Peer-to-peer – not just music

In an earlier posting, “Closing the Barn Door“, I argued that the Supreme Court case on Grokster was a case of locking the barn door after the horse has already run away. Music sharing has moved from peer-to-peer systems to email and iPods. The solution of limiting peer-to-peer technology, therefore, will not address the issue.
If fact, limiting peer-to-peer technology may do more harm than good. The opponents of this lawsuit argue, as was the case with video recorders, there are multiple legitimate uses of the technology and therefore it is not primarily a technology for the sole purpose of infringing on copyrights (that is the legal argument).
In a story on Reuters, Peer-To-Peer Users Share More Than Stolen Songs, reporter Andy Sullivan gives us a great over view of what those other uses are:

Peer-to-peer, or P2P, software allows users to connect directly to each others’ computers, bypassing the powerful servers that underpin much of the Internet. Web pages, spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations and other material usually stored on servers can thus be made public directly from a user’s hard drive.
That makes online communication much simpler, said Steve Crocker, who helped develop an early version of the Internet as a graduate student in the 1960s.
“When you think about the amount of hardware and bandwidth and storage that we all have available on the most common of machines and then you think about how hard it is to actually work together, there’s a huge disparity,” said Crocker, whose Shinkuro software ( allows people in different locations to work on the same document. Encrypted communication keeps snoops and hackers at bay.
High-school teachers in Washington have turned to Shinkuro to develop lesson plans, and researchers on a polar icebreaker have used it to send back photos of unusual ice formations, Crocker said.
Two online standards-setting bodies, the Internet Engineering Task Force and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, have developed agendas and other material with Shinkuro, he said.

The story goes on to discuss numerous other applications of the technology, including getting around the censors in China.
Clearly, peer-to-peer is emerging as a key innovation-enabling technology.
Let us hope that the Supreme Court Justices have heard of these examples. In an economic era where innovation should be our top priority, we would be pennywise and pound-foolish if we tried to shut down this enabling technology. It would be akin to making the automobile illegal because sometimes bank robbers use cars to make their getaway.

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