Final Project: Stop SOPA at Yale – by “Mollie D”



       Our project was to plan and implement an advocacy and awareness campaign concerning the Stop Online Piracy Act. This piece of legislation, currently being debated in Congress, would place severe restrictions on Internet activities and free speech. The act also restricts Americans’ ability to obtain affordable prescription drugs from abroad. SOPA is the culmination of entertainment and pharmaceutical industry pressure on Washington to place stringent protections on intellectual property, and the resulting draconian measures threaten to undermine the fundamental principles of Internet freedom. The Internet has grown at such an astonishing rate because it has largely rejected harsh restrictions on user activity. SOPA violates the theoretical pillars necessary to the Internet’s functionality, and breaking the Internet in such a fashion would bear negative consequences for individuals and businesses that rely on the Internet’s facilitation of free information exchange.

       In formulating our project, we decided that a campaign aimed at students and tailored to their concerns would maximize the effectiveness of our efforts. We thus chose to use Internet and social media based methods of communication, and we concentrated our substantive content on issues most relevant to college students. We did not limit our coverage to these issues though, as we aimed to provide a breadth of information about the bill’s negative consequences. By using social media platforms, traditional media outlets, and two different blogging platforms, we were able to spread our message to many Yale students and provide valuable information about SOPA’s Internet-breaking policies to the campus. We hope the lasting impact of this campaign will not only be to facilitate continuing interest in SOPA’s progress, but also to engender a general sense of vigilance in the form of participatory democracy concerning free speech and Internet regulation that resonates well into the future.

Part 1: Launching a Campaign

       Our primary goal of this project was to spread awareness of SOPA and hopefully rally others around opposing it. In order to do this, we tried to appeal to many different groups by using a variety of platforms (Facebook, Twitter, WordPress). We also attempted to broaden our appeal by using satire and humor in addition to more pointed intellectual critique of the legislation. We tried to tap into the very things that SOPA would likely cut into: user-generated content, memes and places where you can share links. While we created a lot of our own content, we also tried to post relevant and interesting articles and sites that others had made. One particularly enjoyable and interesting story involved “The Megaupload Song” that received a takedown request, presumably automated, from some RIAA-related entity (Universal Music Group) because it featured many RIAA artists even though Megaupload (a major file-sharing site) owned all the rights to the video. If you’re curious, the (quite catchy) song can be found on Youtube, and there’s more information here. Also, if you’re into remixes, check out this link.

       A major challenge for our group in promoting the anti-SOPA movement was fighting the general Yale apathy and our generation’s apathy that comes with having people constantly inviting you to do things (spamming you). This challenge was exacerbated by finals period, and consequently, we weren’t able to get an Op-ed published in the YDN (as they stop publishing early in December). However, we were able to raise a good amount of awareness as many Yalies hadn’t even heard of SOPA prior to our outreach. Through explaining SOPA’s specific relevance to college students as well as posting some of the amazing articles and content available around the web, we were able to educate (and hopefully inspire) a lot of people.

       As of this writing, our Facebook page has 130 likes which is equivalent to about 3 percent of the Yale Undergraduate population.  While this number is fewer than we would have liked, we speculate that many people for political reasons and/or page like accumulation effects were reluctant to like our page. However, our Facebook page insights seem to indicate that many people still benefited from and engaged with our content. As we see below, our weekly total reach (the number of unique viewers who saw our content from 12/8/11 to 12/14/11) was 3,303 and peaked at 5,191 for the weak ending 12/12/11. Thus, a large percentage of Yale undergraduates likely read something we posted and learned more about SOPA.


       To complement our Facebook and WordPress, we created a Twitter account, @StopSopaYale, to complete our social media approach. The Twitter was useful in that it let us keep a small but interested group completely up to date on every #sopa happening. Additionally, the Twitter account was useful because it let us retweet other people’s views and comments on the SOPA debate. This allowed us to combine other people’s opinions with our own and give a lot of different viewpoints on the topic. The Twitter page was also an interesting foray into trending topics and extremely concise posts, a nice contrast to the more drawn out and in depth arguments of our WordPress blog.  Currently, we have 20 Twitter followers and we are on the list of one anti-SOPA advocate.

       In our opposition to SOPA we took both the pragmatic path into what specifically the SOPA legislation said and would do immediately (and why their is concern about intellectual property protection) as well as the somewhat hyperbolic path, wherein we demonstrated the absurdity of how broadly SOPA is written and speculated on the potential consequences that SOPA could have. In this way, we provided our audience both with a quick draw in (the two line memes and absurd scenarios depicted in videos) as well as further information if they were interested in understanding the issue on a deeper level.

Part 2: A Creative Approach

       In raising awareness within the Yale community about the flaws of SOPA, we aimed to create original content which would specifically appeal to Yale students, both in addressing issues relevant to our audience and by presenting this material in an entertaining form.  Thus, we created internet memes, videos, an op-ed for the Yale Daily News, and a blog.  Additionally, we wrote an anti-SOPA form letter for Yale students to send to their members of Congress which was tailored to reflect a Yale student’s perspective.  Finally, to make all of this content easier to access, we either linked the material to the Stop SOPA at Yale Facebook page or we created static HTML pages for the material with corresponding tabs to our Facebook page.

Internet Memes:

       The use of internet memes provided an effective and engaging way to point out the ridiculous elements of SOPA.  In generating our anti-SOPA memes, we drew from internet memes which were already popular and recognizable, such as the Lazy College Senior or Futurama Fry.  Thus, Yale students would be able to easily recognize the humor which we aimed to convey. Plus, internet memes can be easily shared and transformed.  Consequently, we hoped that our fans would not only share our anti-SOPA memes, but would also craft similar memes themselves.  Some topics which our memes addressed were the possible end to interactive websites such as Facebook and Wikipedia, the end to fair use online, and the halting of future innovative online start-ups.

