Elliott C. Back: Internet & Technology

MPAA Needs No Evidence To Sue You

Posted in Copyright, DMCA, P2P, bit torrent, bittorrent, iPhone, iPod by Elliott Back on June 30th, 2008.

The following remark was made by Marie. L. van Uitert, MPAA attorney in the Jammie Thomas trial. She wrote in a brief:

It is often very difficult, and in some cases, impossible, to provide such direct proof when confronting modern forms of copyright infringement, whether over P2P networks or otherwise; understandably, copyright infringers typically do not keep records of infringement. Mandating that proof could thus have the pernicious effect of depriving copyright owners of a practical remedy against massive copyright infringement in many cases.

The rest of the brief goes on to list the reasons why the MPAA feels it should not have to meet the full burden of proof in its case (i.e. proving actual distribution). For them, the existence of a location where the copyright material could be copied is sufficient grounds for prosecution. When you take this off the internet, this is equivalent to suing some for 12 * $150,00 for loaning someone a CD they later copied.

For more coverage, see Wired and TorrentFreak.

Twitter is Shared Perception, Not Science

Posted in P2P, Quantitative, Science, Web 2.0 by Elliott Back on May 12th, 2008.

Today’s post by Robert Scoble on the earthquake that rocked China brings out an important distinction about the nature of a distributed messenging service like Twitter. Scoble eulogizes over the speed of information delivery in his post, thrilled that he knew about the earthquake 50 miles from Chengdu three minutes before anyone else did:

I reported the major quake to my followers on Twitter before the USGS Website had a report up and about an hour before CNN or major press started talking about it. [...] Several people in China reported to me they felt the quake WHILE IT WAS GOING ON!!!

While this is a great leap in keeping the world informed about what is going on in any part of it literally at the speed of light, what Twitter does is let you share perception and opinion with the rest of the world. This is different than sharing facts about what is going on. For example, the USGS report which came out three minutes after Chinese citizens began twittering that there was seismic activity, is full of precise details:

Magnitude: 7.9
Monday, May 12, 2008 at 06:28:00 UTC

Location: 31.099°N, 103.279°E
Depth: 10 km (6.2 miles) set by location program
Region: EASTERN SICHUAN, CHINA
Distances 90 km (55 miles) WNW of Chengdu, Sichuan, China
Location Uncertainty: horizontal +/- 5.8 km (3.6 miles); depth fixed by location program
Event ID: us2008ryan

If you look at Robert Scoble’s twitter stream, what you get instead is a succession of misinformation, subsequent corrections, noise, predictions of doom, and frenzy:

  • 06:37:49 – @dtan just reported an earthquake in Beijing. Wonder how large it is?
  • 06:40:50 – @keso reported earthquake too. @dtan said it lasted 10 seconds. I’d guess it’s a 4.5 then.
  • 06:41:21 – @michaelrice says it was a 7.8.
  • 06:44:14 – @gaberivera says it’s 57 miles from Chengdu, which has 11 million residents.
  • 06:57:46 – @jwalkerjr says to hold off on predictions. Well, I need to pass along my experience with earthquakes. This is a HUGE one.
  • 07:15:20 – @casperodj just said it felt like the earth was going to split. Literally everything was shaking.
  • For more just wade through the mud

To his credit, you can get an impression of the event, as seen through his and others’ eyes. You can get an idea of the scope, and the impact it has had on people around the world. But, you can’t get trustworthy facts from listen to what the general public is saying in the face of a disaster. A calm rationality is needed that Twitter cannot provide.

Still, Rory Cellan-Jones of the BBC is holding out hope that Twitter can mature into a real-time news service:

Let’s see, as this story unfolds, whether this is the moment when Twitter comes of age as a platform which can bring faster coverage of a major news event than traditional media, while allowing participants and onlookers to share their experiences.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that will happen. Twitter is fast, and it will let you share your experiences, but it will never replace solid journalism and hard facts. What do you think?

Mark Cuban’s P2P Ideas Suck

Posted in Celebrities, P2P, Performance, Scalability, bit torrent, bittorrent by Elliott Back on November 25th, 2007.

In a three-part rant about peer-to-peer technologies (1, 2, 3), Mark Cuban demands that peer-to-peer technologies “die a quick death” in order to”speed up [his own] internet connection.” He suggests that “Google Video is a far better solution for audio and video distribution than any P2P solution” and that cable companies “charge for upstream bandwidth usage.”

Guess what–I already get charged for all the bandwidth I use, either up or down. When Verizon strings a fiberoptic cable to my home, I’m getting a certain amount of fixed capacity into the greater internet at large. If I want to trade a little upstream capacity for greater downstream capacity, that’s my call! Have you ever noticed that downloading over http is typically slow because there are 100s of clients and 1 host? If I download the same information over bittorrent, I can sustain 12Mbs because everyone is a server–including me. Distributed protocols, such as the ones powering Amazon Dynamo or bittorrent, are more efficient, cost effective, and fault tolerant than single-server models.

Reactions around the blogosphere indicate that Mark Cuban’s thoughts on P2P are nonsensical rubbish. Mashable calls him “a guy who does not understand how P2P works, and yet he wants it shut down.” Ars Technica notes that “if users who are currently saturating their connections with BitTorrent start saturating their connections with Google Video content, the end result is more or less the same.” And a slashdotter comments, “Just imagine how fast the internet would be if there were no content to view. After P2Ps gone, get rid of all these freeloading websites, emails, etc. and it will be blisteringly fast.”

My guess is that billionaire Mark Cuban has a slow, shared cable internet connection at home, the modern equivalent of a party line. This might lead him to confuse his own slow internet connection with a greater systemic problem. What he should be complaining about is why Verizon hasn’t strung fiber in his area yet.

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