Fair P2P

I wish to unveil before an unsuspecting population a plan to reconcile P2P technology with the interests of content producers: music labels, production firms, software firms, book publishers, etc. I do so at the risk of being laughed out of my own blog.

The idea is to repertory each and every file on the Internet and attribute it to its rightful owner. When a file is inventoried, it can be tracked, and when it's tracked, we know who downloads it. An Internet collection agency can then collect the money from the downloader and transfer it to the content owner.

Unfortunately, there are many obstacles to this idea. First, I might download a music album that I immediately delete because I hate it. I should not pay for it because a) HMV lets me listen to any number of tracks off new albums any number of times, and b) Amazon lets me sample all tracks from its digital downloads. The try-before-you-buy approach has to hold here as well.

Second, I might give up piracy but I care about my privacy. I might be exchanging private files with friends or colleagues over the Internet and I don't want anyone snooping in their content. That's why most Internet connections today support encryption.

Third, if I'm downloading something that I will pay, I'd like to know how much it will cost.

These (and many other) issues aside, it can still be interesting to think of the system that would implement this idea. Here are some components:

  • A neutral Internet-wide body such as the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) sets up an agency that runs the collection system.
  • This agency creates a database where files are identified by their unique signature and associated with content owners.
  • Content owners register with this agency and claim files that already exist on the Internet. Each file claimed should be examined to assess the rightfulness of the claim.
  • Internet service providers (ISPs) also register with the agency and are supplied with tools (software and/or hardware) that detect claimed files and send their traffic through the ISP to the collection agency.
  • The agency charges the ISP for the royalty money.
  • The ISP charges the user for the royalty money.
  • The agency pays the content owners.

There are many nice outcomes of this approach, namely:

  • It encourages content producers instead of hampering them
  • Internet traffic becomes less restricted
  • Content consumption becomes better measured and reflects people's tastes
  • Content cost goes down because many middlemen are eliminated
  • Anyone can publish material and easily charge for it
  • Lots of cool technologies are created in the process, such as content recognition and a global Internet File System
  • It is not based on advertising :-)

It would take what, a decade to implement such a system? And how long have we been having that problem?