Video Posts:

       Similar to the internet memes, the videos which we created aimed to point out insensible aspects of SOPA in a humorous way.  However, through videos we could portray these aspects in a more in-depth form to help our audience gain a better understanding of the problems created by SOPA.  For instance, the video entitled SOPA Courtroom Battle illustrates the extreme changes SOPA will make in criminalizing copyright infringement.

Form Letter:

       By creating an anti-SOPA form letter, we hoped to encourage students to be active participants in the Stop SOPA at Yale campaign, rather than just passive followers.  While creating awareness on campus about SOPA is important, it was equally important to us to inspire a response to the bill.  As mentioned above, we tailored the form letter to address the concerns of Yale students.  This form letter, with instructions on how to send it, was posted both on our Facebook page and our blog so that it could be easily accessed.


       As another form of outreach on campus, our group wrote an op-ed piece to be published in the Yale Daily News.  Unfortunately, it was too late in the semester for the op-ed to be published immediately, but it can currently be found on our blog and an updated version will be posted in the YDN early next semester.  Like our other creative content, the op-ed piece exemplifies many of the problems with SOPA and the article’s sarcastic, comical tone aims to keep our readers engaged and entertained.  Also, the op-ed piece directs our readers to visit our Facebook page,, and Wired for Change.


       The Stop SOPA at Yale blog provides a forum for our group to express our opinions about SOPA extensively and provides a space for our followers to contribute their own viewpoints.  Similar to the op-ed, the blogs are written with the goal of being both informative and compelling.  Our blog posts touch on a variety of topics, ranging from the different camps of anti-SOPA supporters to the effect SOPA can have on healthcare.  In addition, three of our members held a live blog session to cover Congress’ markup debate of SOPA.  Through the blog, our group elevates our position in the anti-SOPA movement: not only do we provide a channel of information to Yale students, but we are also contributing to the online voices against SOPA.

Part 3: Becoming a Part of the Action

       One of the more interactive aspects that we integrated into Stop SOPA at Yale was our creation and operation of a live blog. After learning that there would be Congressional debate held to discuss the SOPA legislation on Thursday, December 15 (which just so happened to fall in the middle of our SOPA campaign), we realized it presented a great opportunity to add very direct and significant value to our campaign efforts. We would have been foolish not to somehow take advantage of the fortuitous timing of the most defining event to take place regarding SOPA to date. Sooo, we decided to conduct a continuous live blog during the House of Representatives’ Full Committee Markup. For the sake of clarification or if you are not really sure what a markup is, it is “The process by which congressional committees and subcommittees debate, amend, and rewrite proposed legislation.”

       Up to that point, the majority of our campaign’s content was based upon content published online, in the news, by political commentators, activists, etc. We had yet to really dig deep into the real diplomatic activity and reality of what was actually happening with SOPA on Capitol Hill, or among the politicians who will ultimately dictate the bill’s fate. We knew that by monitoring and providing commentary on the live debate IN CONGRESS, it would add a heightened level of authentic value to our campaign.

The very nature and benefits of maintaining a live blog carried unique advantages that fundamentally differed from the other aspects of our campaign (Facebook page, normal blog, memes, creative scenes, op-ed, etc)….

       Live blogging gave us a channel to portray not only our opinions about SOPA and why people should take a stand against it, but also the ability to present a discussion based on the statements made by representatives in Congress to support our previously published content. Furthermore, as proactive “Anti-SOPAs,” conducting this event forced us to seriously pay attention to what is ACTUALLY going on with SOPA in the political sphere. When participating in a public protest, it is very easy to get caught up in the overwhelming flood of public opinion online and in the media. Blogging live on the congressional hearing during which political figures delivered their positions helped us stay grounded.

       The main goal of our campaign was to engage Yale students in a compelling way. We believed that a live blog would be (relatively) more captivating (to the extent that a live blog really can be) than other forms of content. Our idea was that a live blog on the Congressional markup would attract more attention to the issues we were trying to convey to the student body. We also realized this would make the substance of the debate more accessible. Essentially, we sought to accomplish two campaign goals: 1) more exposure for our campaign, 2) heightened attention and knowledge to students about the bill itself.

       We believe we were able to bring the experience of the House debate in an appealing way to those who may not have followed it live, but wanted to have a taste of what went on. The live blog was an aspect of our campaign that probably linked closest with the “real-life” implications surrounding SOPA. The most fitting conclusion I could provide about this endeavor would be – POLITICAL PARTICIPATION AT ITS FINEST!

Part 4: A Rewarding Experience

       Ultimately, we deemed our advocacy campaign a success. As is discussed above, our data shows that our Facebook page reached a large number of individuals, both those inside and out of the Yale community.  We believe that we helped further the anti-SOPA cause and exposed the weak points of the legislation. It was especially exciting to be involved with the anti-SOPA activity at this particular stage, when the bill is one of its most hotly debated points. This allowed us to piggyback off of other anti-SOPA campaigns’ publicity and allowed us to run a live-blog of the bill’s mark-up in Congress.

       It was an extremely rewarding experience for us all, both in terms of educating others about the dangers of SOPA and learning ourselves about the controversial bill, as well as about other related debates regarding the freedom of the Internet. The project also allowed us to gather (or hone) many different skills using technology that we might have never been exposed to, including creating and running a blog (and live blog), creating memes and other internet videos, writing simple HTML, and using and linking Twitter, Facebook, and blog pages. The project was therefore a perfect culmination of our semester in Introduction to Law and Technology, reinforcing and combining new technological skills with knowledge about current Internet debates that in the future will allow us to be better informed and more active citizens of the Internet world.

