Thursday, March 24, 2005

iP2iP: iPod-to-iPod


On the eve of the war, that is the Grokster battle, I mean the MGM v. Grokster case at the US Supreme Court (March 29th), to drop the rhetoric, the PEW Internet & American Life Project has released a survey on file-swapping [PDF]. Its (press release) title is indicative for its (suggestive) conclusion: Music and Video Downloading Moves Beyond P2P. The Beyond is what PEW calls the "privatized" sharing that is the swapping of files though email, instant messaging and especially MP3 players:
Digital audio players like the iPod that can store thousands of songs and other files are emerging as an alternative way to access media files and avoid some of the potential risks of peer-to-peer usage. Copying files from others' MP3 players can require elaborate workarounds depending on the type of player, the software used to rip the files, and whether or not the files are copy-protected. Still, despite these hurdles, 19% of current music and video downloaders say they have copied files from someone else's player; 15% report it as a current practice while 4% say they used to do it.
That those workarounds are hardly elaborate proves the (commercial) availability of several hacks that let you, for example, copy files from iPod-to-iTunes(-to-iPod). This despite Apple's attempts to limit this transfer by hiding the part of the iPod's directory structure where the music files are saved and updating the firmware. This is likely because of contractual obligations with the music industry. But no contract can compete with code.

The survey says that while more people are swapping iPod-to-iPod, about 10% of the internet users is a former downloader. The RIAA lawsuits are mentioned by 28% as the reason to leave P2P, with nuisances as pop-ups and viruses in second place with 15%. However, overall file-sharing has stayed at the same level. Most interesting for the Grokster case, though hardly influential, is that Americans are about 50-50 on the reponsibility of the owners and operators of P2P networks for copyright infringement. I wonder what percentage of these are iP2iP swappers, who may transfer "legitmily" bought songs, but at the core likely depend on P2P applications for the initial music supply. What is stating the obvious: file-sharing may go beyond P2P to iP2iP, but the last is mostly an extension of the first and not breaking new grounds.

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