FairShare: Stopping the File Sharing Madness
Posted 19 Mar 2001 at 12:12 UTC by sabren
Having watched my friends build their business from the ground
up, it really came a shock to me to hear how hard they've been hit by
people pirating their recordings on Napster...
This article talks a little about the digital arms race going on
around file sharing systems, and offers a design for a simple technical
solution that might help bring us some peace...
FairShare: Stopping the File Sharing Madness
0319.2001 By Michal Wallace
I have to admit I'd been rooting for Napster until I caught up
with a couple of my friends today. Tom and Kim make their living
teaching advanced communication seminars and selling CD's of their
work (you can check out their site at
http://www.essential-skills.com/). They've put an amazing
amount of work into building their business and creating over the past
couple years, and have some of the best products in their market.
Having watched them build their business from the ground up, it really
came a shock to me to hear how hard they've been hit by people
pirating their recordings on Napster. When they first told me people
were stealing their stuff, I thought it was kind of cool. Sort of a
status symbol. But when piracy starts cutting into a person's
livelyhood, it's not cool anymore.
Like I said, I'd been rooting for Napster. It's such a great little
tool. So convenient! Any song in the world - bam! - right there at
your fingertips. Why buy CDs? Obviously, I've always thought, the
record companies need to get a clue and find a way to make this pay
off. But of course the record companies, for the most part, tried to
fight this technology.
That's silly. Peer-to-peer file sharing technology is here to
stay. Squash Napster, and Gnutella, or FreeNet, or Mojo Nation, or
something will take it's place. The more copyright holders and
file sharing users fight, the stronger the technology will become on
One side encrypts their content, the other writes a decoder. One side
cracks down on certain file names or a certain server, the other side
comes up with an encoding scheme or switches to a completely
decentralized model. One side passes legislation, the other side makes
things anonymous. I won't even mention the futility of copy protection
embedded in hardware.
Folks, we've got a digital arms race on our hands, it's just going to
get uglier. Today we're fighting about songs. Tomorrow it'll be books
and movies and software. Meanwhile, we've got publishers who are
actively seeking to keep their products out of a market, and fans who
are making it harder and harder for the artists they love to make
It's time to stop the madness!
Publishers: Get a clue. We're downloading your stuff
because we like you. We just can't get enough. We want what you make
so much we can't wait. Which is why we're not going to drive to the
store when we can download your stuff with a few clicks of a
mouse. And (sorry Tom, sorry Kim), but we're certainly not
going to wait for the mail to get here.
File sharing systems give us instant gratification. Better still, we
can grab just the stuff we want. Why can't you make it this easy to
buy your products? Why do we have to pay for a CD, a jewel case,
expensive printing and twelve other tracks the we don't want?
Napster fans: Quit mooching. If you really love these
artists so much, why the heck do you keep stealing from them? Sure, I
know, you go out and buy the CD's if you like the songs, right? Come
on. You may say that. You may point to increasing sales. But can you
honestly say you've paid for every song you've downloaded? What about
the people who've downloaded it from you?
Personally, I've downloaded my share of songs. I've bought plenty of
CD's, too. But I can't honestly say I've paid for every MP3 I listen
to. I hadn't even thought about it until today. And nothing you could
say would make me believe that I'm alone in this.
I like to believe that deep down, we're all good people. Most of us
don't go around stealing from each other in our day to day lives, and
it's not because we're afraid of getting caught. It's because we share
a belief that stealing is wrong.
The fact is, artists need money. As a culture, we're not much into
patronage anymore (don't worry - I'll save my thoughts on that for
another longwinded essay). If an artist (or novelist, or game
developer, or...) wants to make a decent living at her craft, she's
got to sell. That's where managers and record companies and publishers
and marketers and retail stores come in. Without these kind of people
making things happen, you and I wouldn't recognize names like Stephen
King, Michael Jordan, Julia Roberts, or (ahem) Britney Spears. They
people in the business side work hard to make this stuff happen, and
they deserve to get paid for their trouble, too.
On the other hand, most of us know better than to pay ten bucks for a
two buck anything. That's robbery of another sort.
Maybe things needed to be shaken up a bit. There's nothing wrong with
conflict as long as we don't wind up killing each other because of it.
A conflict like this is an opportunity for all of us to win.
I believe we all can win. Here's how:
Imaging a new kind of file sharing system - let's call it FairShare.
When you run FairShare, you get a little search box and you can type
in the name of a song or artist, and it'll hunt it down for
you. Nothing new there.
