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Archive for March, 2012

We’re getting close to the decisive moments in the battle against ACTA and the European Commission has had to concede yet another defeat. I’ll just quote Rick Falkvinge for the full details:

“After a heated debate in Brussels today [Tuesday], the responsible committee in the European Parliament has decided to not send ACTA to the European Court of Justice, but to press on and make a final decision right away. This means that the final battle of ACTA stands right now, and has finished before the height of midsummer.

After the recent huge Europe-wide protests, which caught the politicians by surprise, the European Commission tried to take back the initiative by saying it would send ACTA to the European Court of Justice. In doing so, the Commission would ask for the court’s opinion on whether the repressive legislation package was compatible with human rights and charters of the European Union. Since this would stall ACTA for a year if not more, the activist corps calmed down: with this move from the Commission, the final showdown would now be at least two years out.

This also appears to have been the intent of the European Commission: to drain the protests of energy, sending the message that the final decision has been postponed by some two years. The European Parliament would have its own opportunity to ask questions of the Court regarding ACTA, making sure that the Court got the right and relevant questions.

But all of a sudden, with the committee’s decision to press for a parliamentary decision rather than following the Commission, ACTA is back on the short track for the deciding vote in the European Parliament – regardless whether or not the Commission sends it to European Court of Justice for evaluation. It should also be noted that the European Commission has not made any formal decision to actually get the court’s decision – saying so may or may not have been a smokescreen.

Regardless, ACTA will now be quickly processed in the various committees of the European Parliament, starting with INTA (the International Trade Committee, which owns the issue, and which decided today to not send ACTA to court), and progressing through two or three more committees in April and May, for a final vote in all of Parliament some time in June – possibly, but not definitely, in the June 11-14 timeframe. We have ten weeks in total.

If ACTA dies in European Parliament, then it’s a permakill, and the monopoly lobbies will have to start fighting uphill. If ACTA passes, the same monopolists get tons of new powers to use, and close the door for the foreseeable future behind the legislators for a very necessary reform of the copyright and patent monopolies.

Regardless, with the Parliament pressing forward, it is quite possible that the European Commission admits that its cards have been called and that it doesn’t send ACTA to the European Court of Justice at all; that playing this card was all just a tactical move to drain the activists of energy. If the Commission still sends ACTA to the Court, it will create an odd situation if Parliament says yes and the Court later says no – creating a situation where Parliament would have approved an illegal bill. Therefore, it is now completely safe to vote no to ACTA.

This is the fight we have to win. This is where we must ramp up the pressure on the European Parliament, which is where the battle for next-generation liberties will be going down in the next ten weeks in a series of small but important skirmishes leading up to the end-of-game boss: the vote on the floor of Parliament.

This is it. This is the showdown. This is the fight we have to win. The European Parliament’s vote is going to be the pivotal moment, not just for ACTA, but for the general trends in decades to come.

The ACTA showdown is now in progress, and if us activists don’t show up for the showdown, the show’s going down. We had a beautiful show-up in February, sending tremors to Brussels. Now, we need to repeat that message loud enough to be heard – in all the ways we can think of – for the next two and a half months.”

I refer you again to the ACTA link list I gathered earlier for further resources on how to join the battle: here.

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Here is an excerpt from a 1995 essay by the author and theorist Kathy Acker. Her thoughts on the way the Internet could potentially change the role of writing and copyright in society are certainly interesting in view of the more recent rise of the blogosphere and citizen media. The essay originally appeared in The Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association and is collected in Acker’s book Bodies of Work: Essays (1997). Read the whole essay here.

“If we look at the literary industry today, writing is in trouble. Very few writers who spend most of their time writing and those who want to spend most of their time writing, can make a living by doing what they do most the time and by what they love to do most. Those who can and do support themselves writing do so, on the whole, by virtue of something called copyright. Copyright’s existence, I believe, is based on the following assumptions or sentences: An author is the only person who has written her or his own work; an author owns her or his own work.

Now in the first sentence—an author is the only person who has written his or her own work—the assumed definition of identity is questionable. For instance, I do not write out of nothing, or from nothing, for I must write with the help of other texts, be these texts written ones, oral ones, those of memory, those of dream, etc. In the second sentence, an author owns her or his own work, the verb to own must be questioned.

