Greg Bildson is the COO of LimeWire and president of P2P United, a consortium of P2P software companies created to help educate Congress and the public about peer-to-peer software, technology, and culture. P2P United is the organization that paid 12-year-old Brianna LaHara's $2,000 RIAA settlement after the RIAA served her with a Digital Millennium Copyright Act subpoena.
P2P United is also trying to educate the RIAA about the many ways in which P2P technologies could be beneficial to its member companies. LimeWire's MagnetMix web site provides one example of the numerous ways that traditional web-based programming can be combined with P2P technologies to provide new kinds of experiences for music lovers.
In this interview, Lisa Rein catches up with Greg Bildson to hear his views on the state of P2P, the RIAA, and the challenge of educating lawmakers.
Lisa Rein: So, you guys paid Brianna's RIAA fine?
Greg Bildson: Yes, we cut the check to her mother to reimburse her. We felt that suing a 12-year old in the Bronx wasn't the answer.
LR: Tell me more about P2P United.
GB: P2P United is basically trying to make sure that Congress doesn't do anything stupid, which they're apt to do in the technology world. We're trying to make sure to protect our rights to innovate and write software, and to address all of the bad mouthing the RIAA is constantly doing to P2P.
P2P was proven to be legal in that California decision. If there's anything we can do with respect to the overreach of the DMCA and invasion of privacy and, basically, due process -- we feel that there should be due process, and there should be an actual lawsuit before they are able to get information about users.
Congress is writing bills targeting P2P, and the RIAA is talking about pornography and homeland security and identity theft and all of these things that are really minor concerns, with regard to P2P. For the most part, Congress is either overreacting or doing the bidding of the RIAA.
For instance, there was a hearing regarding P2P and porn a few weeks ago. There are already laws that exist to punish people for being pedophiles; P2P's got nothing to do with it. In these cases, the content itself is illegal. P2P is not the concern when it comes to child endangerment, but they are constantly targeting P2P. They should go look at AOL and Yahoo chat rooms rather than P2P networks. Orin Hatch's presentation of child pornography began with a movie sponsored by the RIAA. The record industry is probably the last group of people to be protecting children, when their lyrics and videos are so explicit.
So the RIAA is basically using the high $150,000 per infringement to extort a settlement out of people who wouldn't even consider fighting it. People view this more like a speeding ticket instead of something where one act of infringement can cost you $150,000. We're in favor of people being able to protect their copyrights, but in a way that is fair. If the government is going to regulate, they need to know what they're doing. They shouldn't be getting their information only from the RIAA.
LR: So are you trying to educate Congress?
GB: Yes. P2P United is trying to educate Congress. However, their staffers need to be willing to be educated. So far, they've been willfully blind or ignorant.
LR: Do you think that the RIAA might eventually see the various ways that P2P could be beneficial to their business model?
GB: We hope so. We're seen as a threat to the record industry, but there's definitely potential for a win-win solution. The discussion needs to move beyond sound bites for soccer moms. Congress is making sound bites rather than thinking seriously about technology or innovation.
LR: What do you think of compulsories for file sharing?
GB: The big media companies -- the "Big 5" -- have had a lock on both distribution and licensing in the past. If the RIAA had let people license their music in the 90s, they wouldn't have the piracy problem they have today. There was a natural demand. There's a benefit to the current world of having music currently available.
LR: What about iTunes and Buymusic.com? What do you think of them?
GB: They're steps in the right direction, but they're still radically overpriced. In the digital age, there's no reason for a song to cost 99 cents; it should be five cents. Another issue is that the Microsoft DRM looks to be too restrictive. Judging by the trend of recent PC pay-per-download sites that all use Microsoft DRM, handing another monopoly to Microsoft doesn't seem like a smart move.
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LR: So what's Magnetmix?
GB: We've been putting the technology in place for this for a while. It's an example of integrating P2P networks and the Web. We think that's what the future is going to be. The Web can present things nicer and give you nice images, while the existing P2P networks just act as sort of a raw Google search. "Magnet links" can work into P2P networks for a richer experience by packaging the content into a single download. We think that it's going to appeal to content creators in the future. The portals will highlight high-quality, legitimate content for high-quality independent artists of all kinds.
So rather than running their own web servers, artists will create their content and then bundle it into a package media file that's just a .zip file with an index.html file inside to launch from. This file is placed on a P2P network. The entire experience is serialized, if you will, in these packages.
LR: So a user would see the web page, and then click on the link to get the music via a P2P network, rather than eating up bandwidth.
GB: Right, with videos and pictures and things.
LR: ...that would be expensive to serve on the web?
GB: Right. It's expensive to serve, but it's easy to use P2P to share. We think there are going to be a lot of creative independents in the future. And you can build the advertising vehicles right into the packages, if you want.
LR: So how can artists implement this technology now?
GB: Anybody can put magnet links up. We're also accepting submissions and hosting content ourselves. It doesn't cost anything, and we don't see money being involved in the future.
LR: How would this work, actually?
GB: Right now people don't know what magnet links are, but in the near future, people will be using the LimeWire "Library." The LimeWire Library is a type of file browser. Within the Library tab of the LimeWire application, you will be able to view and create magnet links to files that you share, and be able to email links to these files. There will be options to view the magnet link or email the magnet link to others, so that they can click a link in their email to launch the magnet link "packages." The links will launch their LimeWire P2P client right from their email client.
LR: Is LimeWire cross-platform?
GB: Yes. It's cross-platform. It's in Java.
LR How many LimeWire users are there?
GB: We lost ability to track our users a while ago. But we've had at least 300,000 users a day for a while. We're pretty close to 50/50 on the Mac and PC platforms.
Lisa Rein is a co-founder of Creative Commons, a video blogger at On Lisa Rein's Radar, and a singer-songwriter-musican at lisarein.com.
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