A new website which tracks users’ download habits in file sharing networks was announced this week sending shock waves through the Matrix for its potential of revealing highly sensitive private data, stirring once more controversy over the benefits and dangers of sharing digital media.
Ever since the CD replaced the audio cassette and the internet invaded our homes, the evolution of the digital highway has walked hand in hand with every conceivable way of using and abusing the infinite possibilities of the new technology. Set off by long dead legends of the early renegade days such as Audiogalaxy and Napster, trading music, video games and films over the wire, free of charge, has never been so easy for millions of internet users thanks to an ever improving infrastructure in all parts of the world. Not before long, bad productions, shallow plots and untalented artists – the winning strategy of the 80ies – failed to attract the younger, computer savvy generation who, by turning to alternative distribution channels, gave rise to peer-to-peer networks such as Limewire and Bittorrent. In these networks every participant offers and receives computer files such as music, computer programmes and films, donating the capacity of his or her computer and internet connection to the file sharing network.
The ever increasing popularity of file sharing networks was soon met by coordinated legal moves by the copyright and intellectual property holders of the material distributed through those networks, drawing high media attention to ensuing cases of media associations against individual users such as RIAA against Tenise Barker or RIAA against Jamie Thomas-Rasset in the USA and followed by similar cases in many other countries. The dispute did not stop there, leading to a series of legal clashes between the media industry and intellectual property holders on one side and individuals and internet service providers on the other side, eventually manifesting in relevant legislation such as the Digital Economy Act in the UK, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in the USA and the 1992 Maastricht treaty in Europe. Controversy however continues over penalties, awarded damages, the means used to obtain evidence and the instrumentalisation of authorities and public attorneys
The latest development in the ongoing cat-and-mouse game emerged early last week and is called youhavedownloaded.com. Founded by online entrepreneur Suren Ter the website claims to dig through logs and reconstruct your activity on file sharing platforms. Although a disclaimer warns that the service is still in its infancy and operates only on partial data, the website produces accurate records of what files you downloaded or you offered when and where. Reminding once more of that the internet does not forget, it produced some of the author’s youthful mistakes such as “A Cockwork Orange”, “The Little Sperm-maid” and the “Harry Potter” sequels while not being perfect either as according to the same report the author allegedly came into the possession of the “War and Peace” and “The Divine Comedy” e-books.
Obviously well aware of the explosive potential of such an invention, a disclaimer advises the site’s visitors to not “take it seriously”. Meanwhile the internet has been busily digging in the backyards, unearthing not-so-pretty corpses. As the independent webzine TorrentFreak reports, major organizations in the entertainment industry have been spotted downloading systematically copyright-infringing content through file sharing networks. Illustrious names such as Sony Entertainment Pictures, NBC and Fox find themselves in the list of shame together with “don’t be evil” Google, but instances are not limited to media and high-tech companies. Specifically, downloads of “The Battleship Potemkin”, “The Red October” and “Star Wars” originating from computers in the American Pentagon were recorded along with downloads of the cracked “Photoshop” image editing software by the Foreign Nuclear Arms division of CIA facilities. Interestingly the website does not stop at English speaking boundaries, as downloads of “Wall Street”, “Ocean’s Eleven” and the all-times classic “How to Marry a Millionaire” were recorded from the European Central Bank’s headquarters in Frankfurt during an emergency session on the 10th of July about the imminent devaluation of Italian bonds. Both representatives of the Motion Picture Association of America and the BPI could not be reached for comments.