Thursday, June 18, 2009

Pirates roll out new weapons in their battle with publishers

The technology war taking place between publishers and pirates looks set to intensify, as those who seek to unlawfully copy and disseminate music and video move to lift their game.

A successful law-suit against the operators of the infamous Pirate Bay website has spurred some of the world's smartest and most highly motivated programmers to come up with new tools to thwart the surveillance and detection techniques used by publishers.

The latest addition to their arsenal is a virtual private network (VPN) that effectively hides the nature of content being transferred behind a curtain of strong encryption.

Now, simply monitoring the flow of bits and bytes along an ISPs data circuits will no longer be sufficient to pick up illegally copied software, music or video content.

And, even if authorities suspect that a file transfer contains illicitly copied material, the pirates are ready for them with a tool called BitBinder that cloaks the user's IP address.

Those charged with the job of identifying and collecting evidence against copyright infringers are challenging the claims of the pirates however, and believe that although these new systems may be a hindrance to enforcement officials, they won't completely hide such illegal activity. Nor, it is claimed, will they stop investigators from establishing the identity of those who are offending.

This skirmish comes at a time when governments are struggling to introduce new policies to cope with an ever-increasing level of piracy. Neither France nor New Zealand governments have been able to make their "three strikes" laws stick and both have gone back to the drawing board.

In Britain, the government has directed ISPs to cut illegal file-sharing by at least 70 percent within 12 months. Exactly how this will be achieved once the pirates' new tools become widespread is yet to be revealed.

Some experts have expressed the opinion that this war will only really be ended by way of a negotiated settlement rather than by the appearance of some insurmountable technology from either side.

Unfortunately, no such settlement is in sight, so the escalating arms war between pirates and publishers looks set to continue, at least for the foreseeable future.

Perhaps the next step in the pirate's game will be to harness the power of indirection and, instead of storing an entire copyrighted item on any individual site, distribute it across a network of servers in tiny chunks, randomly extracted from the original work. Downloaders would then simply exchange keys that effectively directed them to the servers involved and allowed them to extract the individual fragments - none of which is large enough to qualify for individual copyright protection.

One thing's for sure -- it's an intensely interesting war with many a strategy yet to be played out.

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