It's been six months since the Supreme Court ruling, during which time Kazaa was kablammed Down Under and the music biz became more aggressive with cease and desist letters to major P2P developers. So where is P2P heading? ... Nowhere new.
Let's look at the leading candidates.
Photo credit: Yoke Wee Loh
Limited P2P services that steer clear of the liability quicksand like Grouper with 100,000 groups and Mercora with 35,000 simultaneous users are finding a strong niche. But they are neither experiencing the breakout success of pure P2P clients, nor significantly displacing existing P2P users.
New distributed P2P networks?
Indeed oldtimer Gnutella is making a comeback, based on the stats at Slyck that show G1/G2 poised to overtake Fast Track (Kazaa, Grokster). Gnutella started in March 2000, five and half tech years, or 70 human years, ago.
A generation ago the litigation against Napster at least had a tangible short-term impact. Napster was the dominant market leader. P2P was severely impacted.
Centralized P2P networks were obliterated. There was no standard bearer for two years until technology innovation produced decentralized networks with Gnutella and FastTrack.
Today is a different story. The litigation against the makers of Grokster, Streamcast, and Kazaa will have so little effect that it's not resulting in technological innovation from either consumer demand or developer supply.
The future many warned the entertainment industry about is already here.
The Gnutella resurgence provides a clue. Gnutella's appeal is not its primitive technology, but its open protocol that attracted a large developer community with dozens of clients.
Ironically the innovation is not technological, but social.
P2P is going back to its open-source roots.
In response to industry litigation and high business risk developers are increasingly returning code to the wild.
Shutting down or converting the top P2P clients will have little effect on the overall open P2P networks.
Only a tiny fraction of file sharers will stick around for the euthanized versions that the RIAA finds acceptable.
We've already seen millions of people stampede from Kazaa to eDonkey and other clients in response to big music's initial and only effective interdiction program.
As the top clients stagnate, die, or transition, their users will migrate to friendly analogs. eDonkey fans will change horses to eMule, Limewire users will chill with Frostwire, and Kazaa folks will frolic with MLDonkey.
A hundred clients have already bloomed using today's existing P2P protocols. Thousands more will bloom totally legal on the highways of download.com, the hamlets of SourceForge, the side streets of Google, the back alleys of IRC and personal web sites, the countless foreign villages of Russia, China, and the world, and even the hush of the darknets.
This evolution exposes the exponential futility of the record industry's litigation against the top P2P companies, as well as the senseless Supreme Court ruling that bases liability on mind reading and smart marketing. (Sam, next time leave your MBA at home.)
The recording labels had little to lose and much to gain when they shut down Napster 1.0.
But today the cost-benefit analysis is completely reversed.
Forcing the P2P leaders out of the open P2P business merits only a limited win.
The PR is always good. But the industry, current networks, and unauthorized downloads will continue unaffected.
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Article originally published as "P2P Future Past Perfect Industry Commentary" on October 15th 2005 by Marc Freedman.