How The Copyright Wars Have Harmed Privacy And A Free Press

from the direct-sharing-files-is-hard dept

Parker Higgins has a great opinion piece over at Wired, which is ostensibly about the recent release of OnionShare, a tool for sharing large documents directly and securely between two individuals, but which looks deeper into the question of why we're in 2014 and sharing such large files directly without intermediaries is such a challenge. And, as Higgins notes, a big part of that goes right back to... the copyright wars.
Groups like the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), and others that make up the copyright lobby have actively campaigned against the kinds of tools that address these aims.

OnionShare creates direct connections between users, making it an example of peer-to-peer network architecture. The copyright lobby’s got a long history with peer-to-peer: at least since Napster emerged a decade and a half ago, corporate copyright holders have endeavored to destroy examples of the tech. We live today with the disastrous results.

After 15 years of being attacked, villainized, and litigated over, peer-to-peer programs and protocols have become a hard sell for investment and development. And as centralized products have gotten a lion’s share of the attention, their usability and market share have increased as well.
The simple fact is that the fight to protect one business model (out of many possible business models) for the entertainment industry, has clearly had a pretty big negative impact on the development of new tools and services that would lead to greater privacy and security (and a more functioning free press):
The qualities that the copyright lobby dislike about peer-to-peer are precisely the ones that make it a powerful choice for defenders of press freedom and personal privacy. Namely, peer-to-peer offers no convenient mechanism for centralized surveillance or censorship. By design, there’s usually no middleman that can easily record metadata about transfers—who uploaded and downloaded what, when, and from where—or block those transfers.
So, if you're concerned about how much metadata the NSA is scooping up from online services, you have the MPAA and RIAA and its legal fights partially to blame for that. In demonizing distributed, private peer-to-peer applications and protocols, we've been driven increasingly to more centralized offerings. As Higgins further highlights, the third party doctrine, giving less privacy to information held by third parties, makes this situation even worse.
The distinction is further reflected in the U.S. legal system, which often offers data that goes through a third party reduced protection. That premise, the “third party doctrine,” is badly out-of-date, and produces counter-intuitive results in an era where the location of data storage is otherwise abstracted away. Already one Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor, has called for reconsidering it. But as long as the third party doctrine exists, architectures like peer-to-peer that allow for direct communication, broadly speaking, provide more privacy protection against invasive government requests.
In short, you have the government wanting to get more access to information, and it can do that on centralized systems -- and combine that with the RIAA/MPAAs of the world fighting to either outlaw or diminish investment in more decentralized systems, and you have a recipe for easy mass surveillance. A decentralized world is important for the internet to work correctly, but we've been increasingly pushed away from that.

The good news is that with all the discussions of surveillance lately, a renewed push is being made for more decentralized systems. The success of decentralized cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin is also helping things along the way. And there are a large number of other projects that are each trying to tackle different aspects of more centralized systems. Hopefully, they won't be deterred by litigation spats focused on just preserving a particular business model as well.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Mason Wheeler (profile), Jun 30th, 2014 @ 11:09am

    The success of decentralized cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin is also helping things along the way.

    You mean the Bitcoin that's been successfully crashing and burning ever since the scammers who successfully inflated its price into the stratosphere with massive levels of fake transactions went under?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    Ninja (profile), Jun 30th, 2014 @ 11:18am

    The cynic in me says this isn't just a coincidence. After all, what the MAFIAA is pushing for cannot be achieved without censorship and surveillance. But that must be just conspiracy madness, no?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
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    Ninja (profile), Jun 30th, 2014 @ 11:25am

    Re:

    Bitcoin isn't the only crypto currency in the market. And hardly the only one vulnerable. See: the US, 2008.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
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    steell (profile), Jun 30th, 2014 @ 11:26am

    Re:

    And the same Bitcoin that was recently legalized by the State of California?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 30th, 2014 @ 11:30am

    I can't wait for a decentralized DNS system to take off. It'll never become popular unless a search engine starts indexing decentralized DNS websites. Otherwise how will people find anything?

    The MAFIAA tried to censor the current DNS system. When that didn't work they went after Google, making them censor their search results. Governments are taking the same approach, such as "Right to be Forgotten".

    Instead of Yahoo and Bing trying to follow Google's lead in the current centralized DNS system. They could probably carve out a new market for themselves by pushing a new decentralized DNS system and indexing websites.

    They could then provide search results for the new decentralized DNS system and make a killing off advertizement revenue.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 30th, 2014 @ 11:32am

    should add in that no one gives a fuck if the planet stagnates as long as they can keep making money, even if it means holding back everything else, even to the point of screwing not just the people, but the planet!