In other words, as writers we depend economically on copyright, its existence, because we are living and working, whether we like it or not, in a bourgeois-industrialist, in a capitalist society, a society based on ownership. One needs to own in order to survive, in fact, in order to be.

Our society, however, is in the process of, or has already changed into, a postindustrial ex-national economic beast. I hope that I am saying this correctly. As economic grounds change, so do all others. Both language and communications and the place of language and of communications in our society are rapidly changing.

For instance: I teach writing courses at the San Francisco Art Institute. Each year, fewer and fewer of my students read books. I don’t mean that they don’t read. They do, though they might not admit it. They read magazines, ‘zines, they go to art performances, to spoken word events; they eagerly participate in such events; they buy CDs in which rock starts and poets perform. More and more students and, I might add, my friends, and myself are using the Internet as a location where we can place our work. For the moment, the Net is a free zone… for those who can afford or access the necessary equipment. Whether it will remain free or whether our government will be able to enact strict controls, or whether various multinational corporations will be able to turn the Net into a cross between TV media land and a shopping mall, an elephantine version of America Online, this no one knows. Certainly, there are those who think that the Net cannot be controlled. Now, I have no ideas whether or not it will be, that is, whether or not it can be. But either way, there is one thing I suspect. I suspect that copyright as we now define it will become a thing of the past.

I have taken a long-winded route to make one simple point, something that I think most writers now know: if it is at this historical moment difficult for a writer to make a living by depending on copyright, in the future it may prove impossible for all but the very, very few.

It is not the case that the Net is providing an alternative method of book publishing and distribution. Not at the moment, as the technology stands. No one is going to download a whole book, for it’s far easier to run to the nearest bookstore. The existence of the Net is threatening the literary industry in another way: my students, people who work, which probably means that they work more than eight hours a day and have little time to read, many, many of the people in this society are preferring to engage in writing and in writerly activities outside the realm of books. And so to a large extent, outside the realm of copyright as copyright now exists.

[…]

If we get rid of copyright as it now exists, do we have to throw writing away? In order to answer this question, I think that it’s necessary to try to see clearly, to see the society in which we’re living. I should say societies, for sometimes the only entities that make our societies single seem to be McDonald’s hamburgers and Madonna. We need to see how we as writers fit into our societies as and while these societies are changing. How can we, as Hannah Arendt says, even in worlds that seem to have become inhuman, remain obligated to these worlds? Obligated, for being writers, our job is to hear and put together narrations and so to give meaning even to what seems to be or is inhuman. How can I, as a writer, be of use to and in my societies? That is the question that underlies the one of copyright.

I think that it is hard to understand what writing is in our society because writing has become so entangled with the literary industry. Entangled to the point that there no longer seems to be any difference between the two. For instance, if a writer is not big business, she or he is not a good, that is, finally, not a publishable writer.

Let me paraphrase and so repeat Hannah Arendt’s question: To what extent do we remain obligated to a world even when our presence is no longer desired in that world? Are we, writers, obligated to the literary industry and to the society behind that industry? Here is Hannah Arendt’s answer: “Flight from the world in dark times of impotence can always be justified as long as reality is not ignored.” Flight does not mean abandonment.

As it now stands, the literary industry depends upon copyright. But not literature. Euripedes, for instance, wrote his version of Electra while Sophocles’s “copyright” was still active. Not to mention Shakespeare’s, Marlowe’s, and Ford’s use of each other’s texts. My worries with copyright, however, are not so academic. My worries concern the increasing marginalization of writers and of their writings in this society. Whenever writers are considered marginal to a society, something is deeply wrong, wrong in that society and wrong with the relations between writing and the society. For to write should be to write the world and, simultaneously, to engage in the world. But the literary industry as it now exists seems to be obfuscating relations between this society’s writers and this society.

