Kate's Comment

Thoughts on British ICT, energy & environment, cloud computing and security from Memset's MD

Copyright’s death throes?

To give the guys a break I had been doing the Christmas on-call. Keeping a weather-eye on our plethora of monitoring systems I noticed a spike in bandwidth usage from one of our customer’s servers. A few moments later the cause is obvious; some script kiddie has hacked in and started up a bit torrent site serving various illegal rips and wares. The proliferation of copyright infringement is enormous – are we witnessing the death of copyright?

It was a moment’s work to kill off the torrent site, and I sent a gentle email to the customer in question suggesting that they might like to take advantage of our Perimeter Patrol™ security services. He was a lucky one – many of our customers only decide to get us to manage their server’s security for them after a major, and damaging intrusion, but in their case no harm was done. There are plenty of commercially-run sites as well; it is not all just hackers stealing others’ bandwidth, and peer-to-peer file sharing is constantly growing especially as home broadband connections become ever-faster.

There is an on-going battle on the encryption and encoding front too. Just recently in The Register I heard that someone has already cracked the new HD DVD’s anti-rip system; embarrassing in the extreme for the HD DVD format’s supporters. The problem is, at a simplistic level, if you can play it then you can copy it. There are simply no two ways about it, and I for one think the music and movie industries are fighting a battle they cannot win, and should be taking a different approach entirely.

I am hardly innocent myself; I am quite a fan of allofmp3.com (a Russian mp3 site that purports pseudo-legality), but in my defense I primarily use it for getting good quality rips of CD’s and tapes I already own and therein, I think, lies a potential savior of the music industry. People like me do not want to be criminals, and we are also quite happy to pay a modest fee for a convenient service. I could have just ripped my CD’s for free, but I preferred to pay a few dollars and not faff about with disks etc.

Traditionally, a major cost for the media industries has been distribution, but the Internet renders that tiny. I am no expert, but I am pretty sure the music industry could make good money even at a small fraction of the current prices, say 10-20p per track. If combined with a really good interface most people would be quite happy to pay rather than mess about trying to download dodgy mp3’s.

In fact, it might even allow the music industry to sell a lot more thanks to being able to make “smart suggestions” based on what other users with similar tastes also like – there are already examples of such systems out there. Equally, such a model would be a great boon to small-time artists who currently have a nightmare getting their material heard since there would be minimal costs associated with getting your music listed, and if it was good then the “smart suggestions” system would auto-promote it. Everyone wins. Hmm, why am I giving out potentially-killer business ideas to the world? 😉

However, this all powerfully reminds me of a sub-text to an excellent book I read last year by Peter F. Hamilton, Misspent youth. It portrays a world where ubiquitous high-speed connectivity and massive personal storage capacities have rendered copyright impotent, and the professional production of new novels, music and movies ends. Such a future seems, at times, chilling near.