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Thursday, 8th February 2007

Resources of the Week: Music...and File Sharing

Music...and File Sharing
By Shirl Kennedy, Senior Editor

In the days right after Christmas 2006, the Apple iTunes Store pretty much slowed to a crawl as folks rushed to redeem their iTunes gift cards, eager to fill their new iPods with music and other digital entertainment. The general consensus is that Apple has basically revolutionized the way people acquire and listen to music -- and hopes to do the same for TV programs and movies. An Apple press release issued last month announced that "more than two billion songs, 50 million television episodes and over 1.3 million feature-length films have been purchased and downloaded from the iTunes Store, making it the world’s most popular online music, TV and movie store." The iTunes store went online in 2003.

Those figures may sound impressive, but not when you consider that "more than 1 billion digital tracks are illegally traded for free each month," according to an estimate by Eric Garland of Web consultants Big Champagne, in a Reuters article just this week. File sharing networks have grown much more sophisticated since Napster (which has since relaunched as a legal download service) was released in 1999, and the Recording Industry Association of America started hyperventilating...and suing. The RIAA has a point...and reason to hyperventilate; according to the Reuters article, compact disc sales have "declined 23% globally between 2000 to 2006," and "the number of illegal downloads were up by 24 percent" last year.

Some folks say they've gone over to the Dark Side because they are unhappy about Digital Rights Management technology that prevents them from doing what they want with music they have paid for and downloaded. Just the other day, Apple honcho Steve Jobs discussed this issue, explaining why music purchased from the iTunes store can only be played on a Mac or PC via iTunes or an iPod.

Since Apple does not own or control any music itself, it must license the rights to distribute music from others, primarily the “big four” music companies: Universal, Sony BMG, Warner and EMI. These four companies control the distribution of over 70% of the world’s music. When Apple approached these companies to license their music to distribute legally over the Internet, they were extremely cautious and required Apple to protect their music from being illegally copied. The solution was to create a DRM system, which envelopes each song purchased from the iTunes store in special and secret software so that it cannot be played on unauthorized devices.

And he hinted at what would happen if DRM went away:

Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats. In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players. This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat. If the big four music companies would license Apple their music without the requirement that it be protected with a DRM, we would switch to selling only DRM-free music on our iTunes store. Every iPod ever made will play this DRM-free music.

But realistically, it's probably safe to say that most people who engage in illegal downloading are mainly interested in getting something for nothing. The file sharing cognoscenti are largely on the BitTorrent network these days. According to Brian's BitTorrent FAQ and Guide:

BitTorrent is a protocol designed for transferring files. It is peer-to-peer in nature, as users connect to each other directly to send and receive portions of the file. However, there is a central server (called a tracker) which coordinates the action of all such peers. The tracker only manages connections, it does not have any knowledge of the contents of the files being distributed, and therefore a large number of users can be supported with relatively limited tracker bandwidth. The key philosophy of BitTorrent is that users should upload (transmit outbound) at the same time they are downloading (receiving inbound.) In this manner, network bandwidth is utilized as efficiently as possible. BitTorrent is designed to work better as the number of people interested in a certain file increases, in contrast to other file transfer protocols.

It's important to realize that BitTorrent was not designed specifically for illegal file sharing. There is an actual company called BitTorrent, Inc., which scored $20 million in its second round of funding in December, according to Red Herring.

Once almost exclusively associated with illegal downloads, BitTorrent has cleaned up its image and is now a leading brand in the rapidly expanding content delivery business.

As the Internet’s capacity for video grows, content owners are seeking outlets for their massive storehouses of archived material. BitTorrent, with its technology that turns user computers into distribution sources, represents a significant force in the market.

Using its peer-assisted technology, large files that seem to take forever to download can move much faster because the file is broken down into much smaller pieces.

In its most recent announcement, the company said it has signed deals with 20th Century Fox, G4, Kadokawa Pictures USA, Lionsgate, MTV Networks, Palm Pictures, Paramount Pictures, and Starz Media.

And yet...it is ridiculously easy to find and use a BitTorrent client for digital piracy -- and not just of music. Movies, television programs, audio books, software applications...all there for the downloading. And, of course, pr0n -- always found on the bleeding edge of any technological innovation.

+ About.com's Internet for Beginners guide lists the Top 35 Torrent Sites of 2007. The disclaimer here provides a good indication of the murky waters you're about to wade into, with this final caveat:

The more megabytes you download, the more you risk being sued by copyright protection groups. Please know this risk before you use any of the following Torrent search engines below.

+ Digital Business Models for Peer-to-Peer Networks: Analysis and Economic Issues: "In this article we review the economic characteristics of P2P networks and outline the implications of these characteristics on efforts to counteract illegal piracy and on potential uses of P2P networks in a commercial media distribution strategy."
+ "The Hype Machine tracks a variety of MP3 blogs. If a post contains MP3 links, it adds those links to its database and displays them on the front page."
+ An extensive list of legal online music sources is available from the Recording Industry of America. Besides the subscription and ala carte services, there is plenty of free legal music available online.
+ Music and Video Downloading Moves Beyond P2P: "About 36 million Americans—or 27% of internet users—say they download either music or video files and about half of them have found ways outside of traditional peer-to-peer networks or paid online services to swap their files....," says this 2005 report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
+ Slyck is a hub for file sharing news and information.
+ Wikipedia offers a file sharing timeline if you're interested in the history of this issue.
And a currrent related post here on ResourceShelf:
+ A Long Time in the Making: Download Movies Purchased From Amazon.com Direct to Your TiVo


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