File Sharing Without The Internet: The Saharan Bluetooth Experience

from the off-the-grid dept

A couple of months ago, Techdirt wrote about an EU politician’s plan to build Internet surveillance into every operating system. As we pointed out then, this could easily be circumvented by using non-Net means for swapping files. It may not be driven by fears about spying, but it seems that communities in Western Africa are using Bluetooth connections between mobile phones to do exactly that:

Digital filesharing doesn?t need the internet. This is the case at least in Western Africa and other parts of the developing world, where computers aren?t yet consumer goods for most and, even if they were, web access isn?t exactly New York City. Lovers of music still get it done, however, sharing files between knockoff cell phones via bluetooth connections and accumulating song collections in memory cards and bitrates that would probably make most in our lossless world laugh. It?s created a music culture that?s uniquely underground, an awesome anything-goes world of No Limit-style rap marrying Megaman-synth workouts, strange new techno-folks, and various other things so far untaggable.

That’s taken from a fascinating interview with Christopher Kirkley, who has put together two compilations of Saharan cell phone music (and made sure that the artists involved get a share of the profits from selling them.) As he explains:

the phones have to be right next to each other, the connections have to be “accepted” on the phone, and the transfers take at least 30 seconds. It?s not like people just wander around browsing through whatever phone is in proximity. Also, the majority of file sharing is between friends, sitting around, drinking tea and smoking cigarettes, trying to pass the time…

This makes Bluetooth exchanges intensely social ? much more so than the anonymous acts that take place across the Internet today. So, far from damaging the culture of file sharing, even the most severe of copyright crackdowns would probably just lead to a blossoming of the offline social aspects here too – to say nothing of some amazing new music.

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Comments on “File Sharing Without The Internet: The Saharan Bluetooth Experience”

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25 Comments
:Lobo Santo (profile) says:

Sneaker net

Ah, how history goes in cycles.

Anybody else remember walking to their friends house to get a copy of the latest cassette tape? (that’s a mini reel-to-reel analog magnetic music storage device to all you youngsters out there).

These days, I’d just walk my 1TerraByte external harddrive over there and give them a copy of so much music it would take them 2 months of solid listening just to hear it all–and it wouldn’t take more than a couple hours to do so.

So, yeah… Internet goes down, sneakernet comes back up. Nobody will be surprised. People and their innovation, gotta love it.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Re: Sneaker net

Even further back, we’d just run over to our friends’ houses and sing them songs we liked, all without paying the performance rights fee.

Even further back……

A minstrel was a medieval European bard who performed songs whose lyrics told stories of distant places or of existing or imaginary historical events. Although minstrels created their own tales, often they would memorize and embellish the works of others. Source

….we had Medieval Freetards!

:Lobo Santo (profile) says:

Re: Re: Sneaker net

Well yeah. Useless laws won’t stop piracy, will constrain competition and ‘Lawful’ users will be horridly annoyed.

In short, a grand waste of time.

For parallels: see ‘The Prohibition” which [sarc]TOTALLY[/sarc] stopped the production and distribution of alcohol in the United States.

For further parallels: The ‘War on Drugs’, the ‘War on Poverty’, the ‘War on Education’ (I think we’re winning that one actually, I hear education is waay down…)

frosty840 says:

Re: Sneaker net

Yes, the this whole SOPA business does rather ignore the fact that I can quite happily carry an entire video collection in my shirt pocket, at the moment, and in a few years I’ll be able to carry around an entire video store’s worth.

Even now, I’m in a position where distribution of any given media file is essentially free (or at least is rolled into costs I’m already paying), and all I want is for some centralised location for me to say “Oh, hey, watching this has given me value I rate at $X, so I’m happy to hand that money over.”

Heck, if that payment site existed in the first place I’d be quite happy to “pirate” the media file and pay them for it anyway. I’m sure that’s how things must end up in the long run, anyway, assuming we are allowed to continue innovating.

The people who wouldn’t hand the money over will find some way around paying for it anyway (if they even have the money to hand over in the first place) and, as Mike continues to point out, those people aren’t worth going after until they start earning enough to become responsible consumers.

So much wasted effort over this…

AdamBv1 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Sneaker net

Even now, I’m in a position where distribution of any given media file is essentially free (or at least is rolled into costs I’m already paying), and all I want is for some centralised location for me to say “Oh, hey, watching this has given me value I rate at $X, so I’m happy to hand that money over.”

Heck, if that payment site existed in the first place I’d be quite happy to “pirate” the media file and pay them for it anyway. I’m sure that’s how things must end up in the long run, anyway, assuming we are allowed to continue innovating.

And this is why I wish flattr would take off and get used by the people I would really like to give money too.

How awesome would it be to just put whatever you can afford to give out a month and split it around by flattring all the people whos entertainment you enjoyed this month. This could perfectly encompass all forms of media from books to youtube videos, it would likely even work for games.

Next best thing would be for every content creator to have some way to give them money directly, via paypal or whatever. I especially wish authors would do this because right now pretty much anyone who is beholden to a major publisher has stupid ebook prices that are commonly the same price or sometimes more even than a paperback book, I would much rather be able to give the author $2-$5 directly than pay $8+ for an ebook hes likely making pennies on.

Loki says:

Re: Sneaker net

The internet won’t go down. These politicians and corporations trying to force this legislation through have no idea about technology and don’t have any understanding that the World Wide Web is merely a part (sure a rather LARGE part, but still just a part nonetheless) of the internet. Even if they managed to take the whole web down, the internet will still be there.