Mollie DiBrell
Charles Gyer
Sam Helfaer
Nicholas Makarov
Zachary Tobolowsky
Will Kirkland

A Convenience Approach to Curtailing Music Piracy – by “Zack RW”

Music piracy is on the decline in recent years. At the high point near the close of 2007, 16% of internet users relied on a P2P service to download music. But by the end of 2010, that figure had fallen to 9% just after LimeWire, probably the most popular P2P service at the time, was forced stop operating by a court injunction. This decline, which many suggestwas largely a result of LimeWire’s cessation, looks at first glance like a big win for copyright, and it is. However, more curious is exactly why it had such an impact, as internet-goers are far from unable to pirate music without LimeWire. LimeWire was, in addition to a direct P2P filesharing network, a torrent client, which people use to quickly download files—often music files—from other users around the world who are “seeding” them (sharing them, making them available for download). Other torrent clients include (but are not at all limited to): uTorrent, BitTorrent, BitComet, Deluge, FrostWire, Vuze, and Transmission. Anyone with even an ounce of determination can still illegally download music for free.

LimeWire in action

Just as the drop in overall illegal P2P downloading was unlikely a result of incapacitation, it is improbable that the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) managed to significantly deter would-be and ex-pirates through lawsuits against individuals. Between 2006 and 2008, the RIAA spent over $64 million on lawsuits that earned $1.4 million in total settlements. And they went after only a small fraction of violators. The scope of the problem is too vast to attack on an individual level, and few pirates quake in their boot and peg-leg at the thought of the RIAA.

Cartoon Pirate

(Video links: an Anti-piracy ad and a semi-funny Parody to anti-piracy ad on YouTube)

So why did so many people stop infringing copyright when LimeWire disappeared? Perhaps a more reasonable explanation than incapacitation or RIAA crackdowns is that the shake-up caused people to reevaluate their most convenient listening option. LimeWire’s decline provided enough illegal downloading inertia for some users to realize that music was far more freely and legally available than it had been when they started using LimeWire. One could find almost any music video on YouTube, listen to any artist on Pandora or, and track down any song through a subscription service like Rhapsody or the new Napster, or even through the Zune community (in theory—nobody actually has a Zune). For about a dollar a song, they could scour the vast library of iTunes, and download almost any song to well-organized and easily manipulable libraries and playlists. Legal access to music had become far more convenient since the days of buying CDs and waiting up to fifteen minutes for them to import into your library. Let’s take a closer look at a few of these champions of convenience.

Zune Community photo
The Zune Community


Since its inception in 2005, YouTube has grown to serve over 3 billion videos each day, about 15% of which it monetizes through advertisements. It carries popular music videos, such as those legally posted by Vevo, and is a popular destination for on-demand music streaming.


For those willing and able to afford it, iTunes is an intuitive and easy-to-use organization and storage option for music. Apple is also planning iTunes Match, which is currently in beta testing. ITunes Match, they hope, will monetize previously pirated music: for around $25 per year, iTunes will take all of your music (up to 25,000 songs), sync it with Apple’s higher quality versions, and keep it in the cloud for you. Stop paying the $25 each year, and your access to the music in the cloud disappears. However, anything you downloaded and store locally you get to keep.

Itunes Match

Pandora Radio

Pandora is a music streaming and recommendation service that allows users to pick an artist or a song and then plays a variety of music that the user is likely to enjoy based on its similarity to the original choice. Each of Pandora’s 100 million users can give “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” to each song, which Pandora factors into future predictions. Especially useful for discovering new tracks, Pandora is like YouTube in that it is most suitable for one-time listening, rather than for building a reusable and well-organized library.

With around 40 million users, is another recommendation service known for its ability to work synergistically with other software. For example, it can extract play count data whenever an iPod is plugged in and use it to improve it’s recommendations. It is also integrated with the next and (I think) most exciting marker of how listening to music is changing, Spotify.


Although it had no bearing on the piracy decline in 2010—it’s only two months old in the United States—Spotify, which was founded by the former CEO of uTorrent, Daniel Ek, might just be the service that gets people to really abandon torrenting for more “legitimate” music service. First off, it can automatically sync with a computer’s iTunes library, eliminating the hassle of transferring a whole library. It lets users access any song in its catalogue of over 15 million songs, form playlists, and integrate track plays into, all for free. For $5 a month, ads disappear, and for $10, Spotify will sync all of one’s devices, allow for mobile use, and let users download songs to play while they are offline. Of the service’s 10 million users, approximately 1 million are paid users. When my free trial expires that figure of paid users is certainly going to increment.

Spotify comes to the United States; spelling conventions remain across the pond

Part of the magic of services like Spotify rests in their ability to take advantage of the fact that music no longer needs to exist as a physical entity in the sense that CDs and cassette tapes did.

Boom box
Hi-Fi baby

Therefore, it is less important to own a physical copy of an album or a single, and much more feasible and convenient to settle for just having access to any song at any time, via the cloud. In effect, they are exactly the same thing from an internet-equipped user’s standpoint, except she doesn’t have to devote space on her own hard drive to keeping all the files. Optimists will reason that we pay subscription fees to talk on the phone, watch television, and surf the web; it’s only a matter of time before we do the same for device-independent access to 15 million plus songs.

