Collateral damage in the war on piracy

In the battle between big copyright interests and digital file-loaders, things are starting to get out of hand.

Charles Cooper Former Executive Editor / News
Charles Cooper was an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet.
Charles Cooper
2 min read

MediaDefender is rightly taking its lumps in the court of public opinion after being fingered as the culprit behind the Memorial Day weekend denial-of-service outage at Revision3. But this is just a sideshow in the bigger battle waged by big copyright holders against illegal digital file sharing.

And as we're learning, things are getting out of hand.

Revision3 happened to use a BitTorrent tracker for perfectly legitimate content distribution. But BitTorrent has also figured in unauthorized sharing of copyrighted movies, TV shows, and music. So MediaDefender went on a fishing expedition. (Read Revision3 CEO Jim Louderback's full description here.) But pay particular attention to this snippet:

Revision3 runs a tracker expressly designed to coordinate the sharing and downloading of our shows. It's a completely legitimate business practice, similar to how ESPN puts out a guide that tells viewers how to tune into its network on DirecTV, Dish, Comcast and Time Warner, or a mall might publish a map of its stores. But someone, or some company, apparently took offense to Revision3 using Bittorrent to distribute its own slate of shows. Who could that be?

Now we know. And just who is MediaDefender? (Check out the archive of news articles that company collected on its Web site. For some reason, I doubt the collection will be updated to feature MediaDefender's latest exploits.) In a 2005 profile, Ars Technica said the Santa Monica, Calif., company made its living poisoning peer-to-peer networks. The hyperbole is understandable as MediaDefender plants fake files or decoys on peer-to-peer systems

But let's not lose track of who's really calling the shots. The power brokers in this novella work out of offices at big record labels and movie studios and MediaDefender is only a bit player, doing their bidding.

"It's absolutely not our policy to overwhelm any servers or do any DoS attacks," MediaDefender CEO Randy Saaf told my colleague Elinor Mills this afternoon. "We post fake files. In our mind, we were not targeting a legitimate company. All we saw was a public tracker with pirated content."

In other words, Revision3 was collateral damage. Sorry for taking you down, but that's the necessary--albeit inadvertent--price we pay because others simply refuse to play by accepted rules. Or something corny like that.