THE BORG V.
By Eric de Fontenay, Editor
Mi2N's B2N, Business Net
July 9, 2003
Who could have predicted it? Wasn't
it common knowledge that file sharing would recede to
the farthest edges of the Net in reaction to the RIAA's
legal threats. The time-tested rule of extreme punishment
as the best form of crime prevention is the cornerstone
of more totalitarian regimes such as Saudi Arabia as
well as the primary justification for capital punishment
in the US. Seems someone forgot to explain the rules
to file sharers though as p2p systems reported a surge
in new users and volumes of traded files. And I'm not
talking about the newer 'anonymous' systems either,
but the old-guard 'monitorable' Kazaa & Morpheus.
There are only two possible explanations
for this blatant inconsistency. The first is that file
sharers are irrational decision makers, willing to face
the risk of costly litigation rather than give up or
miss out on the chance for free music. While such a
degenerative effect of file sharing might appeal to
industry PR types ("Warning: File sharing can make
you dumb!"), a more plausible alternative explanation
is that file sharers are acting in the interest of the
file sharing community/movement as a whole versus as
isolated & disconnected individuals. In other words,
existing/prospective file sharers are tacitly colluding
their actions to ensure the survival and long term prosperity
of the whole.
This hypothesis assumes a few things:
(i) that file sharers are conscience that the actual
risk of a lawsuit is small in the sea of file sharers;
(ii) that the RIAA will focus/restrict their efforts
on the worst offenders; (iii) that the RIAA is not targeting
downloaders which constitute the major portion of the
file sharing community.
If these assumptions reveal themselves
to be accurate, the most appropriate action for file
sharers would be to add to their ranks and crank up
the sharing. This is because that set of assumptions
provides a major loophole in the RIAA's strategy that
actually reduces the average file sharer's risk to nearly
zero. The more members join the community and the more
trading each engages in, the perceived risk is reduced
further, leaving the industry with a grave credibility
problem. It's akin to everyone on a 55 MPH highway going
65 MPH: they are all breaking the law, but by doing
it collectively, they minimize the risk any actual enforcement.
Law enforcemet eventually accepts that when the traffic
as a whole goes at 65 MPH, it becomes the defacto speed
The problem with the alternative
- the RIAA straying from that set of assumptions - are
the political ramifications that would likely result.
For if the RIAA were to start suing downloaders or randomly
suing individuals irrespective of the volume of files
they trade, the true risk to the average trader would
increase significantly as well as their incentive to
exert their extensive political voice. That's why p2p
companies recently formed a lobby group to help direct
that political voice to the appropriate channels of
government. Just imagine on the one hand say 25,000
youngsters suddenly left destitute due to copyright
infringement lawsuits, and on the other, the ensuing
political uproar from parents, extended family, friends,
a sympathetic file sharing community led by their new
lobby group, the media,... all the way up to the halls
of Congress. And 25,000 is barely a dimple in the global
file sharing community, leaving you with better odds
of winning the lottery than getting sued.
It's a scary thought: an ever-growing
community of like-minded individuals sharing a collective
conscienceness - call it a hive-mind - sweeping all
opposition aside in its pursuit of a single goal: to
trade more & more music.
RESPONSE: MY MONEY'S ON THE FEDERATION REBELS
July 10, 2003
I admire your work but must disagree
on this piece.
You ask "Who could have predicted
it?" [that direct consumer litigation would INCREASE
file sharing]. Most anyone.
You accurately describe this consumer
treatment "as a time-tested rule of extreme punishment
... the cornerstone of more totalitarian regimes."
Totalitarian: Of, relating
to, being, or imposing a form of government in which
the political authority exercises absolute and centralized
control over all aspects of life, the individual is
subordinated to the state, and opposing political
and cultural expression is suppressed.
Here's an industry that demands
total control over its product and how its used, denies
civil liberties to consumers, cloaks itself in its "moral
imperative", threatens all businesses that oppose
it, is convicted of price fixing and cheating artists,
blatantly lies, and uses its massive power to pass one-sided
legislation like the DMCA (all documented at the DiaRIAA.com).
In fact RIAA is better than a government. No one can
vote RIAA off the island. In this drama it is RIAA which
pays the part of the relentless totalitarian Borg.
Do you truly expect Americans to
drop the soap and submit to such an organization?
We forget recent history all too quickly. The explosive
rise of Napster and P2P was a form of civil unrest by
consumers against an oppressive industry that had abused
its customers (such as charging MORE for CD's that cost
LESS to produce) and refused to adapt to a digital realm
that its customers already embraced.
This isn't about college kids, foreign
CD pirates, or some fringe group. P2P users are not
some irrational mob or collusive hive mind. There are
60 million US P2P users. It's my daughter and her grandfather.
This is the American public.
The market rules in our economy.
And this market, the American public, was rebelling
against the Borgian RIAA to fight for fairness, choice,
and freedom. A rational reaction.
In response RIAA proclaimed resistance
was futile and brutally tried to maintain the status
quo. It is RIAA that is acting irrationally, even silly
at times, ignoring the public demands of the very market
it needs to survive.
Over the past few years RIAA's behavior
and the industry's lame online efforts have only continued
to fuel public outrage and P2P popularity. Now RIAA's
direct lawsuits scream into this same raw nerve. It's
not difficult to predict that the public response will
be the same as it's been the past 5 years. To vote with
their time, software, bandwidth, and MP3 players on
the side of P2P until the industry adapts. My money's
on the Federation rebels.
2003, Marc Freedman