Archive of UserLand's first discussion group, started October 5, 1998.

Re: Ethical issues surrounding Gnutella

Author:Jeremy Bowers
Posted:4/12/2000; 1:02:32 PM
Topic:Ethical issues surrounding Gnutella
Msg #:16132 (In response to 16122)
Prev/Next:16131 / 16133

Interesting idea you have there, making media a web app: how would you make music a secure web app that wouldn't be worth the effort to steal? ... As others have said already, it's way too late to fix this for music.

I don't think you can protect 'straight-line' media. "Significantly" interactive media (with "significantly" left deliberately undefined "qbullet.smiley") on the other hand might be reasonably protectable. (There has never been a time of perfect protection; as you say, economies of scale prevented piracy in the past and I think economics is the key question here.)

A first-approximation would be to estimate the difficulty of piracy as the number of 'segments' a media file consists of. Movies, being straight-line, consist of one, and while it may be a very large segment, and while you may not be able to get at the raw bits, you can simply start it playing and record it somehow.

But suppose it was a highly interactive DVD calling for you to make a decision every 30 seconds? You can pirate an individual path in the same way as the full movie, but to extract the entire tree would be a pain.

With a DVD, one simply copies the DVD of course. But suppose you only get the stream from the server when you request it? It becomes harder.

The ultimate "web-app" (which I'm extending to really mean "internet-app") is online gaming, in particular the "massively-multiplayer" environments like Ultima Online. Extending the idea of "segmentation", gaming has an essentially infinite number of segments, each never repeating. In Ultima Online, you can actually copy the CD with the client software to your heart's content; it doesn't do you any good because you still can't connect to the servers to actually use the game until you pay the server owners.

Any web-application that includes a significant server side portion would also act like this, because games are closer to apps then media. Suppose Pike only worked on Userland servers, and you couldn't (reasonably) change that. You can copy Pike to your heart's content, but if you want that "Save" feature to work, you have to come to the server owner, and that could cost you.

Even web apps can be stolen.

Do you mean by replicating the functionality of the server? This is true, but much, much easier said then done. In the particular example of Ultima Online, for instance, there are those who have successfully replicated enough to use the game with others, but it's nowhere near feature complete, it's more of a toy for those who want to play.

You might also forge an ID to the server, but this problem has already been explored and I suspect that this is not a long-term generally viable solution.

Or did you mean something else?

This doesn't solve the problem for traditional movies and music, of course, but I think it does invalidate the extreme argument of "there will be no way to compensate artists if piracy becomes as rampant here as it is in some parts of Asia." There will still be artists in the future. What to do about "music" and "video" as we now know them I just don't know. I'm against piracy, even in theory, and I'm against restricting fair use (as such restrictions tend to penalize the honest customers more then anything else), but if there's no practical solution to the problems, 'theory' doesn't go far.

PS: Looking back on thise post about 10 minutes later, I realize I'm abstracting software to the point of "A way of presenting a particular set of sensory inputs to a human being.", which is why I can put online music, gaming, and web apps (as we think of "apps") all in one post without too much stretching.

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