Freenet in the NYTimes! wow...

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From: Rohit Khare (
Date: Wed May 10 2000 - 13:40:05 PDT

[Umm... the Nullsoft guys did *NOT* give away their source code at
all... but owise "another landmarkoff article" just because no one
else touched it first. BTW, anyone else love the Shawn Fanning cover
of BWeek? --RK]

May 10, 2000
The Concept of Copyright Fights for Internet Survival

While American courts struggle over the recording industry's
challenge to digital music swapping, Ian Clarke, a 23-year-old Irish
programmer, is moving on to the next battleground. He is finishing a
program that he says will make it impossible to control the traffic
in any kind of digital information -- whether it is music, video,
text or software.

His program, known as Freenet, is intended to make it possible to
acquire or exchange such material anonymously while frustrating any
attempt to remove the information from the Internet or determine its

Mr. Clarke and his group of programmers have deliberately set
themselves on a collision course with the world's copyright laws.
They express the hope that the clash over copyright enforcement in
cyberspace will produce a world in which all information is freely
shared. In any case, the new programs could change the basic terms of
the discussion about intellectual property.

The swapping of music files over the Internet, through services like
Napster and, has already raised the hackles and mobilized the
lawyers of the recording industry and some musicians, who say the
practice amounts to piracy. They hope either to halt the services or
to collect royalties on the digital works being swapped.

But programs now emerging make it possible to find and acquire files
without reference to a central database, and thus provide no single
target for aggrieved copyright holders. And methods being developed
to protect such works -- like scrambling the data and requiring a key
to decode it -- may wind up being trumped by similar encryption that
covers the tracks of those doing the swapping.

"If this whole thing catches on," Mr. Clarke said, "I think that
people will look back in 20 to 40 years and look at the idea that you
can own information in the same way as gold or real estate in the
same way we look at witch burning today."

The groups and companies pursuing the new distribution technologies
-- programs that in effect create vast digital libraries spread
across potentially hundreds of thousands of large and small computers
-- do not necessarily share Mr. Clarke's ideological viewpoint. They
range from iMesh, an Israeli-American start-up company that aspires
to become an international commercial digital distribution system, to
several small groups of free-software developers intent on building
new systems for the sharing of any kind of digital information.

Some contend that if their software lends itself to copyright
infringement, it is the user's responsibility, not theirs. Mr.
Clarke, putting into practice a view expressed by many in the
free-software movement, takes the more extreme position that
copyright protection is simply obsolete in the Internet era.

A test version of his Freenet program -- written in England and now
distributed free to many countries around the world -- was posted on
the World Wide Web in March.

Mr. Clarke, who lives in London and works for a small electronic
commerce company, said last week in a telephone interview that there
had been more than 15,000 downloads of the early versions of his
product, indicating that hundreds or perhaps thousands of network
servers on the World Wide Web are already running the program. Any
file that any user wants to offer to others can be made available
through the system. So far, that includes software programs, video
pornography and a copy of George Orwell's "1984."

Mr. Clarke said he was confident that corporations trying to develop
complex technologies to encrypt information or otherwise halt the
free sharing of computer data would ultimately fail. "I have two
words for these companies: give up," he said. "There is no way they
are going to stop these technologies. They are trying to plug holes
in a dam that is about to burst."

That attitude, plus the fact that millions of users have come to rely
on easy access to digital information via the Internet, suggests that
the issue may quickly outstrip the current debate over copyright
infringement between the recording industry association and a variety
of Internet music distributors.

"I have no shortage of gray hairs from worrying about these
programs," said Talal G. Shamoon, a Silicon Valley executive who
heads a working group of the Secure Digital Music Initiative, a
technology and entertainment industry working group.

Some legal experts believe that the intellectual property laws are
being used in an effort to grapple with technologies they were never
intended to address.

"Copyright law is not the right tool in the case of many of the new
technologies," said Pamela Samuelson, a digital technology and
copyright expert at the law school of the University of California at
Berkeley. "The question will quickly become whether other governments
have reasons to try to regulate these new systems or whether the U.S.
government has the ability to regulate them."

Indeed, law enforcement officials are only beginning to wrestle with
the implications of new technologies that will permit the anonymous,
instant, global distribution of information of any kind. "We're
obviously looking at all of these," said Christopher Painter, deputy
chief of the Justice Department's computer crime and intellectual
property section. "It makes our job more difficult and makes it
harder to find the people who are perpetrating crimes."

Freenet, which Mr. Clarke conceived while he was an undergraduate at
the University of Edinburgh, is intended to function without any
centralized control point. "Freenet is a near-perfect anarchy," he

Another Internet digital distribution program, Gnutella, created by
software developers at the Nullsoft subsidiary of America Online, has
the same distributed approach employed by Freenet, meaning that there
is no central directory of what information the system contains.

Unlike Napster, which is limited to digital music files, Gnutella
makes it possible to distribute video, software and text documents as

America Online declared Gnutella an "unauthorized freelance project"
in March, just hours after it was made available on the Internet. But
since its developers made its code freely available, independent
programmers have continued to refine Gnutella even though the project
was officially canceled.

Many computer industry executives contend that if the recording
industry's suit against Napster succeeds, it will simply lead
digital-music enthusiasts to use alternatives, like Gnutella and
Freenet, which are even less open to copyright enforcement.

"So are all the musicians and record companies going to continue
their suits against Napster?" a Gnutella user who identified himself
as Panicst8 wrote in a recent network posting. "It seems kind of
pointless, or have they just not figured out yet that Gnutella is
about 10,000 times more effective at locating what you want?"

Freenet goes several steps beyond Gnutella in an effort to protect
the anonymity of those who publish or copy information
electronically. It encrypts each file and scrambles the key --
actually a long number -- needed to find the file within the system.

And Freenet incorporates a digital "immune system" that responds to
any effort to determine the location of a piece of information by
spreading the information elsewhere in the network.

Freenet relies on a system of volunteers who run the program on
network computers, or servers, Mr. Clarke said, and it will even be
difficult for the operators of individual parts of the network to
determine which computer holds any particular file.

For the moment, at least, copyright holders can take comfort from the
fact that Freenet is more efficient at obscuring the source of
information than at helping users find it. Mr. Clarke has not yet
built a search capability into the system, so users must find other
ways to let one another know how to retrieve files.

And technologists like Mr. Shamoon say systems like Freenet present a
challenge, but not an insurmountable one. In addition to his industry
role with the Secure Digital Music Initiative, Mr. Shamoon is senior
vice president for media at the InterTrust Technologies Corporation,
a Silicon Valley company that builds systems for protecting
intellectual property.

He cites the possibility of the transmission of viruses and other
harmful programs as being one of the obvious risks inherent in
electronic communities where no basis for trust inherently exists.

"From a trust standpoint, the current generation of tools such as
Gnutella and Freenet are a nightmare for the same reason that badly
constructed social communities are a nightmare," Mr. Shamoon said.

The recording industry will survive, he argues, if it is able to
offer its users new things of value.

"There are a lot of dangers here," he said. "But as a society, we're
very adept at adapting to compensate for these things."

Mr. Clarke, it seems, would not disagree. Citing past innovations
from the photocopier to magnetic tape, he writes on his Web site,
"Artists and publishers all adapted to those new technologies and
learned how to use them and profit from them; they will adapt to
Freenet as well."

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