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Sunday, May 29, 2005

The Ripping Underworld

I was going through the archives of Wired earlier today when I came across this fascinating article on how most pirated materials (music, movies, television shows, applications, etc.) makes its way onto the internet.

It's a commonly held belief that P2P is about sharing files. It's an appealing, democratic notion: Consumers rip the movies and music they buy and post them online. But that's not quite how it works.

In reality, the number of files on the Net ripped from store-bought CDs, DVDs, and videogames is statistically negligible. People don't share what they buy; they share what is already being shared - the countless descendants of a single "Adam and Eve" file. Even this is probably stolen; pirates have infiltrated the entertainment industry and usually obtain and rip content long before the public ever has a chance to buy it.

The whole shebang - the topsites, the pyramid, and the P2P networks girding it all together - is not about trading or sharing at all. It's a broadcast system. It takes a signal, the new U2 single, say, and broadcasts it around the world. The pirate pyramid is a perfect amplifier. The signal becomes more robust at every descending level, until it gets down to the P2P networks, by which time it can be received by anyone capable of typing "U2" into a search engine.

I found this fascinating, because it filled in a lot of blanks in my mind about exactly what 'the scene' is. I'd say I know more about file-sharing than, say, the average Kazaa or Soulseek user, but beyond being on some private Bit Torrent trackers, I didn't really know where a lot of the content was coming from. To paraphrase the article (although, obviously, I'd recommend reading the whole thing) the process begins at a very deep level, where a member of a particular crew has obtained a copy of a new cd or dvd (from journalists, designers, pressing plants, and so on) and then ripped it and placed it on a secure server. From there it is transferred quickly all the way down the security chain to the point that it begins to appear on the public, mass-use peer-to-peer (p2p) services. The role of the crews in this is crucial (after all, most people who've downloaded something will notice that the file names are often tagged with a ripping crew's name, whether it's sour or RAGEMP3 or whatever).

I don't have time for a long post tonight, as I'm going out to see an old friend that I haven't seen in four years, but I'd also recommend checking out Ned Sublette's photo essay on Mardi Gras in New Orleans, as well as his interviews with authorities and participants (see here, here, and here). Have a great Saturday night, and I'll be back with a new full-length book review tomorrow night.

|| RPH || 12:54 AM || |