Although it may satisfy a desire for self-righteousness to parade around promoting strict copyright penalties and efforts to shutdown websites that enable or promote copyright infringement, such an approach, for two reasons, is futile as the only strategy. Firstly, the internet is a highly globalized and free environment; copyright law is state-specific. Sites like The Pirate Bay can simply move camp to the Seychelles, and skirt U.S. authorities in the process. Secondly, enablement and promotion of copyright infringement are difficult offenses to define. Did I just infringe on EMI and Sony’s copyrights by providing an external link to The Pirate Bay, which can provide you with torrents of copyrighted works? Does Google infringe on copyright when I search “Rapidshare new Eminem song download.” In both cases, the answer is probably “no,” but the larger and more general point that these questions give rise to is that contributory and vicarious liability judgments are very difficult to make.

To wrap up, it is highly unlikely that illegal music downloads can be prevented completely without significant violations of privacy and freedom. The bottom line is that the illegality of music piracy is not enough to deter people alone, and it is too costly to police on an individual level. Instead of trying (and perhaps achieving similar results to other idealistic, non-solution-oriented ventures like abstinence-only sex education and the original “war on drugs“) let’s continue to create legal alternatives that are more convenient than pirating. And let’s nudge users toward checking them out as a piracy alternative by working to shut down specific mass violators like LimeWire. If it works, hopefully we’ll be looking at a world where everyone shells out $10 each month—$10 that far exceeds the opportunity cost of taking the time to assemble a comprehensive library of pirated songs—and in return receives a stocked and personalized library on all of her devices. Who’s down?

Yes, we have no scarcity. – by “Nathan B”

It’s almost as if the law of gravity had stopped working.

For centuries, the law of supply and demand has been one of the foundational concepts of modern economics; it was the beginning of every high school econ class, a ubiquitous term as broadly-understood as the notion  that matter gravitates toward other matter. What, then, are we to make of a world where this fundamental tenet of the free market (or at least half of it) simply ceases to exist?

Demand for goods, services and information is unlikely to dissipate any time soon- supply, however, is another story. The entire notion of supply is built on scarcity, because  the limitations of resources and manpower mean that only so much can be produced and offered to consumers. Modern technology is changing that. Though it may sound ridiculous, the principle of a “post-scarcity” world is in some respects oddly intuitive, because when things like  information are reduced to ones and zeros and their cost to reproduce and distribute is virtually nil, why should it ever be in short supply or even have a cost at all?

The answer is an idea called “artificial scarcity,” a principle which says that even though we can produce more than enough of something to go around, we shouldn’t. This is nothing new, as it forms the basis for the entire notion of intellectual property- access to information must be controlled, because if anyone can have it for free, how can it ever turn a profit? Or, more simply, infinite supply and finite demand is a great deal for consumers, but not so much for producers.

One could go on at length (or perhaps even teach a seminar) about the ways in which access to artificially scarce information is regulated and monetized, but it goes further than that. For now, it’s primarily information which is subjected to this treatment, but what happens when you don’t need to buy a computer, a phone or even a sandwich, because your 3D printer can make them all for you? Is there a way to get out of this jam without placing untold restrictions on the spread of information?

Yes, but it might not be pretty. Welcome to the world of post-scarcity anarchism, a phrase coined by author Murray Bookchin in his book of the same name (available here and here, ironically in both artificially scarce and readily available versions, respectively) to describe a world where capitalism and the state have no purpose, as there are enough resources for everyone. Information is shared freely and services are provided in pursuit of prestige, not profit. Ridiculous? Possibly. Utopian? Definitely. Impossible? Maybe not.

The question comes down to consumers- will they continue to pay for goods and services which they can get for free with ever-increasing ease, or will they begin to break down one of the basic building blocks of capitalism? For now, it seems that a mixture of both is preferred, try though copyright-holders may to stem the tide of things like file-sharing. Still, online communities like Wikipedia, Slashdot and Reddit are growing at stunning rates as users elect to contribute to a communal, readily-available pool of information for free. If more and more of society really is moving online, perhaps freely-offered, user-generated content will come to replace the copyrighted materials of old.

Nonetheless, producers can and will continue to fight against the natural erosion of scarcity, but as they say: in the end, gravity always wins.

A Pirate’s Life in Sweden – by “Dennis H”

Gary Fung is no small potatoes, but the real big fish in the BitTorrent pond is The Pirate Bay. The Swedish site reached 25 million unique peers way back in November 2008, and now counts itself among the 80 largest websites on the entire Internet. Pirate Bay works just like any other BitTorrent site, allowing users to search the web for the newest torrent files of music, film, video games, and porn — but unlike other torrent sites, it has the good fortune to be stationed in the world capital of Internet piracy: Stockholm, Sweden.

Sweden: A Pirate’s Paradise

Pirate Bay founders Gottfrid Svartholm and Fredrik Neij never tire of pointing out the differences between Swedish copyright law and its American counterpart. One of their favorite forums for doing so is their own website, where they routinely post DMCA takedown notices they receive from American-based law firms, along with their own hilarious and colorful replies. In response to this DMCA takedown notice from the legal counsel of DreamWorks (TPB users had been pirating an unauthorized copy of Shrek 2), Svartholm, who goes by the web alias anakata, had this to say, in an email dated August 2004:

As you may or may not be aware, Sweden is not a state in the United States of America. Sweden is a country in Northern Europe. Unless you figured it out by now, US law does not apply here. For your information, no Swedish law is being violated.

Please be assured that any further contact with us, regardless of medium, will result in

(a) a suit being filed for harassment

(b) a formal complaint being filed with the bar of your legal counsel, for sending frivolous legal threats.

It is the opinion of us and our lawyers that you are ……. morons, and that you should please go sodomize yourself with retractable batons.

Please also note that your email and letter will be published in full on

Go fuck yourself.