Once more we need to see what writing is. We need to step away from all the business. We need to step to the personal. This is that I mean by flight. Business has become too heavy, too dominant. We need to remember friends, that we write deeply out of friendship, that we write to friends. We need to regain some of the energy, as writers and as readers, that people have on the Internet when for the first time they e-mail, when they discover that they can write anything, even to a stranger, even the most personal of matters. When they discover that strangers can communicate to each other.

The bestowing of meaning and, thus, the making of the world, the word as world: this is what writing is about.

[…]

Back to Hannah Arendt’s words. You see, my lazy mind never goes anywhere: it only returns. Writing, as defined by the literary industry, is all about individuals. I own my writing; that is copyright. “Power arises,” Arendt writes, “only where people act together, not where people grow stronger as individuals.”

To write is to do other than announce oneself as an enclosed individual. Even the most narcissist of texts, say Nabokov’s Lolita, reaches out to, in Lolita’s case grabs at, its reader. To write is to write to another. Not for another, as if one could take away that other’s otherness, but to another. To write, as Gertrude Stein and Maurice Blanchot both have said, is to write to a stranger, to a friend. As we go forward, say on the Net, perhaps we are also going back, and I am not a great believer in linear models of time, to times when literature and economics met each other in the region of friendship. “The ancients,” comments Arendt, “thought friends indispensable to human life, indeed that a life without friends was not really worth living.”

Friendship is always a political act, for it unites citizens into a polis, a (political) community. And it is this friendship that the existence of copyright (as it is now defined) has obfuscated.

The loss of friendship, the giving over of friendship to business based on individualism, has caused loss of energy in the literary world. Think, for a moment, with how much more energy one does something for a lover or for a close friend than when one acts only in the service of oneself.

In his remarkable essay about the writings of his friend Georges Bataille, Maurice Blanchot opposes two kinds of relationships, that of friendship and that of totalitarianism. Both Blanchot and Bataille lived through Nazism and Stalinism. A totalitarian relationship, Blanchot states, is one in which the subject denies the otherness, therefore the very existence of the other person, the person to whom he or she is talking. Thus, the totalitarian relationship is built upon individualism as closure. Individualism as the closing down of energy, of meaning. Whereas, when I talk to my friend, when I write to her, I am writing to someone whose otherness I accept. It is the difference between me and my friend that allows meaning; meaning begins in this difference. And it is meaning, the meaningfulness of the world, that is consciousness. You see, I am finally talking about my writing.”

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This is an excerpt from the Q&A period of a speech given by Noam Chomsky at Washington State University on April 22, 2005. He points out how the intellectual property regime has nothing to do with “progress”, but rather with preventing it. This applies not only to individual companies or people but also whole nations, which is why intellectual property rights figure heavily in international trade negotiations.

“That’s a very interesting question. It has an interesting history. The World Trade Organization, the Uruguay round that set up the World Trade Organization imposed, it’s called a “free trade agreement”. It’s in fact a highly protectionist agreement. The US is strongly opposed to free trade, just as business leaders are, just as they’re opposed to a market economy. A crucial part of the Uruguay round, WTO, NAFTA, and the rest of them, is very strong (what are called) intellectual property rights. What it actually means is rights that guarantee monopoly pricing power to private tyrannies.

So take, say, a drug corporation. Most of the serious research and development, the hard part of it, is funded by the public. In fact most of the economy comes out of public expenditures through the state system, which is the source of most innovation and development. I mean computers, the internet. Just go through the range, it’s all coming out of the state system primarily. There is research and development in the corporate system, some, but it’s mostly at the marketing end. And the same is true of drugs.

Once the corporations gain the benefit of the public paying the costs and taking the risks, they want to monopolize the profit. And the intellectual property rights, they’re not for small inventors. In fact the people doing the work in the corporations, they don’t get anything out of it, like a dollar if they invent something. It’s the corporate tyrannies that are making the profits, and they want to guarantee them.

The World Trade Organization proposed new, enhanced intellectual property rights, patent rights, which means monopoly pricing rights, far beyond anything that existed in the past. In fact they are not only designed to maximize monopoly pricing, and profit, but also to prevent development. That’s rather crucial. WTO rules introduced product patents. Used to be you could patent a process, but not the product. Which means if some smart guy could figure out a better way of doing it, he could do it. They want to block that. It’s important to block development and progress, in order to ensure monopoly rights. So they now have product patents.