What's different is the type of file that's returned. If you search
for a song, you still get an MP3, but digitally signed with a secure
certificate from a trusted authority. Because it's signed, you know
you're getting the content you actually want. But more importantly
than that, the signature contains a price tag and a link to an account
on a electronic currency service such as paypal.
Let me expand on that, because it's an important concept. The
signature allows your software to validate that a file you've
downloaded has not been tampered with. (This is nothing new either -
you probably saw this happen in your web browser the last time you
downloaded a plugin.) Since you know it hasn't been tampered with, and
it tells you who made it, how to pay them, and what it costs, it's
fairly easy to write a program to automate the payment.
The payment module would live in the download client or in your MP3
player. Since the digital price tag stays with the file, you can pay
for it immediately, or try it out before you buy.
Let me make this clear: This scheme doesn't prevent anyone from
copying, sharing, decoding, or tampering with the file. It merely lets
you know who ought to be paid and what they think it's worth. If Joe
Musician asks for a dollar for his song, you can choose to pay a
dollar, or two dollars, or fifteen cents, or just not pay him at
all. (Ideally, the payment service would offer the option to pay
people anonymously.) The idea is just to make it as simple as possible
to pay artists for their work, without taking anything away from the
peer to peer concept.
And that's it... In summary:
In the FairShare world, artists want you to share files. The easier it
is for people to find their stuff, the more money they make.
In the FairShare world, publishers want you to share files. When they
buy the rights to publish an artist's work, so most likely, it's their
price tag you're seeing. They get to keep doing what they do best,
which is making sure you know what to listen to, only this time,
You're encouraged to download.
In the FairShare world, users can feel good knowing that they're
getting exactly what they want, when they want it, for pretty darn
cheap, but without having to steal.
A quick tech note: To keep things simple, FairShare-encoded files
would have two file extensions: one to designate the base type, and
another one to designate the fact that it's a FairShare file. For
example, an MP3 of someone's greatest hit might be
"greatest_hit.mp3.fair". The mime-type probably ought to be encoded
in there too.
In researching this article tonight I read through almost
everything up at
http://www.mojonation.net/ .. If you're interested in this kind
of thing but you haven't read what the Evil Geniuses are doing,
you really need to check this out.. In fact, if you're Jim McCoy
reading this, I'm a python developer and I could use some
short term contract work.. :)
nope, posted 19 Mar 2001 at 18:57 UTC by graydon »
there is nothing in this scheme stopping J Random from downloading
a popular song, stripping its signature, affixing his own, and
redirecting payments to himself.
there is no pre-existing trust relationship between listener and music
producer, nor a means of binding a song to a producer, so even a trusted
third party (like Verisign, whom we are supposed to trust because they
fabulously rich) will not help unless
they authenticate the music -> producer relationship, such as by
watching the music being produced. this is why digital watermarking
interests the record labels: you can skip the PKI racket and have the
music speak for itself about its creator, or rather its "copyright
if this sounds like technical mumbo-jumbo, suppose we extend your idea
audio tapes: you can get bootlegs on any streetcorner, you have a pretty
reason to suspect they're bootlegs, yet they all have a legally "valid"
(pen and ink) on the liner notes, along with a mailing address to send
are you honestly going to send cash to that address?
I agree with graydon in that it is too easy to strip
the actual copyright holder's information and replace it with your own.
Also, without a signing authority, this scheme doesn't work. I'd be
more interested in seeing an advogato-like trust metric be employed to
verify the quality of the file, as well as the authenticity of the
metadata. But I do think that the gist of what the article suggests is
the right idea. We need to be thinking in terms of the files
themselves, not means of distribution. It would be foolish to think
that we can control distribution, even if we wanted to. So we should
try and work on ways to compensate artists and content creators for
their work without having to rely on a central point of control.
Ideally some kind of standard "wallet" mechanism that is
password-controlled, and metadata on files that informs the user of
where to give payment for the content, and perhaps a suggested price.
But, this system heavily relies on honesty, which is a problem. ;-)
But, I do think that if prices are reasonable, there will be less
interest in piracy. Hopefully a trust metric of some sort would help to
improve consumer confidence and prevent cheating. But, I don't know how
the trust relationships could start initially, or who the seed would be.
It is an interesting problem.
on stealing, posted 19 Mar 2001 at 21:28 UTC by splork »
one nit pick i have without really commenting on this post as a while:
using the stealing analogy is wrong. The traditional act of stealing
involves derectly depriving someone else of the item being stolen. When
a bitstream is copied, the it doesn't hurt the original copy (or their
holder) of those bits. piracy is probably a better term (off the top of
ideally the original content producers would all use this distribution
mechanism as the primary way to download their content.
