March 03, 2004

Audible Magic's Sleight of Hand

C|Net News has an article about the RIAA touting Audible Magic's P2P filtering technology in Washington, D.C. and other influential venues (File-swap 'killer' grabs attention). Audible's technology is basically an audio fingerprinting service that checks against a database of copyrighted works. Installed in P2P software, the system would ostensibly prevent the sharing of music that had been identified as copyrighted. However, even if we assume the technology works as advertised, there are a number of problems.

Nevertheless, the problem identified by Derek Slater is not necessarily one of them (Spin on Audible Magic). Derek claims that:

[Audible Magic is] not really filtering on a decentralized P2P system. That's a decentralized P2P system that requires each user to access a centralized point of control in order to be on the network. Can such a network protect users' anonymity and be robust to targeted attacks in ways necessary to enable legitimate uses and speech? Not like Freenet can. No matter how many times the RIAA says that this would simply be KaZaA without the infringing files, with no other consequences, that doesn't make it the truth.

Derek is very right to declaim the need for forcing centralization on decentralized networks. Unfortunately, most P2P networks aren't truly decentralized. KaZaA has many centralized features already. For example, the free version is ad-supported, which means that your "decentralized" KaZaA P2P software has to talk to a centralized ad server, in this case, GAIN Publishing. GAIN is more famously known as "Gator" and likes to sue people for calling GAIN "spyware" (See you later, anti-Gators?). Even the premium pay version ("KaZaA Plus") has many centralized features, such as virus protection, Peer Points Manager, and others.

Freenet is truly decentralized, but most of the commercial P2P systems are not. Indeed, I wonder how any commercial P2P network can be viable without some centralized functions. This is not to say I think it reasonable for Congress or the courts to impose such systems on commercial P2P networks, but simply that the imposition of such systems won't change their nature.

Techdirt argues that people will use encryption to escape a government mandate and foil Audible Magic (RIAA's Latest Tactic To Drive File Sharers Underground). I'm not sure that is the case, unless the files are encrypted on the hard drive. The fingerprinting will have to take place at the local uploader's system, which is then checked against the centralized database. Encrypting transfers will not thwart that initial check. Encrypted transfers will only work to thwart man-in-the-middle attempts at filtering. Techdirt is right, however, that such a move would push people farther into darknets (they would be using software that doesn't comply with the mandates). As Techdirt says, "This isn't a business strategy, it's death-by-bad-lawyers."

The biggest problem with the Audible Magic is that the level of government control required to implement it would give pause to even Hollywood friendly congress critters.

Posted by Ernest at 7:36 PM
  Comments and Trackbacks (
Spin on Audible Magic

Excerpt: That's not really filtering on a decentralized P2P system.

Read the rest...

Trackback from A Copyfighter's Musings, Mar 3, 2004 9:19 PM

I enjoy seeing thoughtful and critical commentary like this. It is important for the community to criticize itself constructively and not to take on an "us vs them" mentality. That way we create strong arguments rather than weak ones.

One point, even Freenet depends on an initial list of "startup" nodes being provided with the software release. Once you connect to those nodes you can start to find others. This initial contact problem is one of the hardest to solve in a decentralized way.

I also agree that encryption per se is not that relevant. Freenet uses encryption, but a mandate-compliant Freenet could filter in exactly the manner you describe, since both uploader and downloader have the decryption key. A mandate-defying darknet wouldn't benefit from encryption much either, unless things got to the point where private data streams were monitored, and we're nowhere near such a radical stage.

The worst problem I see with a mandatory filtering scheme is similar to that with the broadcast flag: the burden on future innovation. There are no bright lines dividing audio data from other forms of data. Filters would have to go into not just P2P software, but virtually any software which reads or writes data to the net. Every new application would have to face the overhead and complexity of filtering to make sure that users weren't sharing copyrighted files. That's going to hamper innovation and reduce the rate at which new technologies and new applications are developed and implemented. We would all pay a high price for a filtering mandate.

Posted by Cypherpunk on March 3, 2004 10:39 PM | Permalink to Comment
Does Audible Magic Violate Wiretap Laws?

Excerpt: I've discussed Audible Magic and its filtering technology on "The Importance Of..." before: Audible Magic's Sleight of Hand. Basically, Audible Magic filters content based on an audio fingerprinting service that checks against a database of copyrighted...

Read the rest...

Trackback from The Importance of..., Jul 14, 2004 6:28 AM
The Annotated RIAA Letter on the INDUCE Act (IICA)

Excerpt: Just about a week ago, a number of technology companies, civil liberties groups and consumer rights organizations sent a letter to Senators requesting hearings on the fast-tracked Inducing Infringment of Copyrights Act (IICA, née INDUCE Act) (Many Orga...

Read the rest...

Trackback from The Importance of..., Jul 14, 2004 11:07 PM

  Post a Comment
  Remember personal info?
  Email this entry to a friend
Email this entry to:   
Your email address:   
Message (optional):   

  Related Entries