Well if you take a look at, say, US history. Suppose the colonies after independence had been forced to accept that regime. Do you know what we’d be doing now? Well first of all there’d be very few of us here. But those of us who would be here would be pursuing our comparative advantage and exporting fish and fur. That’s what economists tell you is right. Pursue your comparative advantage. That was our comparative advantage. We certainly wouldn’t have had a textile industry. British textiles were way cheaper and better. Actually British textiles were cheaper and better because Britain had crushed Irish and Indian superior textile manufacturers and stolen their techniques. So they were now the preeminent textile manufacturer, by force of course.

The US would never have had a textile industry. It grew up around Massachusetts, but the only way it could develop was extremely high tariffs which protected unviable US industries. So the textile industry developed, and that has a spin off into other industries. And so it continues.

The US would never have had a steel industry. Again same reason. British steel was way superior. One of the reasons is because they were stealing Indian techniques. British engineers were going to India to learn about steel-making well into the 19th century. Britain ran the country by force, so they could take what they knew. And they develop a steel industry. And the US imposed extremely high tariffs, also massive government involvement, through the military system as usual. And the US developed a steel industry. And so it continues. Right up to the present.

Furthermore that’s true of every single developed society. That’s one of the best known truths of economic history. The only countries that developed are the ones that pursued these techniques. The ones that weren’t able… There were countries that were forced to adopt “free trade” and “liberalization”: the colonies, and they got destroyed. And the divide between the first and the third world is really since the 18th century. It wasn’t very much in the 18th century, and it’s very sharply along these lines.

Well, that’s what the intellectual property rights are for. In fact there’s a name for it in economic history. Friedrich List, famous German political economist in the 19th century, who was actually borrowing from Andrew Hamilton, called it “kicking away the ladder”. First you use state power and violence to develop, then you kick away those procedures so that other people can’t do it.

Intellectual property rights has very little to do with individual initiative. I mean, Einstein didn’t have any intellectual property rights on relativity theory. Science and innovation is carried out by people that are interested in it. That’s the way science works. There’s an effort in very recent years to commercialize it, like they commercialize everything else. So you don’t do it because it’s exciting and challenging, and you want to find out something new, and you want the world to benefit from it. You do it because maybe you can make some money out of it. I mean that’s a… you can make your own judgment about the moral value. I think it’s extremely cheapening, but, also destructive of initiative and development.

And the profits don’t go back to individual inventors. It’s a very well studied topic. Take one that’s really well studied, MIT’s involved: computer controlled machine tools, a very fundamental component of the economy. Well, there’s a very good study of this by David Nobel, a leading political economist. What he pointed out and discovered is the techniques were invented by some small guy, you know working in his garage somewhere in, I think, Michigan. Actually when the MIT mechanical engineering department learned about it they picked them up and they developed them and extended them and so on. And then the corporations came in and picked them up from them, and finally it became a core part of US industry. Well, what happened to the guy who invented it? He’s still probably working in his garage in Michigan, or wherever it is. And that’s very typical.

I just don’t think it has much to do with innovation or independence. It has to do with protecting major concentrations of power, which mostly got their power as a public gift, and making sure that they can maintain and expand their power. And these are highly protectionist devices and I don’t think… You really have to ram them down people’s throats. They don’t make any economic sense or any other sense.”

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Dmytri Kleiner, author of the Telekommunist manifesto, discusses in this talk the Internet from the point of view of political economy. He argues that the Internet is inherently communist by nature, being based on direct peer-to-peer communication, or mesh topology, with users engaged in the production of social value as equals. He then discusses how capitalists have tried to co-opt, with some success, the Internet by introducing a different topology, the star topology, by way of services based on the centralised structure of the World Wide Web. Only by this kind of topology where the capitalists position themselves as the mediators of all communication are they able to extract profit from the network. This also explains why the copyright capitalists are so hostile towards file-sharing networks. The talk was held at the SIGINT 2010 conference in Köln on May 23, 2010.