Then there is no need for a compilcated authority scheme as they can run
their website or whatnot indexing their arts and include something on
their https website that tells you (or better yet, automaticlly tells
your software agent) who the proper signed content authority is for
What are now known as record labels themselves could even become merely
signing authority to authenticate content. As long as the
prices are kept fair and the interface and ability to get content that
people want is good, there won't be incentive for wide spread priacy of
the titles ripped out and signed by someone else (or not signed at all).
If the record labels keep to their current business model of wanting
a true monopoly and charging whatever they feel like, thinking they can
be the sole source for digital data, they won't be able
to prevent piracy without creating laws trying to out do the government
from Orwell's 1984.
I don't think anything will get quite as bad as 1984.....record
labels controlling copyright can't really lead us to thinking that
they're double plus good. ;-)
On a more serious note though, I think that it is a pretty serious
problem to rely on a single distribution method. If we are to keep the
convenience of peer to peer filesharing, and prepare ourselves for
whatever the future brings us, we can't pretend that when I download a
song (or article, book, whatever) it is going to be coming from the
artist. It may be coming from my friend, or some random person. But I
will still need a means to pay the artist if I decide that the file I
downloaded is worth compensation. I don't want to pay the person I got
it from, because they are just the middle man that didn't really do
anything. What I would like to see is a means to pay the artist
directly, and remove the institutionalized middle man from the equation.
That way I can pay more reasonable prices, and the artist gets more
money. I want a system that encourages creation, not distribution.
A possible solution is that the file contains a URL for the artist's
website, where I can pay for what I downloaded. The problem with this
is that it should be (rediculously) easy for me to pay the artist. If I
didn't get the song from the web, I shouldn't have to go on the web to
pay. The payment method should have a clean break from the
distribution/acquisition method, but I am not sure what would create an
elegant interface for this. It would be great if this were built into a
more general metadata standard, so an operating system's metadata
manager could provide hooks to deal with this. It would be nice if I
could just right-click a file, and go to a payment option. Then I could
just fill out a little form for how much I want to pay, and verify that
the money is going to the right place. But that is very much a blue-sky
solution, that leaves out a lot of the hard work (like how the money
goes from my credit card to the artist). Some files would have this
extra payment field filled out in their metadata, while others wouldn't.
It would be up to the content creator. It would be at the consumer's
leisure to decide if they should pay, and how much. Given this, I think
a lot more people would pay, knowing that they have the power to choose.
No one is treated like a potential criminal, and no third parties get
excessive payments for no good reason. That is at least the direction I
would like to see things go.
re: on stealing, posted 20 Mar 2001 at 00:24 UTC by i0lanthe »
"Piracy" could cover illicit copies of the bitstream. But I would also
like a word for the situation of those unfortunate unknowns (who
probably aren't expecting to make a dime anyway) whose songs end up
misattributed to arbitrary well-known performers such as Weird Al. I'm
not sure that stealing is the right word there either, but it's certain
that they're being deprived of something that they value (even if no one
else wants it, heh): the credit for their work.
It comes down to a simple economic system. Supply and demand.
I personally prefer having a real CD copy of the songs I'm listening
to. I normally listen to a variety of techno which mp3 fails to do a
very good job encoding, and so, having the original is almost a must for
many of the songs, but when the cd's cost so much, it limits how much
you're buying. If the record companies want to compete, they have to
meet the price of the market, I'm sure that even if they dropped the
prices down to $10/cd, that they'd end up selling more records, but
would it be more than 16/10 times more than they are currently selling?
Part of their projections is just how much is lost to piracy, and
estimating the various costs.
They've probably done enough costs considerations to say that they
make the most money (they don't care about unit sales really) with the
price at $16. Plus if they suddenly dropped the price, then it's also
cause the market to question, why the sudden price drop? Unless there
are associated price saying that instead of costing $.01 per disk, that
they have new technology that reduces the cost down to $.0001 per disk,
and so they have a reason to drop the price, they'll just under
mind the market confidence in their product.
The record companies just need to wake up and do new projections
based on what's going on. I'm sure they've already done it, and they
still come out a head at the $16/disk price even with all the people
using Napster and other file sharing programs.
