Open Bytes article – 'DCC, Bittorrent and Usenet – Is Bittorrent so great?' – is Tim wrong?

Tim over at Open Bytes has a new article, DCC, Bittorrent and Usenet – Is Bittorrent so great?, one part of which really caught my attention:

Since the vast magority(sic) of file-sharing on a p2p network is infringing copyright

Now, here’s the question. Can anyone prove this? Does anyone have a solid, peer reviewed study, that gives figures proving that the majority of file sharing is infringing copyright? To the best of my knowledge, no such study has yet been carried out. There have been studies carried out by the Business Software Alliance, and other industry bodies, but they have an axe to grind, and because of this their figures are not believable (for instance in one study, they assumed that every computer ever made had a copy of Microsoft Office, even those which were incapable of running it, and made no provisions for Free Software alternatives such as KOffice and Open Office).

Now I personally suspect that Tim is correct, and that over 50% of the sharing is copyright infringing. However the total lack of proof from an unbiased observer bothers me intensely. The usual reason that there isn’t any proof from an unbiased observer, is that the proof doesn’t exist, because the conclusion is incorrect.

That said, a quick perusal of the listings on ‘The Pirate Bay‘ would seem to offer proof that the statement is correct, however there are thousands of other torrent sites, and there are also the Peer to Peer networks such as Gnutella, never mind IRC, Usenet, Direct Download sites such as RapidShare, and all of the other possible ways to transfer files. No one has ever done a proper study taking into account all of the alternatives, so making a blanket statement that the majority of files are infringing is a dangerous thing to do. The majority of files may be infringing, however at present this has not been proven.

Also the Free Software, Open Source Software, and Creative Commons alternatives need to be considered. Ten years ago I knew a lot of people who ran illegal copies of Microsoft Office. Today I don’t know anyone who does, they are all running Open Office, KOffice, or Gnome Office. Why pirate Microsoft Office, when there are free alternatives, alternatives which offer superior performance? Ten years ago it was extremely difficult to produce and market your own videos, today it’s a lot easier, so people like the incomparable Taunya Gren (disclosure, she is a friend of the family) are able to produce things like the video series ‘Raising Kayn‘ on a small budget, and made it look great. Taunya lives in Utah, her sound track engineer lives in England, they collaborate over the net, something that would have been difficult even ten years ago, and impossible twenty years ago.

I think that it is probable that online copyright infringement is actually dropping. No, I can’t prove this, no more than anyone can prove that online copyright infringement is the majority of the the files transferred on Peer to Peer networks. But while I can’t prove it, I can point to things like YouTube, where you can find a huge amount of amateur video (I’m addicted to funny cat videos myself). And there’s people like Tom Smith, who are now able to make a living from music, using the internet to connect with fans (disclosure, I’ve known Tom for nearly twenty years). Other friends are posting their newest novels online, I suggest you check out Shirley Meier’s ‘Eclipse Court‘, and Karen Wehrstein’s ‘Chevenga Lives‘, both of which are well written (disclosure, I’ve known both Shirley and Karen for a long time – nearly twenty-five years now).

It is unlikely that online copyright infringement would ever stop, no matter what was done, however it’s like smoking cigarettes. Smoking cigarettes was once socially acceptable. It no longer is socially acceptable. Or drunk driving – at one time everyone did it, now it’s so socially unacceptable that very few do so anymore.

The curious thing is that all of the laws which have been enacted, appear to have had virtually no effect on online copyright infringement. What has had a huge effect was legal options. People love to show their appreciation for value, especially when they can show that appreciation directly to the artist, or software developer.

Regards

Wayne Borean

Friday August 27, 2010

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6 thoughts on “Open Bytes article – 'DCC, Bittorrent and Usenet – Is Bittorrent so great?' – is Tim wrong?

  1. Hi Wayne.

    Its been a while since we had one of our debates and I always love engaging in them Im sure we do too!

    Firstly, great post.

    I see your point of view completely in regards to proof of “majority of file sharing is infringing copyright” I myself have questioned stats and claims of other writers.

    At the end of the day I can only make an educated guess based on the facts that I have seen. I used the following “evidence” to support my view:

    1. The top files and numbers distributed in TPB and all the “mainstream” trackers. When you look at swarms on the excellent CC trackers (Vodo for example) you don’t see close to the numbers that you would within a swarm of a latest Hollywood blockbuster.

