Monday, August 13, 2007

Practical Limits of File Sharing

A recent survey of teenagers and college students about file sharing revealed that despite threats of lawsuits from the RIAA, file sharing is thriving. In my opinion, file sharing will never end - not all of it is illegal. And as long as the networks exist, files will always be shared.
Though, there are limits that will curtail the file sharing phenomenon:

(1) You'll need more and more hard disk space to store all the files you download. A full (uncompressed) movie requires 9GB. A regular DVD rip requires 4GB, and many TV downloads are about 350MB large. A music album is about 125MB. With such space requirements, you computer will soon fill up, and that alone will slow down the file downloading habit. This is a weak argument though, as hard drive prices keep coming down sizes increase. Right now, you can buy hard drives at about 70 cents/GB. Small cost.

(2) A lot of file sharing utilities are advertisement-supported, which install malware and ad engines on your computer. Some of these utilities know how to disable antivirus programs and firewalls, and can turn your computer into a zombie. For fear of such a nightmare, people will stay away from file sharing. However, a new breed of no-ad download utilities is thriving. Some even check the authenticity of the files you download.

(3) Internet speeds will always deter whether downloading is worth your time. Presently, you can download a TV show in 30 minutes, and a full album in 11 minutes or so, depending on availability. ISPs can now detect whether you are downloading by monitoring traffic trends on your connection. If you suddenly start using consistently high bandwidth, their software can automatically throttle you down to a trickle.

(4) Software you need to rip DVDs, capture TV shows, and extract albums is getting more and more complex. It takes more than a few tries to get things right. This complexity will keep a lot of people away from file sharing activities. In addition, as ripping and sound/video capture from HDTV and such becomes more popular, there will be fewer software that's available for free. And as encryption schemes get harder, the activity will naturally decrease.

(5) Threats of lawsuits: a lot of people just hate to be tangled up in lawsuits they can necessarily avoid. The RIAA doesn't make sense when they try to charge you $750/song! But it'd be time wasting for you to want to defend yourself - the RIAA is a company of lawyers that pretend to watch out for artists' rights. I don't think that they care when their cases are without merit.

(6) Poorly designed file-sharing software: you don't want it to take over your internet. Some just hog your entire connection and expose to the world more than they should. If you can't surf normally because you are downloading or sharing files, it's a bad experience that'll discourage the activity.

(7) Burden of proof: anyone that sues you for illegally downloading their stuff has to prove that it is indeed their stuff that you downloaded. They have to find it on your computer, statistically show that it is a copy of what they have, and prove the means that you got it. It's not easy to get a warrant to seize someone's computer because you think they stole your source code or software - more proof is needed.

(8) Not all file sharing is illegal: so networks cannot be shut down and technologies absolved. For example, owning DVD-ripping software is legal and so is backing up your DVD movies. Problem is that a lot of people rip rented movies, and that's the vice. The laws being unclear will keep the world of file-sharing alive.

(9) US laws do not apply to other countries. Although most of the content being shared back and forth originates from the US, our laws don't apply to citizens elsewhere. If their governments are lazy about enforcing anti-piracy laws, more loss to US producers.

(10) Availability of files will always be sketchy. Files available for download depend on the season really - most people have the latest shows and music, partly because they have to clean up eventually (see #1 above). It's a rotating cycle that cannot be relied on. In addition, only about 30% of computer users leave their computers on the internet "all the time".

(11) Sharing stingy-ness: because share seeds can be tracked and because seeding files makes your computer a server, most people don;t share after they download files. That's selfish, by the way. Others share for a few minutes a day, which is hardly enough to broadcast your content to even the most popular trackers (talking BitTorrent here).

(12) It's geek activity to file-share and download. Those who think it's that bad an image won't do it. Beyond that, you need a certain levels of technical savvy to know which software, processes and places to go to for these services. About 60% of internet users have no idea about such things, or it's too tedious to be worth it.

Some of the points are limits against organizations such as the RIAA and their cohorts. I don't even know what will happen to file-sharing when non-DRM music begins to outsell copy-protected versions, or when digital TV becomes so popular you can watch it from your computer or even save shows directly to your computer. As we say in the programming world, if it's software, it's hackable. If it runs on my machine, I can rip it. If I can hear or see it, I can record it. And as long as I have friends, I shall share with them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Here's a site - - that doesn't totally fit into everything you've said here about file sharing. It certainly doesn't have the geekyness you rightly mention. That's probably because everything centres around a social networking site - - where the files can be searched for and commented on even though they are actually being served from users' own PCs. Cool hey?