Clearly, anakata and the gang believed themselves for quite a long time to be living under a rather benevolent copyright regime. Elsewhere, in response to a takedown notice from EA (for an unauthorized copy of The Sims 2), anakata responds, in September 2004:

Hello and thank you for contacting us. We have shutdown the website in question.

Oh wait, just kidding. We haven’t, since the site in question is fully legal. Unlike certain other countries, such as the one you’re in, we have sane copyright laws here. But we also have polar bears roaming the streets and attacking people :-(.

As Napster, Grokster, SuprNova, and LokiTorrent began toppling in the United States in 2004 and 2005, TPB just kept firing off these off-color replies to DMCA takedown notices, boasting about the state of “sane” Swedish copyright and inviting American lawyers to sodomize themselves. Secure in the presumption of Swedish sanity, TPB executives had no reason to think themselves vulnerable.

But Then Things Got Real

In retrospect, anakata’s confidence in the Swedish government had reached its peak in the summer of 2004. In July 2005, the Swedes began enforcing anti-piracy laws under the European Union Copyright Directive, which had made it illegal to distribute software with the purpose of promoting copyright infringement. On May 31, 2006, Swedish police raided the Stockholm offices of anakata and friends, confiscating TPB servers and detaining three TPB associates for questioning on the suspicion of facilitating violations of copyright law. “The actions taken today in Sweden serve as a reminder to pirates all over the world that there are no safe havens for Internet copyright thieves,” said MPAA chairman Dan Glickman after the incident. (Note: To TPB’s credit, the site was up again three days later: a quicker recovery time than for other catastrophes of similar magnitude.)

A few years later, in 2009, Svartholm, Neij, and two other TPB executives found themselves in trial for promoting copyright infringement. The plaintiff was a consortium of intellectual property groups, chief among them the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI). When all was said and done, the four pirates were sentenced to a year in prison and tagged with a fine of 30 million Swedish kroner. That’s a lot of bottles of rum.

The state of Swedish copyright remains unclear after that decision. All four TPB defendants have appealed the verdict, alleging bias on the part of judge Tomas Norstrom — the same judge who had ordered the raid on TPB servers three years earlier. Swedish media soon uncovered the fact that Norstrom had connections to several intellectual property organizations, through which he had previously become acquainted with several of the representatives for the entertainment industry.

Pirates in Politics

Whether or not the verdict is ultimately overturned, however, Sweden seems to have a strong grip on its status as cultural capital of Internet piracy. One remarkable indicator of the robust culture of Internet piracy in Sweden is the birth of the international Pirate Party movement — an up-and-coming group since its foundation in 2006. The Pirate Party is now officially registered in 18 countries, including the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, France, and Canada. The Pirates control five city council seats in Germany, three municipal councilors in the Czech Republic, one city council seat in Switzerland, and — most importantly — two Swedish delegates to the European Parliament. The Piratpartiet stole more than 7 percent of the Swedish vote in the 2009 elections, winning the party its second seat and a strengthened claim to worldwide political legitimacy.

Amelia Andersdotter, now 23, assumed office in December of 2009, becoming the youngest member of the European Parliament. Captain Hook, Jack Sparrow, and Blackbeard would all be proud.

On Dodd @ the MPAA and COICA – by “Bill T”

Rumor has it that Chris Dodd will be taking over the leadership of the MPAA’s policy operations, despite his claims (and the legal obligation) that he’d not become a lobbyist after leaving his 30 year time in the Senate.

The MPAA’s agenda last year ended in a wash, as the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act was stalled in the Senate. This bill would have made it easier for the government to shutdown websites which were “obviously” directed at distributing copyrighted material, though it also has the danger of unfairly targeting perfectly legitimate websites.

Dodd’s potential ascension leads me to wonder where the MPAA’s efforts will be directed next. Under interim leader, Bob Pisano, the priority has been very clear: stop piracy. The MPAA’s ardent support of the COICA is a clear reflection of that. But Dodd’s history as a legislator may indicate a much needed shift in the forthcoming MPAA legislative agenda. Dodd’s prior support of net neutrality is clearly at odds with the MPAA’s concern that a neutral internet is also a piracy-friendly internet.

Perhaps Dodd’s conflict with his potential future employers will lead both to consider a new approach to current issues in file sharing and copyright infringement. In focusing so much of its efforts on directly stopping filesharing, the MPAA has ignored the fact that the websites the COICA and other measures seek to eliminate are simply individual heads of a hydra, and without cauterizing the hydra’s wounds (by adapting to the new contours of the movie business), the problem simply won’t go away, and only the consumers will be left battered and bruised by overbroad protective measures.

The MPAA, and its counterparts in other industries need to understand that their industries have changed. They do not need to give up on the powers of copyright, but neither ought they hold on to the dominance of an increasingly obsolete top-down hierarchy. Regardless of the illegal origins of the new attitude toward creative works, consumers are simply no longer willing to pay nearly as much as they used to for movies and music. The businesses need to adjust their own models and meet the consumers where they are now, rather than hope that they can ultimately fix the problems with the free exchange of copyrighted materials on the internet. It’s hard to compete with free. But it’s not impossible.

Envisional Estimates Infringing Use – by “Wesley W”

Piracy Report 2011

NBC Universal commissioned Envisional, a business specializing in protecting other businesses from fraud and piracy, to analyze bandwidth usage on the Internet. Their goal was to determine what percentage of that usage infringed upon copyright. The report was released in January 2011. The report studied global internet usage and internet usage in the United States.

Blame it on the P2P

The report estimated that p2p traffic accounted for most of the copyright infringement on the Internet traffic. Specifically Bittorrent is estimated to account for 18% of all Internet traffic and of that traffic 63.7% was infringing material. This suggests that 11.4% of the global Internet traffic was non-pornographic copyright infringement conducted through bittorrent.

