A recent development in the war against the file-sharing community has been the so-called Operation in Our Sites by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). The operation consists of seizures of the domains of websites that are accused of offering download links to copyrighted material. The sites need not be based in the US, but simply have a domain that is operated by the US company Verisign (that’s all sites in the .com and .net top-level domains). The US authorities have even demanded the extradition of non-US citizens who have been identified as administrators of said websites to face charges of copyright infringement in the US courts. (Visit TorrentFreak for more information about Operation in Our Sites)
The current strategy of the copyright mafia seems to be two-fold. On one hand, they’re targetting torrent trackers, torrent indexing sites and other sites offering donwload links by means of domain seizures, censorship, raids and the prosecution of their administrators. On the other hand, they’re targetting ordinary users of p2p-services by collecting large amounts of ip-addresses and mass-posting threats of legal action to the alleged users behind the addresses. The purpose of these operations is not so much to receive compensation for the purported losses caused by the copyright infringements, but to terrorize the administrators to take down their sites and the users to quit using these services.
How can we fight back against this strategy? In the case of trackers and websites, I think the key is in distribution. The BitTorrent protocol has for some time included support for distributed trackers using distributed hash table (DHT) technology. This allows peers to receive information about other peers and shared files straight from the other peers, eliminating the need for a central tracker service. Recently, some torrent clients (at least Tribler and Vuze) have also implemented distributed search capabilities which in turn eliminates the need for indexing sites. Ordinary websites can also be distributed, making them immune to censorship and raids, but not domain seizures.
In the case of users, the key is in anonymization, that is hiding the user’s real ip-address from scavengers on the net. One way to do this is to tunnel all p2p-traffic via an anonymous proxy or a virtual private network (VPN) service. Some torrent clients (eg. MediaGet) now come with support for VPN built-in. The problem with this solution is that the service provider will still be able to see the real ip-address, and while most of them claim not to store this information anywhere, the user has no way of verifying these claims. Another solution is to use the open Tor network. Tor works by routing traffic through a network of nodes run by ordinary users around the world. Also support for Tor has been included in torrent clients (at least Vuze).
It’s important that administrators and developers of p2p-services keep one step ahead of the copyright mafia. We must move from centralized services towards a less vulnerable distributed system. This will ensure the continuation of the services and lower the risk of attacks on individual administrators. Also the integration of anonymity services into p2p-software needs to be continued. This will lower the threshold of users to adopt these services and also promote the awareness of the importance of anonymity in file-sharing.