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Donna Wentworth
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Ernest Miller
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Elizabeth Rader
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Jason Schultz
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Wendy Seltzer
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About this weblog
Here we'll explore the nexus of legal rulings, Capitol Hill policy-making, technical standards development, and technological innovation that creates -- and will recreate -- the networked world as we know it. Among the topics we'll touch on: intellectual property conflicts, technical architecture and innovation, the evolution of copyright, private vs. public interests in Net policy-making, lobbying and the law, and more.

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this weblog are those of the authors and not of their respective institutions.

What Does "Copyfight" Mean?

Copyfight, the Solo Years: April 2002-March 2004

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In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

Copyfight

« Grokster Gives Up the Ghost | Main | Perhaps »

November 8, 2005

On the P2P Problem: Where Do We Go Now?

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Grokster's death will likely spur several more rounds of frustratingly recursive debate over how to resolve the P2P infringement dilemma. Which is why, if you're new to the debate, you ought to skip on over to Freedom to Tinker and A Copyfighter's Musings, thereby advancing immediately to square two.

At Freedom to Tinker, Princeton professor Edward Felten writes:


Arguments about the [RIAA] lawsuits often get bogged down in confusion over exactly which argument the lawsuit opponents are making. There are three types of anti-lawsuit arguments.

A moral argument against lawsuits says that bringing the lawsuits is morally wrong.

A pragmatic argument against lawsuits says that bringing the lawsuits isn’t the most clever strategy for a self-interested RIAA to follow.

An empirical argument against lawsuits says that the lawsuits are not reducing infringement.


Why are these distinctions important? Because they carry different obligations. "If you believe a pragmatic argument, then you must believe there is something more clever the RIAA can do; and you should tell us what that is," writes Felten. "But if you’re making a moral argument or an empirical argument, then you have no obligation to describe a better plan, because you’re not asserting that there is a better plan."

Indeed, you may even legitimately believe that no better plan exists. Explains Felten:


This is a common fallacy in policy analysis: assuming that whenever there is a problem, the solution must be some kind of bold new action. Sometimes bold action is just what’s needed. But sometimes bold action doesn’t solve the problem. Sometimes it only causes new problems. Sometimes your problem has no solution and your best course is to suck it up and figure out how to live with the problem.

This is where A Copyfighter's Musings come in. You see, some people believe that while no perfect solution exists, there's a better way forward than perpetual lawsuits (or, for that matter, perpetual arguing over perpetual lawsuits). Derek Slater, who's been carving out middle ground in this debate for quite some time now, attended the recent P2P Litigation Summit and has a few thoughts to share about where we've been and where we're headed. Dr. Urs Gasser, a fellow Berkmanite, has a succinct description of what you'll hear if you tune in:

In the first piece, Derek reports about the P2P litigation summit he participated in, arguing that we have to learn more about -- and from! -- the stories of the people that got sued by the recording industry. In the second podcast, Derek provides a big-picture analysis of possible (technological, business, and policy) approaches to the file-sharing problem. In essence, he makes a strong case why policy-makers should not take drastic measures (such as, e.g., compulsory licensing systems or, as the worst-case scenario, mandatory DRM schemes) to address the current digital media crises. Rather, policy-makers may be well advised to trust in the evolutionary power of market mechanisms on the one hand (emerging business models, in fact, might address the problem) and to focus on the reform of the DMCA and certain procedural protection measures on the other hand.

"Procedural protection measures" is a cold term, but they're exactly the opposite: they're aimed at protecting the innocent people caught in the crossfire of this battle. Even if you support the litigation campaign, you can also wholeheartedly support doing it right. Fairly.* And, as Tim Lee urges, you can also give serious thought and energy to considering what happens when, "a decade and 100,000 lawsuits from now," P2P is more popular than ever.

Update: Xeni Jardin's NPR report on Grokster's (sort of) demise and the future of filesharing.

* That is, by making sure you've actually targeted the right person, and refraining from bulldozing over that person's privacy and due process rights.

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