Interview with the CEO of StreamCast Networks
August 16, 2003
StreamCast has gone through more changes and faced more challenges than most other p2p clients combined. The changes of network and source code from OpenNap to FastTrack to Gnutella are well documented. In addition to this, StreamCast has undergone several changes in leadership, specifically its CEO. Michael Weiss led the company through its phenomenal success with both OpenNap and FastTrack. He recently returned to the company and with a legal victory under his belt he is seeking to regain the old success of Morpheus.
Can a company that self-admittedly lost contact with much of this community attempt a resurgence? Slyck gets answers from Micahel Weiss, the CEO of StreamCast on lawsuits, FastTrack, P2P, the RIAA, the attempted resurgence of Morpheus and more ...
Tell us more about your efforts to make Morpheus users anonymous. How effective is the use of proxies (that you encourage users to add to Morpheus) in protecting users?
I’m not sure that we encourage our users to use proxies, as much as we make our users aware of the availability of proxies – and leave it to their good sense about whether they want to use proxies or not. The current implementation of proxy servers through Morpheus should be considered as just one step of what needs to be done to provide full anonymity to protect users from unwanted intrusions to their privacy. Since there already exists a worldwide network of public proxies, this was a quick first effort for us.
We are working on more solutions and consider this to be one of our top objectives. Our users want anonymity and the basic rule of success in business is that you must listen to your customers. We are listening. But there is something much more powerful that can be done to protect your privacy and it has nothing to do with technology. In the US, there are 63 million file-sharing voters. Your voice needs to be heard in Congress and I pledge that Morpheus will help facilitate this. Peer-to-peer is wonderful because it gives power to the people. Now the people must use their collective power to be sure that Congress listens less to the recording industry lobbyists and more to their constituents. That’s the end-game. Also, we encourage users to support the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s "Let the Music Play" campaign
When you came back to the job you stated that you wanted to put Morpheus back in the number 1 downloaded slot but kazaa still holds this spot. Morpheus downloads are less than 10% of what they were at there height. Why do you think this is so? Do you still believe that you can regain the no.1 slot?
This story is filed in these Slyck News categoriesFile-Sharing/P2P Related :: InterviewsP2P Clients :: MorpheusYou can discuss this article here
Michael Weiss: Without a doubt we can take out Kazaa. They stopped caring about their users just about right after Kazaa was sold to Sharman. Their AltNet software is an example of that. Kazaa’s lack of concern for their users is their weakness. When Morpheus first joined forces with Kazaa, their FastTrack Network was operating for 6 months and only had 5,000 users. Four months after Morpheus launched, the network had 40 million users with over 2 million on the network at any moment of the day. The majority of those users were Morpheus users. Yes, they have a lot of momentum right now, but I know that with the right moves on our part, we can once again regain that top slot. Unlike the majority of Slyck readers, the general public needs to be educated about what Kazaa is
really all about.
Slyck Ciarán: There has been some debate as to the size of the Gnutella network. How many unique users would you estimate are connected at any give time? What percentage would you estimate are Morpheus users?
Michael Weiss: Morpheus has approximately 500,000 people using Gnutella everyday. That number is growing and double of what it was just a few months ago. I don’t believe that the size of the user base is the problem. The technology of Gnutella needs improvements to become more efficient. That is happening and development is ongoing. For the past 18 months, Morpheus did not contribute to the technological development of Gnutella or peer-to-peer. I have changed that so watch for some exciting developments in the months ahead that will show the community just how innovative the “new” Morpheus has become.
Slyck Ciarán: How do you assess your chances of wining the RIAA appeal against the summary judgement.
Michael Weiss: The appeal is just one of several assaults that we face from the RIAA. When I first started Morpheus, I knew that if we were successful, that the RIAA would be coming after us with everything they could. I always believed that what we were about to do was right morally and legally within the law. The central issue here is whether P2P file sharing developers should be held liable for providing a product that has many useful and legal purposes just because it could be used the wrong way. In our case, as in the Sony Betamax case two decades before, the Federal Court recognized that you can’t ban new technology just because it
threatens an old distribution model. It will be a sad day for everyone
if the Appeals Court determines otherwise. We expect to prevail and if
we do not, we will take this to the Supreme Court if we must. We also
believe that the 63 million file sharing, voting Americans will take
the issues to Congress, so that the laws are passed to reflect social and
economic realities, to embrace a compulsory licensing that would give
us a solution similar to the one we have today for radio.
