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Peer-to-Peer by Andy Oram

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The policy debates

Napster and Gnutella have really been at the center of the policy debate surrounding the new breed of peer-to-peer technologies. For the moment, let’s forget about the debate that’s burning in the technology community about what is truly peer-to-peer. We’ll get back to that later and tie all these policy questions back to the technology.

Napster wars

There is only one thing that gets people more riled up than religion, and that is money. In this case, the squabble is over money that may or may not be lost to online music swaps facilitated by services such as Napster and systems like the Gnutella network. This war is being fought by Napster and the RIAA, and what results could change the lives of everyone, at least in the United States.

Well, sort of. The idea that lawsuit or legislature can stop a service that everyone enjoys is certainly a false one. Prohibition was the last real effort (in the U.S.) by the few against the many, and it was a dismal failure that gave rise to real criminal activity and the law’s eventual embarrassing repeal. We have an opportunity to see all that happen again, or the recording industry could look at what’s coming down the road and figure out a way to cooperate with Napster before the industry gets run down by next-generation peer-to-peer technologies.

Napster, at least, provides a single place where file swappers can be taxed. With Gnutella and Freenet, there is no place to tax, no person to talk to about instituting a tax, and no ...

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