Essays and Stories
by Seyed P. Razavi

The evolving peer sharing organism

Recently, the RIAA and MPAA or their local henchmen have been attacking peer-to-peer filesharing hubs in an effort to cripple the networks which utilise them.

This strategy will no doubt prove successful in the short term but disastrous in the long-term. In targetting hubs, they have employed one of the few direct assault strategies on decentralised networks that can work. It’s pretty well understand networks that normally would remain stable despite the loss of even large numbers of nodes, collapse when a number of key hubs are destroyed.

Yet fundementally, this only works in the short-term in traditional non-evolutionary networks. If the forces driving the network to exist continue to be a factor and the resources needed to build it remain then the network will rebuild itself in due course. A sufficiently determined and well resourced opponent can continue to assault emerging hubs and perhaps by increasing the cost of maintaining the network beyond the benefits of doing so cause a failure of willpower.

A strategy used in tandem with the assault on network hubs is to partition the key driving nodes from the rest of the network. Legal assaults here serve two purposes: one to remove the worst offenders and two to make an example out of those who would follow in their path.

The two strategies combined can be devastating on non-evolutionary networks where there exists a tipping point between the costs/risks to network participants and the benefits of the network to consumers.

However, both strategies have a fundemental weakness when employed against evolving networks where participants are fundementally intelligent and rationale at a scale not found elsewhere.

The fundemental weakness is that you are forcing the networks to evolve and much more rapidly than they would without your intervention. And the worst thing about evolution is not the fact the next incarnation will be more resilient, it is that a whole host of tangential benefits may improve the usability of the network thus lowering the participation cost.

The problem (from the fuedal media system’s perspective) is that engineers working on peer network solutions are generally unconstrained. The full brunt of their intelligence is brought to bare on a problem that is simple for them to define (how to move files from one computer to another). They don’t need to worry about marketing (their opponents in fact do it for them). They do need to worry about legalities but only in so far as making sure they are at least one step removed from the software’s usage.

In other words, it’s a near-dream technical project for a software engineer which is why so many have worked on it despite the lack of financial incentives. Every failure motivates them and a new generation of engineers to look at it again. The media barons are betting against the smartest people on the planet and whilst no doubt employ some very smart engineers themselves, they are massively outnumbered. [As an aside, what is surprising is how much Western developers have dominated the development of such technology. Either I and a vast number of Westerners are unaware of some pretty hidden networks in Asia and elsewhere or the horde of Indian, Chinese, Korean etc programmers have yet to unleash their own solutions.]

The solution for the media companies is to compromise:

1. Reduce the incentives for average consumers to seek out content on peer networks by: a) Lowering the unit cost of media b) Give consumers greater scheduling control (so they can watch content when they want without the outmoded restrictions on broadcasting and geography) b) Offer compelling alternative delivery systems (see iTunes Store)
2. Accept legitimate content sharing and build business models that can work in such an environment.
3. Do NOT provoke your consumers into illegal activity.

The last part will no doubt seem wrongheaded to moral and legal purists who see right and wrong clearly partitioned. Yet any sensible politician will tell you that putting up laws that force a significant “weak-minded / immoral” portion of your populace to break them devalues the entire legal system. Doing so only makes sense when it’s literally a matter of life and death.

What the MPAA/RIAA are effectively doing at this time is creating their own future nemesis. By not addressing the fundementals of why people seek content on peer networks nor adapting to a world where they do, they worsen their future by training their enemies to be better at a game in which they already hold the aces.