     

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  7.  
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    Charles (profile), Jun 30th, 2014 @ 11:41am

    Re:

    Conspiracy madness now is future truth.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
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    PRMan, Jun 30th, 2014 @ 11:41am

    Re:

    "Bitcoin that's been successfully crashing and burning"

    Bitcoin crashed and burned all the way to $639 this morning.

    "successfully inflated its price into the stratosphere"

    $1200 is hardly a stratosphere in Bitcoin. Many people are expecting a new high of $5000 in July/August.

    "massive levels of fake transactions"

    And yet the pattern followed was exactly similar to the previous bubble which had no such manipulation. The article stating all these things has been largely debunked. It's not as easy to move the Bitcoin price as most people think.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 30th, 2014 @ 11:48am

    Re:

    The conversion rate for BTC to USD fell in the first three months of the year, and has stabilized since then, according to the Coinbase BPI. The price of gold rose in the first two months of the year, fell in the next two months, and has climbed since then, according to Infomine. BTC is volatile, and more so than gold, but it's not like gold is a bastion of stability.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
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    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, Jun 30th, 2014 @ 12:01pm

    Re:

    I wonder if a DNS system could be run on p2p?

    Control of updates and changes might be centralized (or 'controlled' not a good thing, is there a way around that?) but distribution could be stable, and automated.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 30th, 2014 @ 12:32pm

    Re:

    I can't wait for a decentralized DNS system to take off. It'll never become popular unless a search engine starts indexing decentralized DNS websites. Otherwise how will people find anything?

    The current DNS and search engines are fine for intentionally public resources. For private purposes, a fixed IP and use of the hosts file serves better, as then there is no centralized site recording who is connecting to who.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 30th, 2014 @ 12:32pm

    Re: Re:

    It exists, google "namecoin". Google also "Zooko's triangle" to see why it's a hard problem.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Jun 30th, 2014 @ 12:38pm

    Re: Re:

    The current DNS system has some severe security problems, but aside from that, I agree. The private servers I use that belong to myself and my friends are addressed exclusively through IP addresses.

    Domain names are so common that people forget that they're only a convenience for human beings and are 100% unnecessary for the operation of the internet.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
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    Michael, Jun 30th, 2014 @ 12:53pm

    It's not a "copyright" war, it is really over the actual copying of things - or "cloning" as it could be referred to.

    So this is really about the "Clone Wars"...hey, why are their armed guys storming my hous....

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 30th, 2014 @ 1:03pm

    Re: Re:

    I don't see how current DNS and search engines can be considered fine for intentionally public resources. I'm sure most of the articles published on Techdirt are meant to be intentionally made available to the public. Yet some of these articles are being removed from Google search results under "Right to be Forgotten" laws.

    There's no reason decentralized DNS (referred to as DDNS from now on) cannot publish intentionally public resources. It appears to me you are equating DDNS with darknets and deepnets.

    DDNS doesn't need to run on top of darknets or deepnets. It's perfectly capable of resolving name lookups to standard IPv4 and IPv6 IP addresses. DDNS name server lookup protocols are also perfectly capable of functioning over standard IPv4 and IPv6 address routing.

    Just because it's a decentralized DNS system, doesn't mean it's attempting to hide websites, or the location of those websites. The only thing DDNS attempts to accomplish is making it impossible to censor, block, freeze, or remove domain names.

    So what I was originally attempting to suggest is a public DDNS system with a search engine indexing publicly available websites using a DDNS naming scheme. Allowing users to search for keywords and be redirected to DDNS web addresses.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
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    zip, Jun 30th, 2014 @ 2:39pm

    not quite accurate

    I would disagree with the opinion that the MPAA and RIAA had much to do with the decline of anonymous P2P. In the early 2000s, many anonymous P2P networks emerged, the vast majority of which lie largely dormant today, not because of anything the copyright mafia did, but simply withered on the vine because few people were ever interested.

    The opposite occurred in Japan, where file-sharers flocked to anonymous P2P networks such as Winny -- whose developer soon found himself facing a long prison sentence. Japanese authorities, no doubt under pressure from the copyrighted content industry, successfully cracked (to varying degrees) Winny, Share, and Perfect dark.

