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A chill in P2P land?

FBI raids on file-swappers' homes should have the broader P2P community thinking hard.

The Justice Department's announcement that it had raided file-swappers' homes should be closely watched by peer to peer types. Yes, it was meant to scare them. But it should. Some attorneys' initial take on this was that the investigation was really just like the old warez busts, targeting a highly organized group of pirates. Not exactly Grandma on her Kazaa (who the Recording Industry Association of America has sued).

But that's only partly true. The warrants were served against people operating Direct Connect hubs, which are sort of like mini-Napster servers that sit in the middle of their own P2P networks, indexing available files and linking downloaders and uploaders. Take these away and you disrupt the network pretty handily, although new hubs can easily pop back up.

These hubs were part of something called the Underground Network, which sounds shadowy and organized. But the entry requirements were that you a) sign up and b) have at least 1 gigabyte of material to offer to other people. The Justice Department made that sound like professional piracy, but really that's not even two movies (or even one, if it's a high-quality rip). Apparently 7,000 people were members of this network. P2P insiders say there are plenty others like it.

The point isn't that the DOJ is going to start charging average computer users tomorrow. But under these standards, it might start looking at the very high volume users (or file providers) on Kazaa or eDonkey the same way it looked at Underground Network hubs. A few criminal indictments of students or seemingly ordinary computer users would go a lot farther even than the RIAA's $5,000 speeding tickets. Certainly other private networks like the Underground Network should be worried.