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Commentary: Blow dealt to Net-based file sharing

Shutting down file-sharing entities such as FreeDrive merely drives illicit activities underground, where criminals are much more difficult to identify and prosecute.

    By Neil MacDonald, Gartner Analyst

    It should come as no surprise that the same technologies that make the Internet useful for consumers--such as ubiquitous connectivity and standardized protocols--make it easier for people to perform illicit, online activities.

    Internet-based public

    See news story:
    DOJ concerns shutter file-swapping service
    file-sharing technologies such as Napster and application service providers (ASPs) offering free storage make those activities even easier. Both provide unrestricted public sharing of files over the Internet--Napster with a peer-to-peer (P2P) model, and storage ASPs with a centralized, server-based model.

    In this case, FreeDrive, a storage ASP, has been targeted by a software vendor--and subsequently the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)--for facilitating the sharing of copyrighted material. However, Gartner believes that the efforts of the DOJ to shut down unrestricted Internet-based file sharing are misguided. Shutting down publicly identifiable and accountable file-sharing entities such as FreeDrive merely drives the illicit activities underground, where criminals are much more difficult to identify and prosecute.

    As with Napster, shutting down such services cuts off legitimate uses of the technology, such as sharing recipes. Criminals will now simply move to another service, move to a P2P model or move their file-sharing repositories offshore to countries with weak copyright laws, weak enforcement, and no extradition agreements with the United States. Legitimate users of the technology will suffer, and criminals will continue breaking the law.

    Software vendors that forced the shutdown of unrestricted public access on FreeDrive--and the music companies that attempted to shut down the P2P file sharing of Napster--just don't get it. Whether the content is a software application, book, music or movie, the same trend applies: the inexorable move toward digital content.

    What content providers must consider
    The FreeDrive and Napster cases clearly illustrate for content providers the following:

    • Copyright law is inadequate to deal with ubiquitous Internet connectivity.

    • Today's digital rights management solutions are inadequate to protect content.

    • Vendors must consider new licensing models for content. For example, music vendors should offer consumers the ability to purchase individual songs. Software vendors should investigate new types of copy protection, such as Microsoft's latest version of Office, in the short term, and in the long term, software rental models such as Microsoft's .Net.

    However, until content providers implement those technologies, storage ASPs such as FreeDrive and file-sharing vendors such as Napster risk becoming the subject of lawsuits if their services are used for illegal purposes--even though some of the service's uses are legitimate.

    Most storage ASPs cannot afford to be targeted by lawsuits because of their tenuous financial positions. The storage ASP market segment has at least 75 vendors, and Gartner expects 60 percent of them to fail by mid-2002.

    How ASPs can protect themselves
    Until content providers take action, Gartner believes that file-sharing ASPs should react to the DOJ's concerns and FreeDrive's situation by doing the following:

    • Remove unrestricted public file-sharing capabilities and provide password-restricted sharing only.

    • Consider restricting the file types shared--for instance, only JPG files for photo sharing.

    • Better publicize usage policies for all consumers.

    • Consider restricting the bandwidth and storage usage of all accounts.

    • More actively monitor accounts with suspicious amounts of activity by tracking bandwidth and storage usage.

    • More actively monitor what is stored--that is, look for copyrighted material by checking for specific file names, check sums and so on, and shut down accounts with illegal activity.

    • Cooperate with law enforcement agencies to track and prosecute illicit usage.

    ((For related commentary on how one company stopped software piracy and Napster downloads, see TechRepublic.com--free registration required.)

    Entire contents, Copyright © 2001 Gartner Group, Inc. All rights reserved. The information contained herein represents Gartner's initial commentary and analysis and has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Positions taken are subject to change as more information becomes available and further analysis is undertaken. Gartner disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information. Gartner shall have no liability for errors, omissions or inadequacies in the information contained herein or for interpretations thereof.