The bittorrent traffic was followed by cyberlockers such as MegaUpload and RapidShare. The infringing content of cyberlockers were estimated to account for 5.1% of all internet traffic. Other forms of P2P file sharing like Gnutella, eDonkey and Usenet were estimated to contain mostly infringing content. 86.4% of the content was infringing and non-pornographic and totalled 5.8% of global Internet traffic. Video streaming brought up the rear with a measly 5.3% of all video’s being infringing totaling 1.4% of global internet traffic. As you can probably tell from the charts above the numbers for Internet usage in the United States is about the same.

Of Porn and Piracy

For the most part, the report excludes data on pornographic content because they had difficulty discerning the copyright status of the content. When the top 10,000 torrent links were investigated and sorted by type the report found that 35.8% was porn, 35.2% were films and 12.7% were television shows. The remaining 16.3% was a combination of software, PC games, music, console games, anime, sports, books/audiobook and unknown content. This confirms that bittorrent P2P is mostly used for copyright infringment and porn videos.

Pirates anyone?

While the majority of content on p2p networks was found to be infringing it was interesting to note that music was no longer the most pirated material on the Internet. The numbers and chart above were for global Internet usage but the numbers for just the U.S. are pretty similar. The whole report can be read here.

When will it end? – by “Jeffrey Z”

I remember when I first discovered BitTorrent. It was just too good of a deal to pass up. All I had to do was go on Mininova, find whatever video games that I wanted, and click on the tracker link. That’s it. No hassle, no waiting (except for the often horrendously slow download rates when people don’t seed!), and most importantly, no money for titles that would retail for over $50. Unzip the file, upload the disc using Daemon Tools, and within 10 minutes after the file finished downloading, I was playing Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War. Just like that.  But even with increasing public focus upon media piracy, to some degree, piracy still remains unfettered, especially within the realms of video games.

Video game developers, unlike the music industry or the film industry, lacks a protective headline institution like the RIAA and MPAA. They don’t often actually take the time or resources to file lawsuits against simple copyright infringement, only aggressively pursuing action when the copyright infringement could disastrously hurt their income.  So many video game developers, rather than working have turned towards more sophisticated ways of preventing piracy.

Many developers, corporate and indie alike, have turned towards online integration as a way to ensure everyone playing has an unique copy of the disk. Blizzard announced, not without much anger and resentment from gamers, that Starcraft 2 would not have LAN (Local Area Network) support, forcing all players to play online, ensuring that Blizzard could ensure unique CD keys. Indie developer Notch, responding to the piracy of his popular indie game, Minecraft, says that “instead of just relying on guilt tripping pirates into buying, or wasting time and money trying to stop them, I can offer online-only services that actually add to the game experience.”

But with each generation with increasingly complex DRMs, there has been just as fervent response on the pirate side. Almost immediately upon release, hackers have worked on methods on cracking new DRMs, a process not to different from jailbreaking the newest iPod firmware.  It’s almost like a Q&A session, responding as if each new generation of DRM was a challenge for them.

I guess the real question soon becomes apparent. How far can this go? How long can developers keep on developing technologies to dissuade piracy? When will it end?

At some point, a balance needs to be struck.  Video games developers cannot be expected to produce quality products yet constantly shovel money towards developing stronger piracy protections.  Will video game developers begin turning towards methods like those that the RIAA uses against copyright infringement?  With growing acceptance of video games as a serious market influence, it’s become a definite possibility.

Google, Corporate propaganda, and the future of P2P – by “Sebastian P”

Last week, Google and bloggers all over had a fit about this ruling, a ruling in which three Google executives were convicted and sentenced to a 6 month suspended sentence (which is apparently legalese for “you’re wrong, we’re right, still feel free to tour our country”) for violation of Italian privacy laws as a result of a video uploaded onto Youtube that depicted a Down Syndrome Autism (apparently the media got this confused. The media getting something wrong? Could this be a trend?) teenager being taunted and beaten up. Why were people so upset with a ruling like this? Clearly if these people at Google allowed for such an atrocious video to be uploaded, they’re evil individuals who need to be put in jail… right? Well, sure. If they were involved and responsible. However, the uproar stems from just how little involvement these convicted “felons” had. They collectively had no idea the video was uploaded until after it was taken down, no involvement with the uploading process of the video (it’s completely automated on Youtube), and no involvement in the creation of said video.

Are they really at fault? Common sense says no. In fact, common sense questions the legitimacy of the Italian court system after such a ruling.

But wait. A group of individuals convicted for something they had no control over, worked with police to remove specific material, and really were too busy to know of everything that was on their website? Let’s take a look at The Pirate Bay.

When The Pirate Bay Trial took place a year ago, one of The Pirate Bay’s (TPB) stronger legal claims was that they provided a service similar to Google: they indexed the existence of so-called .torrents as a search engine and that the content indexed was unknown to the website’s owners.

An aside: My buddy Mike mentioned that there’s definitely a contingency of people who don’t believe Google and thePirateBay to serve the same function. If you’re in that contingency (or if you’re not, but feel the need to click on URLs anyway), check out (EDIT#2: Seems as though part of the website’s Google script functionality goes down once in a while. Wonder why. If you want to try the same functionality of thePirateGoogle, preface your search keywords with the phrase “filetype:Torrent”).

Because if thePirateBay had just changed their name we wouldn't have any problems...

Additionally, TPB had no involvement in the creation of said files (legal or illegal), no involvement in the uploading of said .torrent file (it’s automated as well), and cooperated with the police when asked to take down explicitly illegal material for which they had proof of (Sweedish Police + Child Porn + Pirate Bay The Tagline is right. It’s really much a do about nothing).