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The Global Square is the name of a social networking platform in development that is targeted at the Occupy and indignant movements as well as other activist groups. The developers have notched up the level of ambition quite a bit since I last blogged about it in January when the project was dubbed “a Facebook for the 99%” by the media. Now the goal seems to be to create a kind of self-sufficient “Internet within the Internet” that satisfies not only the communication needs of occupiers but also the needs related to the development and organisation of new forms of living. Most of the work done on the platform so far has been conceptual, so there’s not much to show in terms of actual implementations yet. Therefore, the developers are currently on the lookout for coders to join in the project. Here is the call-out they released a few weeks ago:

“TheGlobalSquare aims to be the first massive decentralized social network in the history of the Internet. We are aware of the difficulties we must overcome, but we believe the Internet Community has reached a point where such an initiative is possible. It is possible because we are more united; censorship and repression have created stronger bonds between those who care about freedom and the free flow of information. How can we achieve this goal?

Structure: Organizing humanity in a single collective
The Global Square is to be an easy to use social and work platform for individuals and groups. One of the main goals is that it should have very low barriers of entry for inexperienced users, making it as easy as possible for them to contribute work, interact and use the various tools at their disposal. Another goal is that the Global Square be expandable to allow global coordinated and efficient work in every system. TheGlobalSquare recognizes the principles of personal privacy as a basic right of individuals and transparency to all users as an obligation for public systems.
The Global Square is not exclusively for activists. While it will assist activists with the correct tools and virtual meeting areas, it will also be available to the global community. Although the structure is designed for organization and coordination of personal relationships, assemblies and action, the platform is also conceived for independent work systems, movements struggling for civil causes and more. As systems are added that encompass more aspects of daily life and political topics of wide interest, experts and users from all walks of life will be able to use the Global Square to discuss, create and learn. A first example of this is the News Commons, which will be a source of verified, crowd sourced and peer reviewed news on all topics. Other early basic systems to be created on the Global Square are the Global Market for establishing new methods of exchange and the Renaissance and Evolution Forums for testing principles for governance and law. Future systems could include topics such as communications, healing, food, arts, sports, sciences, trade, housing, and energy.
This is an open community where everyone is welcome. It is peer-to-peer, horizontal and non-hierarchical. This is a space where coders, designers, itechs, artists, activists and philosophers are invited to collaborate together. We believe it is necessary to concentrate and focus our energy, so if you are already in a group planning something similar or with the same objectives please participate to enrich both projects.

P2P based
With the support of Delft University of Technology, TheGlobalSquare will mainly be developed based on the existing peer to peer technology provided by the renowned file sharing software Tribler. Tribler is a project focused on decentralized social networks with years of expertise in peer-to-peer communication. By using this particular existing P2P technology it becomes virtually impossible to break or censor our network. The content files are not centralized in any physical server, so the network belongs to its users – a basic principle of participatory democracy applied to the on-line space. It encourages input from users from countries with censorship and blocking; with an ‘unblockable’ space to share all kinds of information and work collaboratively. It has been proven that WEB, as we know it, each day is more closed and subject to arbitrary and illegal blocking. A step beyond it is more than needed.

Open system
TheGlobalSquare will include authentication mechanisms, relational schema and communication protocols. Authentication and communications are up to whoever implements this specification to build a system. That will allow a project to be “TheGlobalSquare compatible” while supporting semantic data, currently visualized as RDF. The RDF vocabularies we develop to represent meaning and relationship are the common thread that enable uniting a variety of platforms. Any network is the sum of the technology supporting it as well as the actual connections made between individuals and groups within it. To succeed, we must be able to both leverage whatever currently exists as well as develop anything needed to build bridges between systems and people. There will be a blend of network protocols, web services, data stores, P2P clients etc. Tools for people across the planet to meet, share ideas and develop proposals must enable coordinated, effective, global action. TheGlobalSquare system will provide a unified way to manage communications between people within a radically heterogeneous vocabulary system.

