December 11, 2004
Joshua Meier is right in this regard: if “P2P networks are made illegal” – that is, if we could actually ban all technologies capable of allowing people to transmit files directly to each other over the Internet - there probably would be less infringement. Glad we settled that. But let’s explore what actually banning those technologies really entails.
Making “P2P networks … illegal” involves more than flipping a switch and banning P2P networks narrowly. As Ed Felten explains, crafting a definition that includes P2P and leaves out most other Internet technologies is basically impossible.
A result against Grokster would thus affect myriad other technologies. But would it affect P2P? Not really. As the Darknet authors conclude, “the darknet-genie will not be put back in the bottle.” The technology is already out there. It can be easily created and distributed by a hobbyist programmer. It’s already distributed by offshore companies and sites. Shutting down these commercial entities will not even shut down their existing networks. Shut down the big networks and you end up with highly interconnected and efficient “small worlds” networks. In this way, Grokster isn’t really about P2P – it’s just about all the other technologies that will be impacted.
Which is not to say that there would be no way to eliminate P2P. Let’s not rehash the old can we regulate the Internet argument – sure we can. We could reshape the network so that ISPs or other traffic routers could have certain controls that would discriminate between types of traffic. As FvL discusses here (search for “I’d rather filter” and follow comments), we could monitor all traffic and restrict anonymous communications so that we can track the source of distributed content.
[slightly updated 3 PM]