    2. The sheer number of trackers offering (alleged) copyright infringing material, infact I think you could list the ones that don’t in a single post.

    3. The observation that material (alleged) to infringe copyright is foremost in Usenet, and IRC (try finding someone on an IRC network sharing FOSS or CC via DCC)

    Tom Smith, Severed Fifth et al are excellent examples of success stories via filesharing, but the argument here is not if p2p can be viable for business but what the majority of users are downloading. Speak to the average jo who makes up a massive proportion….if they are using bittorrent, in your experience are they downloading mainstream music/movies/games or films off Vodo or from Tom Smith. I know that “the cool kids” are doing the former and I don’t think it can really be argued that the teenage/early twenties audience are downloading the mainstream titles, legitimately or not.

    Quote “Today I don’t know anyone who does, they are all running Open Office, KOffice, or Gnome Office.”

    But thats very different to the demand for media which tends to have a shorter shelf life as artists come in and out of “fashion” In addition I too have used all of those myself and not one of them have I entered bittorrent to get them (unless they were pre-installed as part of my distro)

    I think we have to look on “the balance of probabilities” I have come across a handful of people who use Bittorrent for things such as Linux (I myself do), however the same cannot be said for my experience of potential copyright infringing files where everyone I know who is “savvy” enough to use Bittorrent is using it to download copyrighted material.

    Quote “a blanket statement that the majority of files are infringing is a dangerous thing to do”

    Quote “The usual reason that there isn’t any proof from an unbiased observer”

    And this is where I disagree because anyone can check any tracker and see for themselves how much traffic is about and what its downloading. In the last few minutes I looked at some of the popular listing in TPB, I clicked through 10 pages of active files and have yet to find a single title which is not subject to copyright…even looking at the “most downloaded and active” and I clicked through page after page showing thousands of seeders and peers but yet not a single download that was not infringing copyright…

    If I was to try and make an educated guess (and thats all it would be) I would say that the ratio between lawful/unlawful downloads would be 10% / 90% and thats being conservative….ive looked at the top 100 active downloads and have not seen one title which doesn’t infringe on copyright.

    Great article Wayne, I look forward to debating this further.

    Kind regards

    Tim.

    1. Tim,

      As I said, while I suspect that over 50% of the files moved are copyright infringing, I cannot prove it, nor can anyone else. Further, no one can prove that the trading of copyright infringing files has damaged the owners of the copyrights. In fact the few studies that have been done by independent researchers seem to indicate that no damage occurs.

      So why are certain bodies (RIAA, MPAA, etc.) so upset? Because artists are now using the same systems that transmit copyright infringing files to directly connect with their customers, cutting out the middle man. Other bodies (BSA, ACT, etc.) are upset because the same systems that transmit copyright infringing files can also transmit Free and Open Source software. So the companies involved are more concerned about loosing in the marketplace, than they are in protecting artists/programmers.

      This is evidenced by the new Czech copyright act, which is currently under discussion in the Czech Republic, in which anyone who wants to use a Creative Commons copyright license, or a Free Software copyright license, would be required to register the intent. The legislation in question is designed to make it difficult to cut the middlemen out of the equation. In effect it’s restraint of trade. I expect that the legislation will end up getting changed, apparently it’s started a firestorm.

      1. Quote “while I suspect that over 50% of the files moved are copyright infringing, I cannot prove it, nor can anyone else.”

        Completely agreed, but does the “evidence” on display for anyone to see suggest its not? This is not like a claim of 1% of users run Linux, this is something which readers can look into for themselves and if they can show otherwise, great. I’d love to see someone counter my “evidence” with “evidence” to the contrary.

        The point about “majority of..” comment was specifically Bittorrent. You mention many great FOSS packages, but how many package managers in Linux upgrade/install your software facilitating Bittorrent? (for example) Infact if you consider the millions of downloads a title such as Avatar recieved, can we really say that any FOSS package or CC work would come even close to that figure? If it did, I think we would see evidence of that both on the desktop and peoples mp3 players. What do you think users download more of, Lady Gaga or Severed Fifth? Im not aware of any legitimate businesses selling MP3s lawfully by way of bittorrent, but even if they were would these lawful sales even come close to that which sale TPB achieves? Please note, I am merely talking about Bittorrent. No other tech/protocol.

