of user-generated content is online instant messaging and audio/video chatting data that are extremely popular nowadays. Since P2P is not only scalable and reliable but it is also able to deliver real-time data within due time, it is very good for instant messaging applications which have to cope with millions of concurrent users requests.

4.Special-purpose Content Distribution

Large-sized business data, such as videos of commercials and operation logs, are hard to deliver because of their huge size. Therefore, special-purpose content, such as business and scientific data, is distributed over P2P networks now.

Legal consequences

Under federal law, a person found to have infringed upon a copyrighted work may be liable for actual damages and lost profits attributable to the infringement, and statutory damages counting from $200 up to $150,000. The owner that has the copyright also has the right to permanently enjoin the P2P user from any further activities of this kind, and all the infringing copies and equipment that had been used in the infringement can be impounded and destroyed. In addition, persons who violate the IT Acceptable Resource Policy, or some other policies regarding the mis-use of copyrighted materials, can be subject to revocation and limitation of their computer and network privileges, as well as to other disciplinary actions, or may be even referred to appropriate external authorities.

Finally, criminal penalties may also be assessed against these criminals and could include jail sentence depending upon the nature of the violation they have made. For example, Michael Chicoine-Texas and William Trowbridge-New York have both been convicted on committing piracy deeds for operating the Direct Connect peer-to-peer network's central hubs. The two men convicted in "Operation Digital Gridlock" are probably going to get fines of up to $250,000 and prison sentences of up to five years. The charge was done by the Department of Justice last August and sentencing will be on August 29th.

Anti-piracy organisations and laws: Coping with the changing Internet trends

At the beginning of the 3rd millennium, time and space are no longer obstacles to the free flow of information and ideas. The Internet revolution is successfully and fast-pace changing the way we live, works, and entertains ourselves. At the same rate, the Internet is also changing the way laws are carried out and also how they are broken. Technologies related to Internet have recently become the focus of criticism and mild paranoia for many anti-piracy organizations. Some of the most important world wide anti-piracy organizations are:

Business Software Alliance (BSA)
Canadian Alliance Against Software Theft (CAAST)
Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT)
Federation Against Software Theft (FAST)
Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)
Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA)

For them, the focal point of this fear is the increasingly ugly battle centered on the distribution of copyrighted music and movies via the Internet by using a digital format. Some critics argue that the monetary survival of artists is jeopardized because of the e-assault on copyright law led by “file-sharing” companies such as Napster.com.

Anti-Piracy Organization’s Targets

If you are listening to a music which has been downloaded from an illegal source then you are a culprit according to anti-piracy laws. The basic and obvious function of an anti-piracy organisation is to combat the fraud activities relevant to music and video sources.

Anti-piracy prosecutors have not yet filed criminal charges against these particular, alleged enemies of copyrighted files, although, some of them such as Napster, which relies on an index available on a central server, is a vulnerable target because it is susceptible to a legal attack that can possibly shut down its server, which in turn, shuts down its entire system. This weakness in particular does not come to effect on “peer-to-peer” (P2P) technology because P2P does not require a central server. Therefore, in the peer-to-peer universe, there are no companies to sue, but only individuals. Anyone who uses bittorrents, eDonkey, WinMX, Gnutella, Limewire, or any other P2P network, is likely to be scanned by anti-piracy investigators. In an effort to catch and prosecute people for abusing copyrighted media, these investigators usually pose as P2P downloaders. While they themselves share and download copyrighted data, these investigators also scan and log other users’ IP address. Each downloader’s IP address then becomes evidence for civil anti-piracy lawsuits, where one may be sued for copyright infringement. They are widely spread, and their efforts will sometimes result in large lawsuits, where many downloaders are charged thousands of dollars in copyright related fines. This investigators share comprises up to 4% of all P2P downloaders one could be connected with.

Recent updates reveal that Hollywood lobbyists are engaged in an attempt towards the launch of a battering step on Internet sources and anti-piracy legislation in the U.S. These plans are under the shed of discussion for their implementation process within the knowledge of President Obama. Having played a quiet character on the online piracy issues, the U.S seems to take gearing up steps to tackle this problem which might hit us big in forthcoming days.

