Ex-Kazaaer wants to turn pirates into paying customers

Kevin Bermeister and Michael Speck, former courtroom adversaries in the file-sharing wars, have since formed an alliance and are preparing to launch a new application that they claim will turn would-be pirates into customers (reluctant or otherwise).

The two first met on opposite sides of a legal proceeding: from 2004-2006, Barmeister was sued for millions as a result of his rather undefined relationship with KaZaA. During that period, Michael Speck was the head of the Music Industry Piracy Investigation, which serves as the Australian music industry's antipiracy arm.

The two men are now partners in a joint venture, Brilliant Digital Entertainment, that currently sells access to what it calls a GlobalFileRegistry (GFR). The service is billed as a solution for any search engine, social network, or IP owner who wishes to track and deter the spread of pirated content. The company is readying a new, as-yet-unnamed service that is intended to provide a Kazaa-like service, provided you take the purpose of Kazaa and flip it upside down. Since there isn't a formal name to reference, I'll refer to this new service as Aazak.

Here's how it works, as described by the Sydney Morning Herald. Azaak is meant for ISP-level deployment, and will intercept attempts at Internet piracy. Anyone who attempts to search for nasty, evil, pirated software, movies, or music will instead be presented with an opportunity to legally buy access to that same content. The ISP gets a cut of the revenue (assuming our would-be Jack Sparrow ponies up the cash), the new customer has legal software, piracy has been averted, and everyone goes home happy.

The service hasn't been deployed yet, but technical trials are complete, and the company is scheduled to deploy a live trial with an unnamed Aussie ISP within a month. Brilliant claims that it has been contacted by ISPs and law enforcement agencies from both the United States and Europe, all of whom have expressed interest in this new software.The service works by comparing the unique hash values of whatever content it's scanning to a database (probably the GFR referenced above) of verified illegal content.

Bermeister and Speck have struck upon an interesting idea, but successful deployment requires that the pair navigate extremely complex and treacherous waters. Internet users could potentially benefit from the service, particularly when searching for hard-to-find or esoteric items. If you want the Joshua Tree's version of "With or Without You," iTunes has exactly what you're looking for. If you want the version with the added verse that first appeared on 1989's Lovetown Tour, and you specifically want the rendition Bono did while taking a shower one morning, well, that's a bit harder to find. (It's not on iTunes??”I checked). A service that automatically searched all the various legal alternatives for a track and returned accurate results would be a welcome thing indeed.

There are, however, significant questions regarding how a user would interact with this service. The actually search-and-verify technology may function at the ISP level, but actually tackling services like Limewire would almost certainly require some sort of client software. An ISP can block access to Limewire or another P2P content distribution portal easily enough, but detecting precisely what content is being downloaded, locating a legal alternative, and then redirecting the client to it is a bit trickier. There's also the problem of cajoling users into installing such a client in the first place. The ISP in question could theoretically attempt to tie Internet access to client functionality in some way, but it doesn't take genius to see what kind of war that would spark, or to predict the inevitable winner.

It's possible that Brilliant's solution is only designed to apply to browser-based searches, but such an omission seems odd given the respective expertise and history of the men in question. It also makes the entire venture less attractive to an ISP, which will have an interest in casting as wide and effective a net over P2P traffic as is humanly possible.

Offering ISPs a slice of the revenue pie is a great way to pique their collective interest, but it could have negative consequences for consumers and businesses in the long run. Based on what we know so far, the ISP is functioning as both gatekeeper and prison warden. Bad/illegal content, including pirated content stays locked away, while "good" content is presented to the customer. That's no different than how things work now, but Brilliant Digital Entertainment's business model would apparently introduce an enormous new variable: revenue sharing.

Currently, an ISP has no financial interest in promoting Company A over Company B. Introduce revenue sharing, and the internet service provider in question doesn't just have an interest in stopping piracy (good), they have an opportunity to buddy up with certain stores in particular. Such a partnership wouldn't need to scream its presence from the rafters in order to prove mutually beneficial; lawsuits have been filed and fought before over the order in which a search engine ranks its results, or the number, size, and shape of icons that appear on a desktop.

These sorts of cozy backroom deals aren't typically made to further the best interests of consumers, and any sort of revenue sharing plan would need to be subject to strict oversight to ensure that no ISP was prejudicially filtering its results to line its own pockets. However Brilliant Digital Entertainment's network takes shape, the company will have to carefully balance the final implementation against the various needs and desires of ISPs, Big Content, and Internet users themselves.

Source: Ars Technica

Tags: P2P

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