Technology is here to stay, people just have to learn how to make
money using technology. Why else do you think Microsoft is rolling out
.NET. I wouldn't be surrprised in the MPAA and MRIA have some
investment in .NET to distribute the content on a pay per listen/watch
The fact is, artists need money. As a culture, we're not much into
patronage anymore. (...) If an artist (...) wants to make a decent
living at her craft, she's got to sell.
On the other hand, most of us know better than to pay ten bucks for a
two buck anything. That's robbery of another sort.
Implementation issues aside, this thinking is part of the problem
you're trying to solve.
The basic argument for why we should accept capitalism is that this
sort of individual selfishness can organize the distribution of
resources in a reasonable and decentralized way. However, that theory
was for physical commodities. It doesn't work for creative works where
the cost of production is all about making the first one. Intellectual
property laws were one way of dealing with this, artificially tying the
creation costs into the cost of 'copies' or 'implementations' of the
original work. Government patronage has been another, most particularly
in science and technology, but also in academic arts and humanities,
public radio and television. To say that 'the artist must sell' misses
much of the scope of the problem, I think.
An artist needs two things: resources with which to create their work,
and money to live on while doing it. So we do have to figure out how do
get them those things if we want alternate distribution models to
work, and it's going to be more efficient to use new models for
compensation at the same time. As with software, control of distribution
is a completely separate issue, and one that has poor place in internet
culture. If pay-per-download worked, we'd all be doing that along with
everything else we buy online.
The problem is as much social as it is technical. Most people are used
to being agressive in buying what they like in an environment of
scarcity. It would work just as well if we were, for example, aggressive
in donating to support the work of artists we like in an environment of
riches. There's some interesting movement in this direction with the
decline in online ad revenue, but in general we have to build a road
from one to the other if we want this to happen.
: While I agree with you that I would rather own a
physical cd than just mp3s, I don't think that the supply and demand
model is really a good way to think about it. I buy my cds for two
reasons: first, I like supporting the artists, and second, I like the
fact that I have a (in my opinion, anyway) very solid cd collection. I
like having a nice comprehensive collection of cds, with all the liner
notes and such. However, I have cds that I've bought and not even
opened yet, because I have all the mp3s anyway, and I find playing mp3s
more convenient. If I had an extremely high-end stereo, that might
change things, but I don't. ;-)
More to my point: you suggest that supply and demand is what is
governing the price of cds, and if cds were lowered in price, consumer
confidence would go down. I very much disagree. I tend to refuse to
buy cds that are more than $12. Why? At the very most, the artist will
get 50 cents of that. I don't feel a need to support record companies
themselves. They have essentially a monopoly hold on the market, and
can fix prices to whatever they want. This kind of affects the supply
and demand model, as consumers can't get an alternate good that is
essentially the same thing, which would cause the record companies to
lower the prices accordingly. The best a consumer could do is just
pirate the music, which is what we are seeing now. The MPAA learned
that by making their VHS prices reasonable, piracy dropped to being
negligible. Why doesn't the RIAA follow suit? You claim, as I
mentioned before, that consumers would lose confidence in the good. But
the good we are talking about is music, which the consumer has already
heard, and has an interest in buying anyway. So where can confidence be
lost? It isn't like an overly-cheap car that will probably fall apart.
Also, the cost of producing a CD has absolutely nothing to do with the
pricing. Cassettes cost an order of magnitude more to make, but are
half the price. Why? Sound quality. The price of the CD is based on
the intellectual property, not the physical medium.
I don't think anyone would accept a pay-per-listen model from record
companies. Why pay more for less? We can already use the radio or MTV,
or go out and buy the actual cd. I don't think that the RIAA or MPAA
would be dumb enough to offer pay-per-view models as a replacement for
actual ownership. Americans like owning things. ;-)
Speaking of this I'll have to give a link to this very interesting and
well written speach by Courtney Love. "Courtney Love does the math".
"The controversial singer takes
record label profits, Napster
I personally prefer having a real CD copy of the songs I'm
listening to. I normally listen to a variety of techno which mp3
fails to do a very good job encoding, and so, having the
original is almost a must for many of the songs,
Me too. And this material that is usually not played on radio regulary,
so I buy the
rather expensive CDs, knowing that otherwise that market would shrink -
I would like to get more good Techno/Trance music.
If the record companies want to compete, they have to meet the price of
market, I'm sure that even if they dropped the prices down to
$10/cd, that they'd end up selling more records, but would it
be more than 16/10 times more than they are currently selling?
I would say, nobody tried thus nobody knows for sure.
