It was one of those discussions where nobody's too willing to give too much away. Peer-to-peer file sharing is going through changes, and people are moving ever more quickly from the big public areas to the private online clubs of the darknet. I was talking to a few techies about this, all of whom knew quite a lot about the ins and outs about such things but were curiously reticent about the details.
"One of the big problems", said one, "is that there are so many fake files out there from the record companies. You can get checksums and digital signatures, but those can be faked too." "What we need," said another, "is some way of guaranteeing the content of the files and preventing people from tinkering with it…" The conversation fell silent as they realised they were on the brink of reinventing DRM. An open source DRM that worked? Sillier ideas have gone to war.
Things are going to move ever more quickly with peer-to-peer this year. The machinations of the legal system in the US have finally propelled the question of whether P2P should be legal up to the Supreme Court, who should be delivering their final answer on this later in 2005. Meanwhile, and despite ever more frantic takedown action by the movie and music people, the amount of file sharing that's going on is going up. As, curiously, is the amount of movies and music that people are paying for.
It's clear that in a world where HP can put regionalisation locks on inkjet cartridges we shouldn't hold out too much hope for corporate sanity in the face of people acting as they wish. However, one must remain cheerful and pray that the "You're going to make more money by giving people what they want" argument eventually gets through. There is cause to think it might -- even Sony is now on record as saying it realises that its concentration on proprietary formats and DRM has cost it the market that the iPod now owns.
By the end of 2005, we'll know.