Approach
Build something, get a real-world community to use it, and ask how we can improve it. Instead of detailing the design out from zero, we propose to build software and incrementally improve it. This requires a designed-for-evolution type of modern software engineering approach. Our goal is to have a functional prototype by March 2012. The Global Square will be a featured project at the Berlin Biennale from April 27, 2012 until July 1, 2012. To have something working in March, we need to be modest. We will start with a simple PC app. The first feature to create is an operational skeleton for an attack resilient social network: Users can add friends and send them messages in private. You can also leave messages on the people’s public walls. This first prototype should already have robust security and use Elyptic Key Crypto to secure all communication. Each user creates a public key upon installation. All private messages are encrypted for that person only. All friendships are initiated using spoofing-free mechanisms.

Features after the March release
Using the Agile method we will focus on one feature or module for a few weeks, conduct tests, do a release and then focus on the next feature. By releasing in a 6-8 week cycle we can focus on coding and improvement. A goal is to have a smartphone app later in the year plus a standalone app with a usable GUI. We will start with the stand alone PC app, which later can be turned into an .apk for mobiles. Once the basic prototype is up and running, we can add features beyond social networking, for instance, Squares, Task Groups or Events with communication systems. Once that is up and running the focus could be on “distributed decision making and voting” and the various Systems such as News Commons.

The global square needs developers to turn ideas and dreams in reality!
For such an effort, we must count on the community of coders and developers. We are going to use a Tribler kernel based on Python. We urgently need the help of the community in order to implement all the features planned for The Global Square. If you have expertise in Python and P2P protocols you still have time and opportunity to join our project, a project which will hopefully change the dynamics of interaction among global society.

Various jobs require a combination of the following:

  • experience witH Free Software project basic operation
  • Python programming
  • network protocols, UDP message transfers
  • cryptography, pub/priv key management
  • SQLight, performance, transactions
  • epidemic gossip protocols, for global dissemination of crypted info
  • self-organising network programming
  • GUI in WxWindows
  • Android developer, mixed .py build chain (for later smart phone .apk)

To join:

  • Take a week to read the Global Square wiki and the other documents and understand the existing code.
  • Possibly work for a few weeks on prototyping
  • Feb – March 2012 availability
  • Join the mailinglist: theglobalsquare@lists.takethesquare.net
  • Introduce yourself :-)

General-contact: Pedro Noel info@theglobalsquare.org
Press Contact: Heather Marsh (spokesperson) press@theglobalsquare.org
Developers Contact: Johan Pouwelse and Ed Knutson (development coordinators) dev@theglobalsquare.org”

To elaborate on the call-out a bit, the project consists, as I understand it, of three distinct and more or less independent parts, a federated data exchange system, a p2p-network system, and an application layer that sits on the other two.

The aim of the federated data exchange system, known as the “Global Protocol”, is to define the structure of the data that is passed around in the network and the protocols that are used for accessing the data and communicating between nodes of the network. This will be done by using open standards such as XML/RDF. This will allow any existing social networking platform with an open API to plug in to the Global Square network, including Facebook and Twitter. This is really what sets The Global Square apart from other platforms, as it makes it possible to proliferate the network without forcing people to abandon their existing networks or to switch inconveniently between networks. It also makes the system more viable in the long-term as any new platforms that gain popularity in the future can be easily incorporated into the network.

The aim of the p2p-network is to distribute the data on the network across the individual nodes so that it will be extremely difficult to take down that data by a malevolent party, as it would involve essentially taking down every individual node which may be spread all across the planet. The p2p-network is based on the BitTorrent client Tribler which is being developed in the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. Tribler is a fully decentralised system, meaning that it doesn’t require tracker servers to function (see a recent TorrentFreak article on Tribler here). Tribler has been in development for more than six years by a full-time team, so we’re talking about fairly mature technology here. Combined with mesh networking technology on the ground, the p2p-system makes the network highly resistant to shut down attempts by the authorities.

On top of the above systems come the actual applications that the users of the network will be interfacing with. Currently planned applications include a newswire, discussion forums and a global marketplace. Applications that facilitate decision making at the local occupations will likely be considered as well. And, this being open technology, anyone can develop the applications that they need.

