The Gnutella paradox

By Janelle Brown

By Salon Staff

Published October 4, 2000 7:08PM (EDT)

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Janelle Brown's article on the "Gnutella Paradox" is a prime example of ridiculous and alarmist thought. While Napster's future is still at risk, it is clear that one of its largest weaknesses is its centralized setup. Brown states that Gnutella may be next on the hit list but never gives any speculation as to how. Just because Gnutella may soon reach critical mass (which is theoretically impossible in a P2P setting) does not mean that corporate America can make a stronger case. Likewise, Gnutella is much less file-type specific than Napster, or even Scour, making the much hyped illegal MP3 trading threat a lesser liability -- after all, now it's just an abuse of the Gnutella idea rather than a blatant disregard for copyright law. So I can't see a paradox with Gnutella's emerging success. The only way I see Gnutella falling is if Brown is accurate in her statements concerning the potential instabilities of the Gnutella network, but never will Gnutella (or its decentralized brethren) fall to the attacks of big media.

-- Duke Kim

Janelle Brown does a good job of detailing many of the issues around P2P file sharing apps like Gnutella. However, she does seem to gloss over what, to me, are obvious parallels between the development of Gnutella-type software and the development of the VCR.

Initially, VCR manufacturers were faced with some of the same type of lawsuits from the motion picture industry. While the courts acknowledged that VCRs could be used for illegal purposes, it also acknowledged that there were many legal uses to which the VCR technology could be put. The illegal uses were not considered enough to block the legitimate uses for the technology.

There seems to be no difference here. Sure, P2P file-sharing software can and is used to trade copyrighted information. However, it is also an ideal way to share information that is not copyrighted, and these legitimate uses should not be curtailed because of people who choose to share copyrighted material. Instead, like the motion picture industry and VCRs, the correct solution here is not to ban the technology, but to aggressively pursue those individuals who choose to use it for illegal purposes.

-- Lyle Bateman

Janelle Brown's article is a comprehensive examination of the technical and legal issues surrounding Gnutella, which she proposes as the logical successor in P2P sharing if litigation forces Napster to close its doors.

Unfortunately, Brown dismisses in a short paragraph a much more likely successor, the Napigator server locator, and OpenNap and other non-Napster Inc. networks. These networks use the same protocols -- and more importantly, the same client application -- as Napster, but are not under the control of Napster Inc., and thus not subject to injunction as a part of litigation against Napster.

The individual servers located by Napigator, many of which are part of OpenNap, provide a variety of files and a total library size equivalent to Napster's individual servers. And best of all, nothing is required of the user except to configure his/her client to use a non-Napster server -- which is done automatically by Napigator.

It is true that unlike Gnutella, the operators of open Napster-style servers -- or meta-directories like Napigator -- can be identified, and thus are possibly subject to legal process, but the ease of implementing the server protocol and the sheer number of servers, located in various jurisdictions, makes the open Napster movement hard to put a legal finger on.

-- Michael C. Berch

Salon Staff

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