Slyck Ciarán: The RIAA recently launched a separate lawsuit against you for creating a database of CD's. It was seen by many as an attempt to get StreamCast to collapse against a weight of litigation. Can you afford to defend yourself against this suit and pay any resultant damages?
Michael Weiss: The bullying tactics of the RIAA to spend their opponents into submission is nothing new. What is surprising is that we were sued for what we were contemplating on doing (launching an Internet Radio webcaster). We don’t expect to have to pay damages when we did nothing that was illegal. But you are right that all this litigation is costly. The only way we can afford to defend ourselves against the onslaught of the RIAA, is to generate revenue. The more users we have the more money we will have to fight the RIAA. We have to balance our need to generate revenues with the need to provide our users with a good experience on Morpheus. So we do have ads, but I scaled them way, way back. We do offer third party software bundles, but we are very selective on who we accept as our partners. I have reinstated the NO SPYWARE policy that I had when Morpheus was #1. OK, I know we are going to have a lot of debate on this subject but it is important for users to realize that not all 3rd party software behaves badly. We’ve made it a priority to make sure that our partnerships are free of spyware, and add value to the user experience. In the coming weeks, we will become even more proactive regarding our NO SPYWARE policy. Anyway, I don’t want to whine about our continual need for money to fight the RIAA, so we just deal with it and do the best we can.
Slyck Ciarán: How would you predict how the 'FastTrack lawsuit' will end? Some believe that the lawsuit may continue until 2007. Do you think it will take that long to conclude and how do you think it will conclude?
Michael Weiss:At the end of the day, I believe it could either take an act of Congress or a Supreme Court ruling, or both, to get closure on the issues raised in this case. This is a landmark case and the outcome will change the digital media landscape forever.
Slyck Ciarán: The summary judgment stated that you were not liable for Morpheus as it currently stands as a Gnutella product. It did not remove you from being liable for MusicCity when it was a more controllable open Nap product. Do you fear a lawsuit related to your Open Nap product?
Michael Weiss: The current lawsuit is all encompassing and includes all of our products. There is no question that we have a fight on our hands and we take each day as it comes.
Slyck Ciarán: Going back some time... Your were CEO when Morpheus was on the FastTrack network and StreamCast was experiencing huge popularity and success. One of your biggest regrets must be not paying the small Quarterly bill to Kazaa BV/Joltid/Zeenstrom which resulted in Morpheus been kicked off the FastTrack network ? At the time you expressed anger at the FastTrack creators for what you perceived as lies about the controllability of FastTrack. Doesn't what they did to Morpheus prove that they can exercise some control over the network?
Michael Weiss: I had a very good relationship with Niklas Zeenstrom, the founder of Kazaa and FastTrack. Morpheus was not kicked off of FastTrack under my watch. If I had remained as head of Morpheus, I think that Morpheus and FastTrack might still have their partnership in tact. If I were a user of Kazaa today, I certainly would wonder over the amount of control that they might have over my personal computer. However, since we at Morpheus never were able to see the source code, we can only speculate on how they were able to take down 40 million Morpheus users almost over night. I believe there is a lot more to this story and that it had
nothing to do with unpaid bills. Perhaps one day the truth will be
Slyck Ciarán: Back in September of 2002, we spoke with Darrell Smith, CTO of StreamCast. At the time, Darrell Smith also informed us that Morpheus didn't support supernode technology. Has this situation changed?
Michael Weiss: The current version of Morpheus is fully compatible with the latest in Gnutella technology. There were a lot of things that Morpheus didn’t do under the prior management. Our new (old) team has begun to turn things around. Lots more positive surprises will be coming your way soon!
Slyck Ciarán: Pablo Soto (of Blubster/Piolet/MP2P) recently hinted that he was in talks with P2P groups such as StreamCast. Have you had any contact with Pablo?
