A privacy/free stuff tradeoff

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Cory Doctorow over at BoingBoing reports that British ISP PlayLouder MSP has cut a deal with Sony BMG to allow file sharing of Sony's music over their network:
I spent the day going back and forth with the two principles from PlayLouder MSP, Paul Sanders and Paul Hitchman, and based on what they've told me, I'm prepared to say that this is the best thing to happen to the copyfight all year -- maybe all century.

Here's the deal. PlayLouder MSP DSL costs about the same as comparable DSL offerings in the UK (though right now, PlayLouder MSP's one-meg speeds don't compare to the high-end offerings from ISPs like Bulldog, who are offering 8-meg DSL). For their money, PlayLouder MSP customers get their regualr DSL lines, as well as:

  • The right to share any song in the Sony-BMG catalog
  • Even if it's out of print
  • In any file-format
  • Using any file-sharing software
  • At any bitrate
PlayLouder MSP's customers' license includes Sony music sourced from P2P networks, ripped from CDs, or digitized from vinyl, cassettes, or radio broadcasts.

PlayLouder MSP is using audio-analysis software provided by Audible Magic to analyze the P2P traffic that it can detect on its network and count approximately how many times each track is traded, and will deliver that, along with a cut of its revenue, to Sony.

They're also filtering traffic to the Internet to prevent Sony music tracks that Audible Magic recognizes from leaving its network via recognized P2P protocols and going to ISPs whose customers have not paid a license fee. However, they will not be stopping any tracks that Audible Magic fails to recognize, nor will they be resticting traffic using unrecognized protocols.

This is certainly food news if what you care about is principally free music. On the other hand, consider that its success totally depends on the ISP's ability to monitor all the customer's traffic, because that's how the billing gets done. Isn't this the kind of monitoring that the EFF would normally be working to stop? Indeed, privacy-enhancing tools such as Freenet and Tor (distributed by EFF!), would render the required monitoring pretty much useless. Of course, this would be more of a problem if people actually used crypto for anything other than encrypting their credit card numbers. Still, I'm kind of surprised to see Doctorow in favor of an arrangement that has forbidding crypto as its endgame.

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I think the bandwidth differential may be more important in this than is immediately obvious. With a business DSL line, for example, hosting a Tor server (a.k.a onion router) would be practical even while you used the connectivity for other things. A Tor server hosted within the PlayLouder network would naturally allow those hosted elsewhere to fileshare through it. It would require clients picking exit servers to take advantage of this, but that would be fast and relatively easy to set up (especially if included in the EFF's upcoming graphical user interface). With a 1 meg limit (and likely other, hidden limits), hosting an onion router is not practical.

Note that the Tor server docs imply that rate limiting and a 20kbs each way are enough. This is not my experience; the onion routers in rate-limiting mode end up with queuing issues pretty quickly at under T1/E1 available. YMMV, of course.

Onion routers are not the only tool available, of course, but the general point is that the bandwidth limitation creates a disincentive to tunnel connectivity outside the PlayLouder network.

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