Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Unworkable filesharing laws..

Eariler on I mentioned that I would do a post about filesharing, and now that the Government has said that its going to press ahead with its impractical and stupid plan (with added support from the Tories who have been all but silent on voicing criticism), here it is, bullet pointed.

Please note that I am not going into the realm of the moral and legal arguments about sharing copyrighted content but rather the practical realities of why it is a pointless approach to dealing with the problem.
  • I can quite easily walk down my street, or any street for that matter, scan for Wifi access points and find any number of open access points to connect too. I can then connect to them and happily download the latest movie if I wanted too, and the person who's left their access point open will get the blame.
  • I can buy a 3G HSDPA modem on a PAYG basis with a bandwidth voucher and plug into a mobile provider networks, from my car, and drive whilst leeching all manner of copyrighted content - on the move. By the time it was spotted I would be offline.
  • I can buy a 3G HSDPA modem with no credit, but still connect to a mobile network and only be able to get to the mobile operators home page to "top up". However in order to do that I need to be able to convert domain names to IP addresses which means I need to be able to access UDP protocol via port 53 of a DNS server. It is quite simple to tunnel ordinary IP traffic through a DNS server. In effect I could leech to my hearts content without ever having to buy a voucher - on the move.
  • Alternatively, I could set up a VPN concentrator elsewhere on the Internet to operate over UDP and connect to that thus encrypting my traffic whilst simultaneously tunneling it through DNS. Handy!
  • The DNS stuff will also work on a number of wifi hotspots where it appears access is restricted but in fact isn't.
  • If I wanted to share copyrighted material I could compromise someone else's system entirely and pass the blame on to them.
Now, I'm not suggesting for a minute that anyone should be trying any of these, in fact they're all probably illegal in one way or another. The point is that those that distribute illegally on large scales tend to be the more savvy technical people anyway. So whilst these points may seem quite technical they are not for those who want to try.

Crucially we have to remember that the real targets in file sharing are not the teenager in the bedroom download the odd mp3, but rather the big time pirates who provide massive seeding locations for this material. Taking it to the level of the consumer end-user won't deter or alter the problem at all because the most determined will carry on anyway.

This is putting aside the fact that there are many legitimate uses for the most popular filesharing protocols. Many major software providers now distribute over such protocols to save on bandwidth costs. So just because someone file shares it doesn't mean the files can't be shared. The arbitrary nature of what is currently being proposed doesn't seem to take this into account.

I've said it a number of time before, but when the VCR was invented there was outrage of the same kind until thankfully a court judged that just because a tool can be used for illegal activities it doesn't mean it will always be so. We don't ban hammers because they can smash windows in a burglary after all. The same is true for data transfer on the Internet, and the Government is taking a sledgehammer and trying to crack a nut with it.

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