Michael Weiss: I believe that our court victory has provided the motivation for all of the P2P developers and companies to begin to communicate with each other on a variety of subjects. I have great admiration for Pablo and his hard and innovative work in peer-to-peer development and am happy to see his community grow. I sincerely hope that all the companies that are on the front lines of P2P development continue to succeed and grow. These are the pioneers who risk everything for their beliefs. Each one deserves the support of the community because without them, the online digital media and communications space would be a different place today. There have been a lot of companies that have decided to just close shop and not risk the wrath of the established old media. You know their names. My respect continues to grow for all those that have kept this movement alive. Are they competitors to Morpheus? Sure they are but I am glad that they are still here and fighting the good fight. I see us all working together to ensure that the voices of all our users are heard.
Slyck Ciarán: Morpheus 2 was a combination of code from JTella and Furthurnet without any proper credit for the creators. Why did StreamCast not make more honest disclosures about the origins of the source code? Do you think incidents like this have damaged the Morpheus brand?
Michael Weiss: It’s hard for me to speak about what occurred under the prior management when I was not at the company, but I think that there was a lot of damage to the Morpheus brand, to its users and to the P2P community in general. WHAT WERE THEY THINKING? I can’t say for sure. All I can say about the entire Morpheus PE and 2.0 shenanigans is that it is history. This kind of stuff would never have happened under my leadership. Its a new day at Morpheus and our team is working hard to regain the trust of our users and the community, the trust that we had when we were running the company the first time around.
Slyck Ciarán: Tell us your views of the RIAA's latest decision to sue some of the 60 million Americans that use P2P.
Michael Weiss: I don’t believe we have enough space for me to tell you how I feel about this and I think that StreamCast’s lawyers would probably tone them down anyway. Let me quote a line from the movie TORA! TORA! TORA!... “they have awoken a sleeping giant.” This will prove to be amongst the RIAA’s biggest mistake yet. With the RIAA now going after consumers it is more important than ever that that all the P2P companies work together on ways to support both our users and the rights of the creators of the works – the songwriters, the artists, the filmmakers and not allow the RIAA to viciously and indiscriminately pursue p2p users. The mass media and Congress need to hear other sides of the debate from p2p users and developers. Just as Morpheus beat the RIAA, so can everyone else if we are united. There is real strength in numbers and we need to harness that strength in the battle that lies ahead. We will be there and I hope that every reader at Slyck will join us and the others in this revolution.
Slyck Ciarán: Is the current version of Morpheus based entirely on licensed GnucDNA code? Does it contain any code from Jtella or elsewhere? Tell us about some of the features.
Michael Weiss: We've helped push the open source development of gnucDNA with John Marshall. Our current Morpheus product is built on GnucDNA and does not contain code from Jtella. On top of GnucDNA, we have another layer of code that we have developed internally that creates the Morpheus client. Our new Morpheus version 3.3 will continue to reduce the size of the client and add new features such as integrated virus scanning of files to prevent your computer from contracting a virus from downloads. There’s much more and users can read about the new features at Morpheus.com.
Slyck Ciarán: Anything else you would like to say to the readers of Slyck?
Michael Weiss: Thank you to Slyck and its readers for the support that you showed me when I was running Morpheus the first time. I am not sure how many of the current Slyck readers remember that I was CEO of the Company when we first launched Morpheus and before that, MusicCity Open Nap. It was a lot of hard work from a few very dedicated people and many community volunteers and supporters. Slyck played a major role in helping us become the top dog so rapidly...we could not have done so without the support of everyone back then.
It was unfortunate that at the height or our popularity, I was forced out of the company and a lot of bad karma then followed. The copyright lawsuit was filed against the company by the RIAA, the MPAA, and some music publishers, and Morpheus was unjustifiably kicked off of the FastTrack Network. The day after I was rehired as CEO, Morpheus won a major victory against the entertainment industry in court I have brought back most of our original team and have added some great new members.. Our number 1 task is to regain the trust of our users and to have all of our former Morpheus users return—along with some new friends that we hope to make during our new Quest.
My promise to the Community is that I am going to do my best to bring you back the Morpheus that you once embraced. We’ll probably make a few mistakes along the way, but I am confident that the community will point them out so we can fix them. I consider this interview by Slyck to be an important step in our goal. Thanks for the opportunity... once again. It’s good to be back!
Slyck would like to say a very special thanks to Michael Weiss for conducting this interview and to Brian O'Neal (Director of Communications
at StreamCast) who made this interview possible.