Sounds a lot like what Google is having fits about. So when Matt Sucherman, Vice President and Deputy Legal Counsel for Google says, “Common sense dictates that only the person who films and uploads a video to a hosting platform could take the steps necessary to protect the privacy and obtain the consent of the people they are filming,” doesn’t it indicate that common sense dictates that only the person who films and indexes their illegal movie recording on an search engine platform could take the steps necessary to protect the privacy and obtain the consent of the movie producers who made the original film? I contend common sense does indicate that.

So why then does the public view Google so favorably, yet view services such as thePirateBay as demonic?

Misinformation: The Prosecution’s Strongest Argument

In October of 2007, Alan Ellis, a 24-year-old man from Middlesbrough in the United Kingdom was arrested, his computers seized, and then questioned for many hours. This man was the creator of OiNK, which according to the BBC was an “extremely lucrative” website that:

“The site allowed the uploading and downloading of pre-release music and media to thousands of members.”

An IFPI spokesman said: “Once an album had been posted on the OiNK website, the users that download that music then passed the content to other websites, forums and blogs, where multiple copies were made.

“Within a few hours of a popular pre-release track being posted on the OiNK site, hundreds of copies can be found further down the illegal online supply chain.”

Oh Oink... You're still missed by music lovers everywhere

Now I love the BBC, almost as much as I love NPR (seriously. Great, rather unbiased news sources). But I jumped out of my chair when I read this in class during my junior year in high school. I knew then what others know today: All that stuff is wrong.

Let’s go down the list of things wrong with that IFPI statement:

  1. OiNK was extremely lucrative.

By far one of the funniest claims. OiNK wasn’t making any money. In fact, for most months, it was losing money (not losing a lot of money, but definitely losing money). There were no ads on the website, so you couldn’t make the argument that he received ad revenue. So the only real “income” source that OiNK had was that pink donate button in the upper right hand corner. If someone has a business plan that’s rooted in an unintrusive donate button (that’s about 400 pixels in size and found on only some pages of a website in the upper right hand corner) that’ll be extremely lucrative, please e-mail me. I’d love to start a business with you.

2. OiNK uploaded pre-released tracks and distributed it them to hundreds of websites.

So funny thing about this claim. OiNK actually had a strict terms policy that demanded high quality music found in album form only. Note a couple of things. A) High Quality and B) album form only. The problems with that claim about the pre-release track is three-fold: For anyone who rips music into MP3, it’s hard getting  a high quality rip unless you have the actual medium (IE the CD). Second, because of the stipulation for high quality music, pre-released music that comes from a non-traditional medium (IE leaked by an insider), would not have received the final remastering that most music goes through, thus would not meet the quality standards of OiNK. Lastly, if OiNK stipulates that only Album torrents be shown on the website, how would single pre-release tracks be blamed on OiNK?

These two things are among many facts that spread to the general public by IFPI through legitimate new sources, but were grossly inaccurate. So inaccurate that Alan Ellis was A) released from prison after hours of testimony on how his software worked and B) found unanimously innocent by the courts on January 15, 2010, 2 years after the IFPI heralded a great triumph for the music industry.

In the OiNK story, you find a tactic the music and movie industry used by the industry: Corporate propaganda. Whatever, you call it, this misinformation severely hurts potentially innocent case-law, especially in a jury trial. For laws involving such technologically sophisticated mechanisms such as BitTorrent, how would any even-minded, yet unbiased individual differentiate between the facts and the lies?

They don’t. Or rather, it’s very hard to. This same misrepresentation of technology information happened during The Pirate Bay trial as well. The evidence presented by the prosecution during day 5, in which evidenced previously unshared with the defense that depicted inaccuracies in the sharing of files (they had a screenshot of a client, yet no information that explicitly links the material to thePirateBay among other things), exemplifies this discrepancy. If the jury/judge doesn’t understand how tracker information works, how would the defense respond correctly? It becomes increasingly difficult to. Thus, the prosecution gains the advantage for doing such a thing.

When cases such as Alan Ellis are broadcasted as a triumph of good vs. evil, but hold factual inaccuracies, what’s the file sharing website to do? When the court doesn’t understand how magnet linking through bittorrent clients don’t involve the tracker host (FYI, they don’t), how do bittorrent trackers claim safe haven? OiNK is dead and it won’t be back despite the fact Ellis was found innocent. When organizations such as the IFPI gain such an advantage to misrepresent specific facts or to simply tackle cases knowing individuals lack technological knowledge, we all lose.

What the future holds:

“Experts” from all over will tell you that the death of MiniNova means this for P2P and that the verdict of thePirateBay case will mean that for file-sharing, but in reality, nobody’s really sure.  P2P is a magnificent tool for sharing information. Clearly, too much information for many music and movie industry advocates. However, through all of this some facts remain clear: Peer to Peer networks provide a valuable resource in terms of crowd-sourcing bandwidth consumption. Gaming companies such as Blizzard have been doing this for years now (Case in point: If you have millions of people trying to update their World of Warcraft clients with a file that’s a few hundred megabytes, you’d use a form of bittorrent too). Twitter has also turned to Bittorrent as a method of managing their bandwidth.

I’m of the personal opinion that legal methods always seem to pre-empt illegal concerns. As the Sony vs. Universal Case showed with VCRs, generally positive uses out shadow the negative ones. Sure, business structures change, but that’s all part of how the world works.


Leaking Through the Cracks – by “Michael C”

Last week, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) notified close to 100 companies that their employees have been sharing sensitive customer and employee data on P2P file-sharing networks. The FTC did not release the list to the public, but FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz stated that “companies and institutions of all sizes are vulnerable to serious P2P-related breaches, placing consumers’ sensitive information at risk,” so it is quite possible that some bigger companies were affected, especially those who have many employees who all use computers.