    As for OnionShare, we need to keep in mind that there is no such thing as perfect anonymity. The list is long of people who thought they were anonymous -- but were in for a rude awakening when police came knocking on their door. Even without any specific cracks or exploits (which, if history is any guide, are virtually guaranteed to be found in any system) all it takes is for a hostile party to set up a sufficient number of 'man-in-the-middle' nodes to greatly increase the possibility of the end-user being fingered.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 30th, 2014 @ 3:05pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    The problem with public global naming services is that they have to guarantee that the full name is unique. A hierarchical system like DNS maximizes distribution while providing this guarantee. That is at every level, each name has a registrar that ensure that the names they issue under their controlled are are only assigned to one entity at a time. This is the Achilles heel of a global name system, the control needed to ensure that names are unique.
    As for search, the amount of cross referencing etc required, given the size of the Internet really does require a very large data center, preferably duplicated for reliability, just to support the traffic needed to build and search indexes. This is achieved by having many switches to allow a massive degree of parallel communications. This is not possible in a physically distributed system, multiple connections are routed over the same fibers and cables.
    Remember that the scale of the Internet is vast, and the small corner that the average person sees is a handful of sand from the beach. This includes what they see of the content from well known services like YouTube and Twitter.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    Mason Wheeler (profile), Jun 30th, 2014 @ 3:06pm

    Re: Re:

    Bitcoin crashed and burned all the way to $639 this morning.

    Half what it was just a few short months ago. If that happened in the stock market, they'd call that a major crash.
    $1200 is hardly a stratosphere in Bitcoin.

    It is when it started at well under $1.
    Many people are expecting a new high of $5000 in July/August.

    Yeah, tell 'em to keep on dreaming.
    And yet the pattern followed was exactly similar to the previous bubble which had no such manipulation. The article stating all these things has been largely debunked.

    [citation needed]
    It's kind of hard to "debunk" actual transaction logs showing that 1) automated purchases were still being made while the entire exchange was offline and 2) the cash balance of the account making these purchases was not remaining consistent with the purchases it was making.

    Also, which article are you referring to? The data's been analyzed by multiple sources that arrived at the same conclusion independently: the Bitcoin bubble was a fraud engineered by the people running Mt. Gox.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jun 30th, 2014 @ 4:36pm

    Re:

    You mean the Bitcoin that's been successfully crashing and burning ever since the scammers who successfully inflated its price into the stratosphere with massive levels of fake transactions went under?

    Uh, you should look again. The price has been fairly stable for quite a few months now.

    But that's not the point I'm making anyway. Anyone who focuses on the price of Bitcoin is missing all the development happening on top of Bitcoin at the moment to create all sorts of fascinating distributed services.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
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    Rekrul, Jun 30th, 2014 @ 4:51pm

    Just recently I wanted to send a 300MB file to someone and decided to try something new. I looked for and found a small FTP server program. No installation required, just run it, set the directory and make sure the firewall will allow incoming connections.

    I set it up, gave her my IP address, she connected, started downloading the file and it estimated that it would take about five hours to finish!

    After about 20 minutes and still no speed increase, we killed the transfer, I uploaded it to 180Upload.com, which took about 3-4 minutes, sent her the link and she downloaded it in about 15-20 minutes.

    So much for using a direct connection to share files...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
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    Gwiz (profile), Jun 30th, 2014 @ 5:55pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    As for search, the amount of cross referencing etc required, given the size of the Internet really does require a very large data center, preferably duplicated for reliability, just to support the traffic needed to build and search indexes.


    I disagree. YaCy has tackled the inherit problems and scalability of a distributed search engine fairly well.

    Not only that, if you turn on some of YaCy's heuristics functions it "learns" all about that small corner of the internet you personally care about by crawling based off your search results.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
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    Name, Jun 30th, 2014 @ 8:38pm

    And, isn't it funny that not so long ago, they (Hollywood) were under the gun during hearings accusing them of being Communists? So all of the Arnold Schwarzenegger/Jackie Chan crap at the beginning of my videos(that I couldn't skip through)have led to this.

    Hmmmmm.....something to think about.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
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    Whatever (profile), Jun 30th, 2014 @ 11:44pm

    enjoyment

    I got much enjoyment out of this story, and perhaps even more reading the Wired piece, especially after I figure out the punch line. See, the "story" on Wired is just a guy from the EFF essentially putting out a press release. If it was on the EFF site directly, it would be much better framed than a guest post on a notable publication.

    It gets better. The story is all about blaming the victims of piracy for standing up against it. It conveniently and completely ignores the fact that, without piracy, most of the big file lockers would have a harm time making ends meet. Take away the ability to post a link up on a chat board and collect click thru money in one form or another, and most users stay away. Most of the file lockers who "went legit" after the Mega shutdown pretty much died on the vine.

    They died because there is no money in just helping honest people move a file from A to B. People don't sign up for monthly memberships, they don't send traffic to your signup for downloads programs, and so on. They come and get one file and never come back again.

    There is plenty of software out there for direct connections from computer to computer. FTP, SSH, and other formats are readily available and as common as it gets. You can send as big a file as you like, encrypted any way you like, and you never have to hand to a third party to store.

    The EFF activist is trying to point out a very narrow, extremely rare use of file transfer (confidential, often pilfered documents a la Watergate or Snowden) to justify trying to get content creators to turn a blind eye to piracy. It's such a bad argument, especially with all of the tools that are already out there to do the job safely and directly... it's a laugh a minute reading it.