Further details and developer information can be found in the Global Square wiki:
http://wiki.theglobalsquare.org

There’s also a discussion forum for developers and other interested parties:
http://forum.theglobalsquare.org

For those who want to plunge straight into the actual code, here are the repos related to the p2p-system:
Android app: https://github.com/whirm/tgs-android
PC app: https://github.com/whirm/tgs-pc
Dispersy (distributed permission system) protocol: https://github.com/whirm/dispersy

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TorrentFreak has published an article on the rising popularity of anonymised and secure filesharing tools:

“The file-sharing landscape is slowly adjusting in response to the continued push for more anti-piracy tools, the final Pirate Bay verdict, and the raids and arrests in the Megaupload case. Faced with uncertainty and drastic changes at file-sharing sites, many users are searching for secure, private and uncensored file-sharing clients. Despite the image its name suggests, RetroShare is one such future-proof client.

The avalanche of negative file-sharing news over the past weeks hasn’t gone unnoticed to users and site operators.

From SOPA to Megaupload, there is a growing uncertainly about the future of sharing.

While many BitTorrent sites and cyberlockers continue to operate as usual, there is a growing group of users who are expanding their horizons to see what other means of sharing are available if the worst case scenario becomes reality.

Anonymous, decentralized and uncensored are the key and most sought-after features. For some this means signing up with a VPN to make their BitTorrent sharing more private, but new clients are also generating interest.

Earlier this month we wrote about Tribler, a decentralized (not anonymous) BitTorrent client that makes torrent sites obsolete. We’ve covered Tribler for more than half a decade, but it was only after our most recent post that it really took off with more than a hundred thousand downloads in a few days.

But there are more file-sharing tools that are specifically built to withstand outside attacks. Some even add anonymity into the mix. RetroShare is such a private and uncensored file-sharing client, and the developers have also noticed a significant boom in users recently.

The RetroShare network allows people to create a private and encrypted file-sharing network. Users add friends by exchanging PGP certificates with people they trust. All the communication is encrypted using OpenSSL and files that are downloaded from strangers always go through a trusted friend.

In other words, it’s a true Darknet and virtually impossible to monitor by outsiders.

RetroShare founder DrBob told us that while the software has been around since 2006, all of a sudden there’s been a surge in downloads. “The interest in RetroShare has massively shot up over the last two months,” he said.

“In January our downloads tripled when interest in SOPA was at its peak. It more than doubled again in February, when cyberlockers disabled sharing or shut down entirely. At the moment we are getting 10 times more downloads than in December 2011.”

RetroShare’s founder believes that there is an increased need for security, privacy and freedom among file-sharers, features that are at the core of his application.

“RetroShare is about creating a private space on the Internet. A social collaboration network where you can share anything you want. A space that is free from the prying eyes of governments, corporations and advertisers. This is vitally important as our freedom on the Internet is under increasing threat,” DrBob told TorrentFreak.

“RetroShare is free from censorship: like Facebook banning ‘obscene’ breast-feeding photographs. A network that allows you to use any pseudonym, without insisting on knowing your real name. A network where you will not face the threat of jail, or being banned from entry into a country for an innocent tweet.”

It’s impossible to accurately predict what file-sharing will look like 5 years from now. But, a safe assumption is that anonymity will play a more central role than it ever has.

Recent crackdowns have made operators of central file-sharing sites and services more cautious of copyright infringement. Some even went as far as shutting down voluntarily, like BTjunkie.

In the long run this might drive more casual downloaders to legitimate alternatives, if these are available. Those who keep on sharing could move to smaller communities, darknets, and anonymous connections.”

While it’s naturally a good thing that awareness of the security issues with filesharing is growing, some thought should also be given to the openness question as well. If a large portion of sharing activity moves to darknets, we risk losing the network effect that has made the filesharing community the significant power it now is. What we need are technologies that will provide enough anonymity whilst also making the maximum amount of content available to the maximum amount of people, and we need these technologies to become the standard fairly quickly before the copyright industry manages to scare away the casual users from the networks. Filesharing should be preserved as a core online activity for the majority of Internet users, not just the selected few who understand the technical issues. To allow filesharing to drift back into the marginals would be a step backwards for our culture at large.

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