Anonymous Coward says:

When I was in high school the Internet was much too slow for a lot of infringement to occur over it. Yet infringement was very widespread. I knew people with huge collections of infringing materials from software to music and everyone in school pretty much knew who to go to for that content. Very little of it occurred online.

Even before I was in high school I knew of people who were in college at the time that infringed on expensive software that costed over a thousand dollars. The software would take like thirty floppy disks to load into the computer and students would borrow pirated copies to load onto their computers. The student that I knew that did this said that this is pretty much what all the students did. Sure, it was illegal, but the teacher required the software and no one could afford it (it was actually the teacher providing for the illegal copies).

and I know people now who have huge collections of infringing material (movies) and most of it doesn’t stem from the Internet, it stems from borrowing content from friends and making copies.

Infringement can’t be stopped. It can’t even be noticeably reduced. IP extremists know this. But the purpose of our current laws and the expansion of IP laws isn’t to stop infringement. It’s to stop competition. They want to do to the Internet what they have managed to accomplish outside the Internet. From government established broadcasting and cableco monopolies to laws that make it too legally risky and expensive for restaurants and other venues to host independent performers, the government-industrial complex has wrongfully stifled competition in such a way that almost requires content creators to sign away their copy protections over to a self interested third party in order to acquire any distribution. This is exactly what they want to do to the Internet, nothing less. These laws will not stop piracy and aren’t intended to.

Jed says:

I can picture it now....

Before I can watch my newest legally puchased DVD/Blu Ray/whatever-the-current-movie-tech-is-now, an unskippable commercial comes on, showing a sketchy guy walking out of his broken-down apartment, kicks a puppy, steps over the best boy on the movie I’m about to watch (who’s laid out on the street, empty alcohol bottle in-hand), spits on the grip (who’s sitting there with a sign begging for change), on his way over to his equally-sketchy-looking friend to share movies, followed by a written and verbal plea to not share things, because it’s hurting all the little people so much!

(fortunately for them, they didn’t pan up during the commercial, or they might accidentally catch a glimpse of the overpaid actors and studio execs in penthouses, lighting cigars with $100 bills….it might just ruin the mood of the scene)

fogbugzd (profile) says:

Back when I was in college (1970’s) there were a couple of club/bars in town that had equipment set up that let people make copies of tapes. They were very popular with a lot of the music crowd.

Bluetooth devices would not even require the club to provide any equipment. Clubs could get reputations as music sharing hotspots.

There are some points the music industry needs to learn here.
1) Nature always fills a vacuum. Draconian laws in one area don’t eliminate music sharing, they just make it move elsewhere.
2) Underground systems for music sharing generally benefit independent (non-label) artists more than label artists. The more you do to encourage music sharing to go underground, the more you help artists that you don’t control.
3) File sharing has been going on in some form ever since technology made it possible. Prohibition of alcohol got its own constitutional amendment, and it didn’t work. Why do you persist in thinking that prohibiting file sharing will work any better?

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Answer for point 3. Faith. Exactly what powered Prohibition. Make booze illegal and no one will drink. All that got forgotten is that alcohol is humanity’s drug of choice in most situations used for social events, cooking, sitting around small tables in dimly lit pubs between watching strippers.

Faith and faith alone is what makes Hollywood thinks SOPA or PIPA will actually DO anything. People will still pirate as long as the MPAA/RIAA hold onto the past to control distribution and safeguard what they feel they should earn. It will continue as long as certain clothes and handbags are priced higher than a Mars mission.

You don’t stop something by censoring it.

For all their mucking about with DNS that SOPA/PIPA propose did Lamar Smith learn that censorship of anything, up to and including, a revolution doesn’t stop one from happening if enough people want it,

Censorship and claims of intellectual property don’t stop ideas and don’t stop people from seeking them be they covered they copyright, patents or 95 Thesis tacked on a church door.

Violated (profile) says:

If the Internet died for file-sharing then we would most likely return to a modern form of BBS systems. Upload something to download something.

It would be much harder for the Government to regulate a system that home users have 100% control over. But yes only if that were lost would sharing via bluetooth, by CDs and DVDs, and USB storage.

I think if that era came about hackers would have no problem launching their own orbital cyberlocker.

Anonymous Coward says:

I used to do this all the time when I was backpacking in 2007. Someone at the hostel would have a good song or ringtone on their phone while you were sitting around drinking, so you’d say, “Hey, bluetooth that to me.”

I also used to exchange bootleg cassette tapes of concerts with people all over the world by mail. People will always find a way to share illegal content xD

afanen01 (user link) says:

Just to complete the picture...

The vast majority of music that is shared is local (regional) music.

Local artists generally live with file swapping, and make their money doing concerts and promotions for big businesses, or playing at social events.

Electronic and Rock are catching on, but they’re not particularly ubiquitous, so I guess it doesn’t really bother the “MAFIAA” so much (yet).

Jay says:

Been doing this since bluetooth was available on mobiles

This method of file sharing has been used since the introduction of Bluetooth technology for mobiles. It’s so common (at least in my home country) that ‘bluetooth’ is used as a verb..’Can you bluetooth that ringtone?’
Ease of sharing is hindered by the Bluetooth compatibility between different mobiles devices. iPhone is the most incompatible of all.

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