    Oh, and if you don't like a direct connection, do something simple: Take your file(s). Encrypt them, split the files into 10 segments (tar files with small per section sizes work well) and upload each section to a completely different free file host with a random name on each one. Email the destination an encrypted file with a list of file locations, and let them go ahead and enjoy. Done deal, nobody had your full file, nobody had enough to decode it, and it got there... all without having to worry about p2p or crypto transfer or the dark web or whatever.

    The harder you try to hide, the more you look like you have something to hide, and the more people will look. Hiding in plain site is the only way to go!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 1st, 2014 @ 12:17am

    Re: enjoyment

    Here's the thing: You're assuming malice where there is not necessarily any - for example, say I want to purchase a game which is not available in my region, but is available in my language (such as Final Fantasy II in the late 1980s). Being in the PAL ragion televisually, there was no way to purchase this legally. So I would have had to resort to importing it from the US (a risky proposition at the time) or I would have had to get someone to buy it for me, and send them a check for the amount (again, a risky proposition).

    Now, it's much easier to password protect the RAR archive, upload it to a file-locker site and pass the link to another person, or set it in a torrent and upload it to a place like TPB.

    But that's a lot harder now, because of the direct actions of the MPAA and RIAA against file-locker sites for the last ten years, making it harder to guarantee security and pricvacy for the sake of 'protecting their IP'. Which is so far from the point that quantum universes are involved.

    That said, I do appreciate your suggestions for alterative methods, even if, IMO, they are weaker overall. And you're attacking the argument, not the person, which is an improvement.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
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    PaulT (profile), Jul 1st, 2014 @ 1:01am

    Re:

    "So much for using a direct connection to share files..."

    The type of connection means nothing if you don't have the speed to back it up. It sounds like your connection was fine, but you just didn't have the upload bandwidth on your end to make the connection match the expected download speed on her end.

    This is, frankly, perfectly normal for most standard connections, which have upload capacities many times lower than the download capacity. If you're not sure of your upload bandwidth, there's plenty of free sites to use to check.

    There's absolutely no problem with a direct connection, but it will only ever go as fast as the slowest part of the connection.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
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    TestPilotDummy, Jul 1st, 2014 @ 7:06am

    Mail to .nl under Police State USA

    It took more than a YEAR for my package ( a god damn U2 CD i snail mail irc aquaintance ) to arrive in .nl after 911.


    ( more ammo for that spying kills business thread )

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
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    Rekrul, Jul 2nd, 2014 @ 4:54pm

    Re: Re:

    The type of connection means nothing if you don't have the speed to back it up. It sounds like your connection was fine, but you just didn't have the upload bandwidth on your end to make the connection match the expected download speed on her end.

    I just ran a speed test to the closest location I could find to her on SpeedTest.net and it said my upload speed was 10Mbps. Not the fastest speed, but she definitely should have been getting more than the 15-20K/s that she was seeing on her end.

    She probably would have had better results if she'd been using a download manager which would make multiple connections to download the same file, but she's not very technically inclined and it would probably confuse her to have to deal with an additional program, especially since they tend to want to take over all downloads, even when you don't want them to.

    If you're not sure of your upload bandwidth, there's plenty of free sites to use to check.

    Under ideal conditions, my upload speed can reach 40Mbps. This was measured using the closest test site on SpeedTest.net.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 2nd, 2014 @ 9:59pm

    Re: enjoyment

    Keep suing grandmothers, boy.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
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    PaulT (profile), Jul 2nd, 2014 @ 11:43pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    OK, there sounds to be something very wrong in that case. I was assuming a more standard ADSL upload speed in the range of 1 - 5 Mbps. You could still have had something else interfering with or limiting the speed on either end, or that was affecting a longer term connection but not affecting the short speedtest.net result. But, I'd maintain that it's the condition of your personal line that's the cause rather than the simple fact that it was a direct connection.

    I'm a little jealous of your speeds though. Your ideal upload is more than double my typical download speed!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
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    Rekrul, Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 8:46am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    But, I'd maintain that it's the condition of your personal line that's the cause rather than the simple fact that it was a direct connection.

    All I can say is that I uploaded the same file to 180Upload.com and it only took 3-4 minutes at most. I didn't time it, but the progress bar was moving fairly quickly.

    I know it probably wasn't the direct connection itself that caused the slow speed, it's just that because of various factors, making a direct connection between two users may not be the best way to share large files.

    I'm a little jealous of your speeds though. Your ideal upload is more than double my typical download speed!

    Then I probably shouldn't mention that SpeedTest.net says my ideal download speed is about 120Mbps. From a good site, I typically see real download speeds of 7-12MB/s (Yes, 7-12 megbytes per second). :)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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