Pirates?

According to this BBC article, the UK government is preparing a paper that proposes that anyone found guilty of sharing pirated material via the Internet will have their access disconnected. It’s an interesting idea but as ever betrays a complete lack of understanding of the Internet not to mention a worrying lack of regard for privacy.

The number of technical hurdles to be overcome to implement this proposal is huge. An ISP would need to be able to monitor every single packet of information passing through its servers and retain some form of log of where it came from and where it went. They would need a means of identifying which piece of data is from a pirated source and which is legitimate. There is no difference between a DRM-free MP3 track purchased by legal download and an MP3 ripped from a CD and shared illegally so some form of digital signature or watermark would be needed.

What about information that has been encrypted? Would every piece of encrypted data be automatically treated as suspect and the onus placed on the Internet user to decrypt it and prove that it was not obtained illegally? Turns the old “innocent until proven guilty” standard somewhat on its head that, doesn’t it?

Then there’s the issue of privacy. As far as digital information goes a packet of illegal audio and a packet of your personal details look exactly the same – a sequence of binary digits. An ISP would need to look at both not just as a packet but as reconstituted whole in order to address its legitimacy. And before you know it some unscrupulous scoundrel has gathered together your details and either stolen your identity or sold it on to the highest bidder with not a single pirated file in sight!

Of course, the key thing that the government and the media industry fail to grasp is that all those computer scientists, nerds, geeks, etc., are smarter than they are. For instance, there’s an improvement to the BitTorrent protocol called Similarity Enhanced Transfer which relies upon the fact that two data packets can appear to be identical even though the sources from which the derive are different. Using this similarity the improved protocol should make data transfer rates even faster. Whilst, funnily enough, making it harder to spot which chunk of data was from a pirate source.

And that’s before you factor in the advances in encryption that will inevitably be sparked off as the aforementioned computer fraternity opens up fresh sluice gates for the piracy tide to flow through.

If the media moguls of this world really want to reduce piracy they only have one option. That is to wake up and smell the stench given off by their pricing strategy. Store bought CDs, DVDs, audio-books and games are too expensive. The digital downloads they offer as alternatives are too expensive. Many artists (particularly film-stars) are paid way in excess of their worth as perceived by us punters. If the media industry wants us to buy their product then they have to adapt to the marketplace and bring their price into line with !

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