peer-to-peer (p2p) networks

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  • 1. Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Networks Alex Burns Senior Researcher, Smart Internet Technology CRC

2. Overview

  • History
  • What are Peer-to-Peer (p2p) networks?
  • Social Implications (Spar and Vaidhyanathan)
  • Napster, BitTorrent, and Hyperdistribution
  • Case Studies

3. Part 1: P2P Technology 4. History

  • Internet infrastructure was a precursor to Peer-to-Peer (P2P) and distributed computing principles
  • P2P applied in industry applications (e-health and science)
  • Became prominent in late 1990s across college campuses
  • Illegal file-sharing as killer app (Napster, Grokster, Kazaa)
  • Has relationship with multimedia file formats
  • Has coevolved with Digital Culture

5. P2P Networks

  • Replaced the File Transfer Protocol (FTP) and Gopher
  • Differs from centralised Client-Server architecture
  • With P2P, each computer is both a server for remote users and a client to download files (Jason Whittaker)
  • Allows users to run programs that turn their computers into servers on a distributed network
  • SETI@Home introduced many netizens to pseudo-P2P ideas
  • Taps into Metcalfes Law and Reeds Law (exponential value of more users and the power of distributed groups)

6. Vaidhyanathans P2P Criteria

  • Siva Vaidhyanathan defines distributed P2P systems as:
    • End-to-end design: involves a PC or person as end-point
    • Decentralised: Resources spread out, can flow through system
    • Anti-authoritarian: Not subject to command-and-control structures, developed by hackers, mavens, and pioneers
    • Difficult to manage: Removing content and users is impossible
    • Extensible: Open access to many, node structure, work via protocols, comparable to diaspora population

7. Part 2: Legal and Social Implications 8. Implications 1: Debora Spar

  • Harvard Business School professor
  • Author ofRiding The Waves(2003)
  • Neo-Marxist model of technological diffusion into society
  • Suggests the Technological Frontier has political battles
  • How commerce and politics cross-impact on innovation
  • Case studies on radio, digital television, the Microsoft antitrust suit, and Internet file-sharing services
  • Why rules get established along the technological frontier, and who plays the greatest role in their creation

9. Phase 1: Innovation

  • The sexiest phase along the technological frontier
  • Tinkerers, inventors, and discoverers
  • Visionaries and Early Adopters (Geoffrey Moore)
  • Small and specialised groups, non-commercial use
  • Research labs and technology consortiums
  • No rules because none is needed
  • Government regulation still possible at early phase
  • In many ways the most peaceful . . . Often ends abruptly

10. Phase 2: Commercialisation

  • The defining moment of the frontier economy
  • Libertarian politics as the norm
  • Pioneers, Pirates, Marshals, Outlaws, Dotcom Entrepreneurs
  • Focus on Venture Capitalists and prototype-to-market
  • Depicted in Jehane Noujaims
  • Shift to early mainstream in pursuit of profits (Geoffrey Moore)
  • During these times of technological flux, the rules are just too flimsy
  • Cryptography and hacker debate in arms race with regulators (Kevin Mitnick, Philip Zimmerman, Bruce Schneier)

11. Phase 3: Creative Anarchy

  • Creative anarchy is the most frustrating stage
  • Chaos Rules school emerges as significant barrier
  • Tragedy of the Commons scenario
  • Shift from libertarian politics to laissez-faire markets
  • Standards coordination and hypercompetition as problems
  • Legal battles over Intellectual Property rights and ownership
  • Early pioneers are outwitted by entrepreneurs
  • Technology maturity: diffusion pressure for mainstream
  • Digital Nativescreate enclaves to survive

12. Phase 4: Rules

  • Rules get created because private firms want them
  • Initiative may come from companies, nation-state, groups
  • Embed politics in markets: access, power, social norms
  • Shift from firms to self-regulation or government intervention
  • Government involvement necessary to enforce rules
  • Professional groups for codifying international standards
  • Firms use the state to preserve its own commercial empire
  • U.S. DoJ v Microsoft antitrust suit
  • Napster, Grokster, and Kazaa court rulings


  • Associate Professor at New York University
  • Author ofThe Anarchist In The Library(2004)
  • Influenced by political philosopher Robert Nozick
  • Coevolutionary model of technology and users
  • Interested in the ideology of P2P (Jack M. Balkin)
  • P2P as alternative future to Dotcom-era visions
  • Posits an access versus ownership debate
  • Warns of bleed-through when online debates have serious offline implications (legal precedents, social norms)

Implications 2: Siva Vaidhyanathan 14. Vaidhyanathans P2P Critique

  • Tension between hypercapitalism and knowledge creation
  • Challenges artificial scarcity
  • Encourages inconspicuous consumption and conspicuous production
  • Distinction between P2P use and real piracy
  • Transborder networks may harness creativity and global flows
  • P2P like any other technology alters our online environment
  • Is contract law obsolete or misplaced?
  • What do the industry debates reveal about P2P ethics?

15. Napster

  • Created by Shawn Fanning in 1999
  • Touted as disruptive technology (Clayton M. Christensen)
  • Jukebox in the Sky fears for music industry
  • Counter-attack spearheaded by Metallicas Lars Ulrich
  • 26.4 million users in February 2001
  • Ninth Court Circuit injunction on 5 March 2001
  • Acquired by Roxio Inc. and used to rebrand PressPlay service as Napster 2.0 subscription service


  • Napsterisation touted as business model by press
  • Scrutiny of music industry standard operating procedures
  • Second generation services: Grokster, Kazaa
  • Led to BitTorrent as a true P2P alternative
  • Established MP3 as a major audio file format (standards)
  • Helped to create market for Apple iPod player
  • Impact on digital and mobile phone cultures
  • WiredMagazine promotes remix cultures (2005)

Napster Outcomes 17. BitTorrent

  • Created by programmer Bram Cohen in 2002
  • A P2P distribution protocol and client application
  • Seeds files into distributed packets over many computers
  • Additional seeds creates more bandwidth
  • Client software such as Azureus
  • Accounts for 20-30% of total broadband traffic (estimates)
  • Attempts to shutdown major Torrent sites
  • Popularisedanimeandmangain West

18. Hyperdistribution

  • Coined by VRML creator Mark Pesce
  • Relevant to Negropontes atoms versus bits
  • BitTorrent-enabled content distribution
  • Disruptive to traditional media distribution practices
  • Battlestar GalacticaandDoctor Whocases
  • Opportunities for indie distribution
  • Avoids institutional bottlenecks and gridlock
  • The Napsterization of Everything (Mary Hodder)
  • Blogs + P2P Democracy (Howard Deans PR maven Joe Trippi)

19. Recent P2P Rulings

  • MGM v Grokster and Streamcast Technologies(27 June 2005)
    • Involved 28 entertainment companies as litigants
    • Electronic Freedom Foundation defended Grokster and Streamcast
    • P2P software manufacturers liable for infringing users
    • Clarification on 1984 Sony Betamax case
    • Inducement theory of copyright liability (new precedent)
    • Risk that manufacturers have to modify technologies for Hollywood
  • Universal Music v Sharman Networks(5 September 2005)
    • Orders Kazaa to implement software provisions immediately
    • Kazaa must use filters to prevent searches for illegal software
    • Avoided the Trad