There has been a related phenomena, where cutting down the price roughly
down to a third of the original price has enormously increased sales and
generated huge profits for the vendor.
I am talking about Japanese manga comic books in the European book
At their first try the German publishers tried to sell these eastern
the rule of the European comic book tradition, meaning roughly $10 for
of art work.
As manga in Japan were intended to be sold for about $10
for a 200-400
pages book, German publishers thougt fine, and just cut such a book into
but still charged $10 per book. (The situation in the US, with Viz or
charging too much, is similiar).
Needless to say, that the manga rocket didn't take off very well in
first. Only the die hard fans, who were not able to aquire Japanese or
bought that stuff.
The interesting thing that happened then was that actually someone must
some brains and guts.
In fact, in Japan these manga books are an enormous success, with
young to old ages buying them en masse.
The mystery to solve was why did it work there and not here?
I believe it was first in France, that a French publisher published the
series from Akira Toriyama in a format similiar to the Japanese and for
at the same time. Then the manga phenomenon took off like a rocket.
Same in Germany, Dragonball sold for $5 per 200 pages pocket book was a
It went so far that even series like Battle Angel Alita, that were
expensive, few pages edition once were stopped before the series
finished and then relauched as a $5/many
edition. Now it sells like hot potatoes.
The present manga craze is the major source of income for German
comic book publisher.
They've probably done enough costs considerations to say that
they make the most money (they don't care about unit sales
really) with the price at $16. Plus if they suddenly dropped
the price, then it's also cause the market to question, why the
sudden price drop?
In case with the manga comic books, possibly the old readers were quite
that they payed so much in the old days (3 times as much) on the other
were very pleased about the incredibly enlarged offering,
titles that had no
change getting published were now available for el-cheapo price!
And the new readers, a large multiple of the old readers,
didn't ask such
For me this craze is an import lesson that decreasing prices might
increased sales (of course) and increased profit as well!
I think that we should modify copyright law so that it only applies to
works which are for sale. As soon as the copyright holder removes the
work from the market (for more than three months), they have
presumptively abandoned their copyright.
Similarly, a copyright holder should not have the right to remove a
derivative work from the market. They should have the right to publish
the derivative work themselves, but if they refuse to exercise that
right, then other people can market the work.
there is nothing in this scheme stopping J Random from downloading a
popular song, stripping its signature,
affixing his own, and redirecting payments to himself.
1) this would be illegal - even under existing copyright law. to sell
something under a different name.
2) to make this enforceable in court, you get the _artist_ to digitally
sign the song _and_ the payment information, combined.
therefore, if someone attempts to rip an artist off, they can be sued
under _existing_ copyright law because there is a digital signature
proving that the file is in fact owned by the artist not the thief.
worse for the thief: they are digitally signing their own death-warrant!
especially if the file is then counter-digitally-signed by an
i.e., the artist specifically agrees that some specific agents are
authorised as download outlets for his files.
heck, you could even have the artist specify the terms and conditions
under which the agents may upload their work. [e.g. pay-in-advance,
freely-available, try-before-buy etc].
then what you do, is, you have a trust-metric or PKI distribution
channel "verification" procedure on the download outlets / agents.
the download-software then checks the agent's authenticity / right to
distribute, checks against the distributed trust metric, etc.
you could even possibly make it two-way trust metric verification: only
certain clients running at certain ip addresses or certain users etc.
[because i can forsee a scenario in which people strip out the
authenticity warnings from the download-software.]
all digitally verified. there exists code that can do this, it's called
keynote. i've mentioned it before.
and if someone wants to pay me lots of $, i'll write the infrastructure
to do it. heck, i'm likely even do it anyway.
anyone know if anything like this is patented? if it isn't, and you're
thinking of patenting it, you're too late: this is a public forum.
buy a cd. it's _ridiculously_ expensive.
you _know_ you're paying some _stupid_ studios to line their pockets.
unfortunately, _every_ cd you buy has this "psychological taint".
therefore, the cart has become before the horse, as well as the horse
before the cart.
if you get _any_ music, regardless of means, you _must_ be "paying some
stupid rip-off merchants", knowing full well that almost zero gets to
the artist _anyway_.
which is probably why there are so few artists except mass-market,
media-hyped, over-exposed ones.
vicious circle time...
... who's gonna break it?
search for "napster server", the list goes on, it's boring to list them
all here, put the search criteria instead.
You go to the STD website, you listen to samples, you select what you want on your CD, they cut you your custom CD and send it to
If they can do this for their stuff, they can do it for Courtney Love.