New technologies to improve peer-to-peer (P2P) technologies are appearing behind the scenes - and they offer a pointed reposte to the content industries about how to deal with P2P downloading. They demonstrate ways to solve the problem by technical means. And when you consider this carefully, it means you can demolish the IFPI / MPAA argument that the only way to reduce P2P traffic on the networks is through litigation and sanction - or that P2P traffic can be reduced at all.
P4P is a way for ISPs to tidy up the P2P traffic and reduce the amount of bandwidth it users - P4P is, if you like, a technically neater way to transmit P2P traffic, and will help reduce the network management overhead for ISPs. The core group of companies developing P4P* consists of a number of ISPs, mostly American, hand in glove with P2P companies like BitTorrent and Limewire, plus a few stalwart equipment manufacturers like Cisco. And - this is where it gets really interesting - on the list of observers is - well, you guessed didn't you? - the Motion Picture Association of America, NBC Universal (part-owned by Vivendi), Time Warner and Turner Broadcasting - all the content industry heavyweights.
Now, the argument, which the MPA and IFPI are fond of putting forward, runs like this: 80% of ISP traffic is P2P. They imply that most P2P traffic is illegal, and it is clogging up the ISP networks, therefore, the ISPs are also suffering from it and - by futher implication - should be grateful for the IFPI efforts to enforce copyright and reduce P2P traffic.
It is true that there is an oft-quoted figure of 70% of ISP traffic being P2P, sourced to Cachelogic. And ISPs don't especially like customers who hog bandwidth, as P2P users do. But that's about all the truth in the MPA / IFPI argument, especially in the context of the P4P development.
Indeed, the MPA / IFPI argument begins to look like nothing more than good old-fashioned muck-spreading. They are trying hard to convince people at a political level that their point is valid. But the P4P development makes a nonsense of what they say. It demonstrates that there is a technical means to resolve the P2P problems that the ISPs are experiencing. And it can be done in a truly co-operative spirit.
Now put this one together with another development - Flash 10, from Adobe - and you have a situation where P2P, far from going away, is going to spread even more widely, and get better! Currently in beta, Flash 10 will enable faster and better quality video downloads from any site which uses Flash - faster and better, that is, than YouTube. According to the blogger and erstwhile developer of Limewire P2P programme, Adam Fisk , this will bring a fundamental shift in what is possible on the Internet, and will mean that any website can easily implement video downloads, without needing any specialist programming skills. That means, we will see more, not less, P2P downloading - but it will be using software from a legitimate, and in Internet terms, old, business. And Fisk suggests that downloaders would be prepared to pay extra fees to their ISP, to get the extra bandwidth that they'll need for Flash 10 downloads.
Furthermore, when a totally legit piece of software, in every small website, can do high-quality downloads, just how far are the MPA and IFPI going to go to strong-arm ISPs into persecuting their own customers? How many warning letters and terminations are we talking about, when even my little website here will be able to offer its own video downloads using P2P technology?
*A handy guide to P4P is available on the Pando Networks website - click here.