        Quote “Further, no one can prove that the trading of copyright infringing files has damaged the owners of the copyrights.”

        And that wasn’t the point of the article (I even tried to distance that particular avenue at the beginning of it) The article’s purpose was more to voice my opinion that Bittorrent is not the defacto file sharing tech, regardless of whats being downloaded.

        Quote “So why are certain bodies (RIAA, MPAA, etc.) so upset? Because artists are now using the same systems that transmit copyright infringing files to directly connect with their customers, cutting out the middle man. ”

        I hope thats the case, but I’m talking about the effectiveness of the tech for the end-user not its worth as a business model for artists.

        Quote “Other bodies (BSA, ACT, etc.) are upset because the same systems that transmit copyright infringing files can also transmit Free and Open Source software.”

        Well certainly on the FOSS trackers Im on, they have not been bothered by any of those bodies. Why? because titles which infringe on copyright (rightly or wrongly) are not indexed.

        Whilst there may be some worried about the outlawing and clamping down of bittorrent, it should be noted that the UK government facilitates it…so certainly over here there is no master plan to nuke it for the sake of pressure from Hollywood or others.

        Quote “in effect it’s restraint of trade. I expect that the legislation will end up getting changed,”

        If it does then the blame will be sqaurely on the mainstream public who are infringing copyright. Lets put aside for a second if it is right or wrong and just look at the act. If Bittorrent was used by only a handful of people would it give the ammunition to those who seek it outlawed? and lets also consider if everyone stopped infringing on copyright (to the letter of what Hollywood et al want) do you still think the corporations would still want it banned?

        But as I say, all these are moot points and the article I wrote was not about the rights or wrongs of copyright law, nor was it specifically about what people use the file sharing techs for or if bittorrent can be used to facilitate a sucessful business. The whole point of the article was to highlight that whilst Bittorrent is “sold” as the be all and end all of filesharing protocols, there are actually (in my view) better ways of doing things.

        To further this point (in the article) I highlight the pitfalls of allegations against bittorrent users and how they can be avoided with things such as Usenet or even DCC.

        Kind regards
        Tim.

        1. If it does then the blame will be sqaurely on the mainstream public who are infringing copyright. Lets put aside for a second if it is right or wrong and just look at the act. If Bittorrent was used by only a handful of people would it give the ammunition to those who seek it outlawed? and lets also consider if everyone stopped infringing on copyright (to the letter of what Hollywood et al want) do you still think the corporations would still want it banned?

          Actually yes, they would still want it banned. It all comes down to control of the market. As long as there are efficient methods of bypassing the corporation, and therefore cutting the corporation’s profits, the corporation will want to block this. That’s why Bill Gates said that he disagreed with the General Public License. Free Software is a threat to Microsoft, just like Creative Commons licensed music and video are a threat to the RIAA/MPAA.

          My apologies for ignoring the rest of your article – I’m mostly in agreement with your comments on the various methods of transmitting files. It was only the part of the one sentence which I took exception to, not because I necessarily think it’s wrong, as I said, I suspect that it is correct. I would however like proof that it’s correct, beyond the anecdotal method of visiting ISOHUNT or The Pirate Bay and manually checking torrents.

          Wayne

          1. Quote “Actually yes, they would still want it banned.”

            They may want it banned..but the point was, the ammunition would be lacking. At present all they have to do is quote TPB’s own stats and claim harm to fight their cause. If only one or two people shared Avatar (for example) they would not have any ammo.

            Quote “As long as there are efficient methods of bypassing the corporation, and therefore cutting the corporation’s profits, the corporation will want to block this.”

            Can completely agree, but as I say there is a big difference between corporations wanting Bittorrent nuked and actually having it so. As I exampled earlier certain in the UK I wouldn’t think there are any plans for our government to bend to any requests of a bittorrent ban…afterall they use it themselves.

            Quote “My apologies for ignoring the rest of your article….”

            Firstly there is no need to apologise, I look forward to debating with you. As Ive said before, the whole topic is very interesting and I can usually count on a decent debate with you when I mention it. I can’t fault your views either and I think maybe the reality of the file sharing usage is somewhere in between both our views.

            Its nice to see that both our articles have been linked elsewhere together…and lends itself to both parties having their points represented fairly.

            Kindest regards

            Tim.

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