In recent years, with more companies distributing laptops instead of desktops to employees, the problem has grown worse. Users can now take their work home with them, and are therefore more likely to mix their business and personal lives on the same computer, installing file-sharing programs to download their favorite songs, for example. After installing these programs, users are asked what folders they would like to share, and it’s easy for a casual user to breeze through this dialogue, accidentally selecting their documents folder containing all of their (and the company’s) sensitive files.

LimeWire share folder selection
LimeWire share folder selection

This problem has actually become so common that there are “cybercrime gangs” that are dedicated to searching P2P sites to obtain sensitive documents. In their investigation, the FTC reported that they easily found everything from financial records to social security numbers, perfect for use in an identity theft. To test this, I fired up LimeWire, clicked on “documents” (in the search categories) and typed in “taxreturn.pdf.” Sure enough, after only a few seconds, I was able to download someone’s electronic tax return (completed in TurboTax), complete with financial information and social security number! After my experiment, I had no doubts in the FTC’s claims.

Searching LimeWire for taxreturn.pdf
Searching LimeWire for taxreturn.pdf
The downloaded tax return
The downloaded tax return (redacted by me)

The FTC has been pushing for tighter regulation of P2P software for years. They are in favor of legislation that requires P2P file-sharing programs to provide clearer notice about what files are being shared, and make sure that consent is obtained to share those files. Many industry watchers see P2P traffic growing exponentially (by some estimates, up to 400%) in the next few years, so the problem will only get worse. To address this, the government has finally acted—H.R. 1319, or the “Informed P2P User Act,” has been passed by the House and is currently being reviewed by a Senate committee. It would let the FTC place civil penalties on the P2P program distributors who do not meet a certain standard of providing “clear and conspicuous notice, in advance” to users about what specific files and folders the P2P program will share, and obtaining consent from the users before sharing those files on the public P2P network. There is also another bill being reviewed by Senate committee, H.R. 4098, or the “Secure Federal File Sharing Act,” which would require the government to issue rules regarding the use of P2P software by government employees, the people who are likely to have confidential information on their computers.

The issue of accidentally sharing confidential files via P2P has existed for a long time, probably since the advent of Napster. Yet, over ten years later, the Senate is only now considering legislation to make P2P programs safer. Why the delay? It seems like the government ignored the problem for a long time due to the illegal nature of P2P. Perhaps they felt that by creating legislation regarding P2P file sharing, they would be legitimatizing these programs. At this point, however, it is clear that P2P file sharing is not going anywhere anytime soon, and it has become mostly accepted in our society. Therefore, I’m glad that the government is taking steps to make P2P software more secure, rather than just shoving the problem under the rug and hoping that it goes away.

Tragedy of the Digital Commons? – by “Merlyn D”

**Note: For my blog post, I will focus on music in P2P, although P2P technologies are also used to share books, software, and personal files.

There was an era just a few years ago when P2P was the way to get music for cheap.  P2P, which is a network architecture system through which users are both consumers and suppliers, filed into the mainstream with the advent of music sharing.  Back in 1999, Napster up-ended the way music could be perceived as a “private” good when it became easy and free to obtain music.  Over the last decade, P2P technology has grown to enable the mainstream public (the more the better) to obtain music for free. As music is increasingly more characterized as a public good (that is, the only real “price” of obtaining music is the small amount of bandwidth necessary to download), will there be a tragedy of the digital commons? [the link provides background info], and how does anyone prepare for it?

The landscape of P2P has changed.  Interestingly, The NPD Group research company announced that in 2009, there was a 25 percent decrease in illegal file d

ownloading in the U.S. on P2P web

sites.  Interestingly, NPD reported that despite the decrease in file downloading and move toward ad-supported music web sites, the “musical industry saw 24 million fewer legal

music buyers in 2009,” which included, “1 million fewer buyers of music downloads” (CNET).  This trend means that not only are music industries losing money, but the file sharing rates (including, but not limited to music) have fallen as well.  With falling levels of use of legitimate forms and illegal forms, is there a winner?  How can there be a winner?  Is there a better way to balance social surplus (the pleasure of having music) with the surplus of a company (revenues)?  The grave question is: will there be a point at which neither music producers nor users will be incentivized to keep producing music for consumption?

This could mean several things: 1)discouraged by the now “expensive” costs of official music, consumers opt out of buying; 2)accumulated files from P2P sharing means there are fewer reasons to purchase music; and 3)consumers have found superior options.  Undoubtedly, the trends seem to suggest that there is a move away from ownership of music, whether it’s legitimate or pirated.

In our readings, we discovered that the battle over the ownership of media is not new.  In fact, during radio broadcasts were treated similarly until collective licenses were distributed.  Without a way to eliminate such illegal web sites, music producers/distributors are forced to come up with new ways to bring up revenues.  The models today for how music can be distributed generally fall into three areas (please refer to Fingertip for specifics), which include free music, a fee for music (access), and a monthly “bill” for music.

The model that Matt brings in seems to suggest there is some sort of equilibrium through which, the resources that we have now charged at a fair price will create an effective sharing of music that somehow maintains quality, profits, and demands.   If NPD’s numbers are correct and the trends will continue to demonstrate that p2p utilization is falling along with music industry revenues, that means that “choosing the right package” may not be as feasible (or a stable solution).  As distribution rates fall with musical industry revenues, any “model” to fit does not appropriately predict for future environment for music sharing.  Even if music industries were able to obtain collective licenses to create such pricing models, I question whether there is truly a stable state where the profits of these companies will be able to large enough to compensate for falling demand.