“Three strikes and you are offline” rule is a brave step by the French government to keep the entertainment industry transparent. The very similar legislation is likely to prevail in various other countries too. Interestingly the entertainment industry backs up these anti-piracy laws as a solution to online piracy, while overlooking their own involvement in raising these woes.

The three strike law comes into picture when a person attempts persistently to download a copyrighted source illegally. This results in the immediate suspension of internet access of the user to protect the copyrighted sources. While this law is a wake up call for ISPs (Internet Service Providers) to block the download sites, many ISPs are recalcitrant to abide by this law.

There has been a mixture of reactions from public where this legislation stood a tremendous criticism in establishing itself in the mid-way of user and the internet, while the parents have supported the act of protecting the copyrights. Surprisingly the reports highlight the number of crimes that have taken toll after implementation of the legislation in France. It is like illegal users easily get resistant to the new implemented laws to tackle piracy.

Ireland has also chosen the similar path with Eircom, her largest broadband ISP which keeps track of copyright violators. IRMA, the Irish Recorded Music Association is set to forward the ISPs a weekly limit of 50 IP addresses. The users will face three warnings before they get abandoned from Internet access. This proposed plan will be on trial basis for a 90 days period after which the provision gets updated for 1000 IP addresses.

Protector becomes predator: How the innocent P2P users suffer

Frequent flagrant acts by anti-piracy organisations have become an additional issue along with copyright violators’ cases. Some lawmakers illegally spy on P2P users, severely infringing the online privacy of those. This type of activity is shocking and gives a big question mark over the authenticity of anti-piracy organisations and their laws.

Besides from prosecuting illegal P2P users, anti-piracy prosecutors have gone as far as including innocent P2P users too. There are two types of innocent P2P users:

1.Deceived P2P users – Deceived P2P users are Internet users who often face a sort of "copytrap" when they encounter a web site that falsely represents the downloading as legal. With no way to know whether that web site's representation is true or false, a downloader is likely to be deceived and thus is likely to face harsh penalties under the anti-piracy law.

2.Legal P2P users - Legal P2P users, who did not do any piracy and have downloaded files by legal means, generally face an agonizing choice—either to pay $1,500 to $2,500 to settle the lawsuits brought by anti-piracy organizations, or pay even more money for a lawyer to plead their innocence on court.

In either of these cases, P2P users are not under any circumstances protected from eventually paying the fines, or even worse, going to jail. And whether being innocent or not, a case that goes to court always runs the risk of ending in a $150,000 fine. The sheer size of the penalties for online infringement and piracy would give anyone pause, and there are several of those who are currently wrestling with what to do about it.

Real-World Impacts

Recently, media sources have reported a sharp decline in peer-to-peer (P2P) traffic during the last year, considering user population dropping by half. This assertion is in direct contrast to the perpetual increase of P2P activity over the last few years. The decline has been attributed to legal issues that are often unjustified and most loudly articulated by anti-piracy organizations such as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). RIAA reports suggest that the overwhelming threats of possible copyright lawsuits and extremely high fines provided by laws have stalled the growth of file-sharing networks. This situation will remain the same until government decides to stand out and raise its voice to all anti-piracy organizations that have been sending lawsuits to whomever they notice downloading files, without taking in consideration the possibility of being a legal P2P user.

The serving proof of monopoly is Logistep, a so called privacy protection organisation assimilated information about illegal file up-loaders and supplied the same to copyright owners. Thereafter the information was furtively used to blackmail the illegal users to get good cash reparation

“Garante della Privacy”, an Italian organisation responsible for data protection and privacy did blacklist Logistep for their illegal tasks citing three reasons for violating the rules such as:

No private company is allowed to monitor the activities of P2P users on the Internet.

The P2P software is only meant for the communication with other P2P clients instead of using it as a monitoring device.

Monitoring users without their consent is itself illegal.

The decided action taken against Logistep was that they were ordered to delete the collected information about P2P users which came as a relief for Italian P2P users.

Nearby Future Impacts

Peer-to-peer (P2P) network systems, which are realized as overlays on top of the underlying Internet routing architecture, make a significant portion of today’s Internet traffic. However, real-world cases show that if events continue developing in the same direction they do now, P2P utilization in near future will be reduced to a minimum. Since every potential downloader is a subject of suspect, there are only few left that are brave enough to continue using this useful 21st century technological advantage.


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