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Thursday, February 14

ISPs and Piracy

I read on the BBC that the government are making calls for Internet Service Providers to monitor their traffic and be the major policing behind piracy. Knowing this would open up a can of worms, I posted this on Plus Net's forum to see what the professionals had to say. I have to admit, I wasn't overly surprised, but some arguments were interesting.
The internet has loads of holes that cannot be stopped. One of the more common questions I get asked is "what website can we download mp3s from?", something that stopped happening about 8 years ago. The advent of programs like Napster, Gnutella and Kazaa meant that file sharing over the internet became a lot more widespread but unfortunately so did the progression of some truly nasty viruses. Bittorrent is now the more reliable source of files and peer to peer (p2p) but even this is infallible.
But what is legitimate and what isn't that's sent over p2p? Bittorrent is not illegal. The files are made up of chunks of a file. Each chunk is shared by the seeds, and it isn't illegal to download these chunks. The list of chunks can be downloaded as a list called the torrent, and these can be posted on websites legally (although this is shaky ground). Once you have all the chunks, the program that downloads them even pieces them all together to make the final file, be it the latest chart number 1 mp3, or the latest Hollywood blockbuster. Then and only then, when you open that file, have you broken the law.
So how do you police this? Should you offer up a warning on the screen "we suspect you're downloading copyrighted material, and have blocked it." What about the legitimate users of bittorrent. A lot of amateur films are distributed this way, as are distros of various linux incantations helping keep down bandwidth usage on websites. And what about things on Youtube? How many videos shown on youtube are actually made by the senders? As someone pointed out on the forum, what about photos shown on a website? You download a copy of the photo automatically when you view the site, so does this make it theft?
The architecture behind the whole thing means it'll not be policed, and once again it's just politicians putting their oar in where it's not needed. Mind you, if it weren't for ideas like this, they'd be found out for the lazy workshy bureaucrats they really are.