FairShare: Stopping the File Sharing Madness

Posted 19 Mar 2001 at 12:12 UTC by sabren Share This

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 (http://www.sabren.net/)

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 both sides.

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 their art.

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.. :)

Potlatch and Tipster, posted 19 Mar 2001 at 18:53 UTC by wmf » (Master)

Sounds like the Potlatch Protocol and Tipster.

nope, posted 19 Mar 2001 at 18:57 UTC by graydon » (Master)

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 are 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 trustee", TimeWarnerEMISonyBMGUniversalPlex.

if this sounds like technical mumbo-jumbo, suppose we extend your idea to audio tapes: you can get bootlegs on any streetcorner, you have a pretty good reason to suspect they're bootlegs, yet they all have a legally "valid" signature (pen and ink) on the liner notes, along with a mailing address to send cash to.

are you honestly going to send cash to that address?

Seems to have problems, posted 19 Mar 2001 at 19:10 UTC by RyanMuldoon » (Journeyer)

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 » (Master)

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 my head).

signing authority can be the original producer, posted 19 Mar 2001 at 21:42 UTC by splork » (Master)

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 them.

What are now known as record labels themselves could even become merely a common 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.

response to splork, posted 19 Mar 2001 at 23:59 UTC by RyanMuldoon » (Journeyer)

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 » (Journeyer)

"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.

Coping and all that jazz, posted 20 Mar 2001 at 01:43 UTC by jmg » (Master)

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 scheme.

why do we have to sell?, posted 20 Mar 2001 at 03:07 UTC by rillian » (Master)

sabren wrote:

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.

supply and demand not really relevant here..., posted 20 Mar 2001 at 03:27 UTC by RyanMuldoon » (Journeyer)

jmg: 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. ;-)

"Courtney Love does the math", posted 20 Mar 2001 at 12:29 UTC by ask » (Master)

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 on record label profits, Napster and "sucka VCs.""

Optimal price - Learn from the Japanese, posted 24 Mar 2001 at 17:10 UTC by mvw » (Journeyer)

jmg wrote:

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 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?

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 market. At their first try the German publishers tried to sell these eastern popular art under the rule of the European comic book tradition, meaning roughly $10 for 48 pages 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 8 parts but still charged $10 per book. (The situation in the US, with Viz or Dark Horse charging too much, is similiar).

Needless to say, that the manga rocket didn't take off very well in Germany at first. Only the die hard fans, who were not able to aquire Japanese or US version bought that stuff.

The interesting thing that happened then was that actually someone must have had some brains and guts. In fact, in Japan these manga books are an enormous success, with readers from 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 Dragon Ball series from Akira Toriyama in a format similiar to the Japanese and for a cheap price 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 huge success. It went so far that even series like Battle Angel Alita, that were issued in the expensive, few pages edition once were stopped before the series finished and then relauched as a $5/many pages 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 pissed that they payed so much in the old days (3 times as much) on the other hand they 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 questions. :-)

For me this craze is an import lesson that decreasing prices might result in increased sales (of course) and increased profit as well!

No copyright if no sale, posted 25 Mar 2001 at 01:17 UTC by nelsonrn » (Master)

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. -russ

cppyright law applies, posted 30 Mar 2001 at 14:27 UTC by lkcl » (Master)

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!

teehee :)

especially if the file is then counter-digitally-signed by an "authorised" agent.

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.

:) :)

mentality problem to overcome, posted 30 Mar 2001 at 14:31 UTC by lkcl » (Master)

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?

existing schemes! get on bandwagon, quick!, posted 30 Mar 2001 at 15:58 UTC by lkcl » (Master)


search for "napster server", the list goes on, it's boring to list them all here, put the search criteria instead.

Severe Tire Damage has the right plan... look at this..., posted 30 Mar 2001 at 22:30 UTC by argent » (Master)


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 you.

If they can do this for their stuff, they can do it for Courtney Love.

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