Bandwidth-On-Demand Networks -- A Solution To Peer-To-Peer File Sharing

The author looks at the Napster phenomenon, and seems to suggest that it began because individuals were willing to invest the time in doing something that the record companies would not (digitizing the vast amount of music that exists on hard media), seeming to imply that if the companies had done this themselves, and made their full catalog of music available online for users to download, even for a fee, then the problem of piracy may not have been such a major issue of them.

He also points a finger at the video industry, suggesting that if they don't get their act together, they will be next. Presently, what stops most users from downloading video entertainment online is that it is difficult to find, takes hours to download, and requires a fair amount of sophistication for the user to translate the downloaded digital file into something that's usable.

Therefore, the video entertainment industry should be proactive in finding a method of delivering video content that is simple to use and available at a reasonable price, before a third-party service does the same ... or people figure out how to share the content without their involvement.

EN: Cheers to the author for making this point. Individuals who "pirate" digital music have been demonized by an industry that sees this as a threat to their profits - when in reality, the industry is suffering from its own failure to understand and serve its customers. The "pirate" is merely a person who is doing for himself what the providers fail to do for him.

What makes peer-to-peer file sharing so successful is that computing power is inexpensive and abundant, so much so that the normal barriers to P2P file sharing (low bandwidth, unreliable connections) are overcome by the gross number of peers to which a computer can connect (the same file is available in many locations - the client chooses the fastest one, and if it craps out, he can continue downloading from the second on the list).

However, P2P is less efficient that client-server: a server is designed to serve files, is generally connected via a high-bandwidth pipe, and is managed to ensure that it remains online and available, even under peak loads. It should therefore be more efficient, and affordable, to provide access to content on a central server than over a peer-to-peer network.

More compelling than the network connection is the vast amount of content available on peer-to-peer networks. Each individual need only digitize his own small collection of files, and collectively the tens of thousands of users provide a vast library of selections - virtually anything ever recorded.

Meanwhile, companies that "own" the copyrighted property have been on the defensive: instead of feeding the demand themselves, they've sought to cut off the supply, attempting various measures to prevent files from being copied, which has been ineffective at stopping piracy, but quite effective in annoying and frustrating their legitimate customers.

Producers of video entertainment have been on the sidelines, but there are a number of efforts currently underway to enable customers to digitize their video collections, to share these files online, and to easily translate downloaded files into a medium that can be played on their existing AV equipment. In short, they're next - unless they react.

One solution is to limit the bandwidth available on the network to trusted sources, such that traffic from a legitimate source to a client is faster than network from peer to peer.

Technologies such as ADSL have this capability built-in: the client can receive downstream information at a high rate of speed, but sends information upstream (which would include a file requested by a peer computer) at a much slower rate.

It is suggested that companies could participate in P2P networks, enabling users to set prices for file downloads, such that the legitimate provider (using a Web server to provide their content) would have a much faster speed than a "free" provider (with a much slower speed), and speculates than many customers would be willing to pay the price to download.

He also suggests that service providers could discourage P2P file sharing by imposing fees on upstream traffic, providing sufficient bandwidth for the needs of most users (as sending URL requests upstream takes very little bandwidth), but in a manner that is punitive for file sharing (as bandwidth chargers for outbound files would mount, hence there would be a cost to the person for allowing others to download files from his computer).

It's also worth noting that the quality of content is important, and a legitimate production company should have the ability to provide a higher-quality version of their content to the market than pirates, and to do so sooner than the pirates, thereby gaining a first-mover advantage and gaining a higher reliability rating than illegitimate services.

An alternative method of competing is to make a greater amount of video available via existing channels - specifically, video-on-demand to a set-top box - at a price point that makes piracy not worthwhile.

EN: This problem is already on its way to being solved by companies that recognize this as a legitimate need and have provided solutions at a cost the market will bear: Apple's iTunes service and Netflix's streaming video services show two different models (per-unit or monthly fee) for providing content users want at a price that is acceptable to the market and profitable to the provider, and the former, at least, has largely preempted the "need" of the average consumer to rip and share files.