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DCIA writes to Congress
August 24, 2006
Thomas Mennecke
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Who is the DCIA? The DCIA is the Distributed Computer Industry Association, a trade organization that lobbies on behalf of commercial P2P developers. What’s a commercial P2P developer? A commercial P2P developer represents a growing aspect of file-sharing, composed of networks that were once considered "unauthorized."

But not every commercial P2P developer/company belongs to the DCIA. The DCIA has a specific membership of over 80 companies, with such familiar names as Sharman Networks, Grokster, Altnet, and Brilliant Digital. Noticeably absent from the DCIA is LimeWire, who once belonged to P2P United, a seemingly defunct P2P lobby group.

In the DCIA’s ongoing struggle to persuade the Congress of the United States that file-sharing has legitimate and practical uses beyond unauthorized content distribution; CEO Marty Lafferty has penned a letter to our representatives with the intentions of convincing, or at least earning the consideration, of the DCIA’s intentions. Seven years since the advent of mainstream file-sharing under Napster, this task continues to prove difficult, as the entertainment industry continues to struggle against unauthorized file-sharing networks.

The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) has been overwhelmingly successful against various commercial operators, and earned a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 2005. The MGM vs. Grokster decision gave the entertainment industry a new weapon in their enforcement arsenal. The Supreme Court ruled that P2P developers were indeed responsible for the actions of their users if they encouraged copyright infringement, otherwise known as inducing copyright infringement. Although intrinsically the decision was remanded to the lower courts and technically not a victory, it gave the RIAA the ammunition it needed to wipe out most American based P2P developers. The notable exception is BitTorrent, Inc., who has so far avoided a similar fate to Grokster because of its relationship with the MPAA.

The fly in the ointment, for interestingly enough the DCIA and RIAA, is that none of the thwarted networks have a controlling interest in the overall size, distribution, and development of the file-sharing community. Grokster was destroyed, true enough. But Grokster connected to the FastTrack network; which has struggled in recent years to hold on to its once impressive audience. iMesh was forced to transition to a pay-model network at a modest price of $4.1 million (compared to Grokster’s 50 million, BearShare’s 30 million, and Sharman’s 100 million), yet this client also belonged to FastTrack. BearShare was also banished, yet belongs to the Gnutella network which is controlled by the open source community. Similarly, eDonkey was forced to “throw in the towel”, yet this client which connects to the eDonkey2000 network only has an approximate 10% share in the overall size of this massive community.

So where does this leave everyone? The DCIA is faced with the challenge of convincing the US government, and to a lesser extent the RIAA, that their organization is a completely separate entity from the unauthorized file-sharing factions. It also has to convince both entities that it’s committed to protecting and respecting intellectual property rights. P2P clients that belong to the DCIA, except for Sharman Network’s Kazaa, have incorporated various mechanisms to deter, if not prevent, unauthorized file-sharing (Kazaa is expected to incorporate such mechanisms as part of their settlement.)

With the absence of every P2P application and network blocking unauthorized files, the DCIA must show it’s committed to protecting intellectual property rights by alternative methods. This is where Altnet’s claimed ownership of hash code technology comes into play. In Marty Lafferty’s letter to congress, the DCIA CEO explains how ISPs can mitigate copyright infringement by taking advantage of such technology. In the letter, Marty Lafferty expresses that his members are actively settling with the entertainment industry, and also developing the means to enforce their settlement agreements.

“1) Files transferred via decentralized P2P protocols are identified by a pre-assigned unique known file identifier. This unique identity of each file can in turn serve as a homing device for routers at Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to target, with pinpoint accuracy, those files which need to be acted upon to enforce copyright infringement, eradicate criminally obscene content, or protect national security interests.

“2) Targeted files, for example, could include known occurrences of child pornography, identity theft, and terrorist communications, as well as unauthorized copies of music, movies, games, and software. As noted above, the technologies required to accomplish this major improvement are available, inexpensive, and will have the added benefit of greatly reducing demand for bandwidth due to the resultant reduction in voluminous large-file piracy, such as for unlicensed redistribution of music collections, feature-length films, television program series, videogames, and computer programs.

“ 3) Files that are not targeted remain free to pass through: they are not disturbed, opened, reviewed, or compromised in any way. Privacy of underlying data (and users associated with that data) is upheld with the same high regard enjoyed by the public today. The adoption of these anti-piracy solutions will enable P2P to realize its full potential as the most cost-effective and efficient distribution channel for copyrighted works.”

Hash codes, file-hashes, magnet links, verified links, or whatever they’re called these days, are tricky little devices that have indeed rendered attempts to flood P2P networks with false files nearly impotent. While it’s true that verified files could be blocked by zeroing in on a specific hash code, the slightest change to the file structure also radically alters the hash code – while leaving the file intact to the ears or eyes of the end user. While the DCIA is likely committed to ensuring its end of the bargain with the entertainment industry, it remains to be seen how ISPs will react, as they have a much larger consumer base to keep satisfied.

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Entertainment Industry :: Other

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