Dougal Campbell's geek ramblings

WordPress, web development, and world domination.


The world’s smallest Peer-to-Peer application, written in 15 lines of Python code: TinyP2P.

TinyP2P is a functional peer-to-peer file sharing application, written in fifteen lines of code, in the Python programming language. I wrote TinyP2P to illustrate the difficulty of regulating peer-to-peer applications. Peer-to-peer apps can be very simple, and any moderately skilled programmer can write one, so attempts to ban their creation would be fruitless.

Peer-to-Peer (AKA “P2P”) applications make it easy for people to share files over a network. Realistically, these could be any kinds of files: spreadsheets, presentations, pictures of your cat, etc. But of course the most famous (infamous?) use is for sharing music and video files. And since some people are sharing copyrighted music and videos, allowing accesss by other people who haven’t paid for said materials, the music (RIAA) and movie (MPAA) industries have been in an uproar.

If possible, these groups would make it illegal for P2P software to exist, despite the fact that there are substantial legitimate uses for them. This kind of knee-jerk reaction to misuse of new technologies by a minority of users has been a hallmark of corporate American culture, even before the Internet was in the public eye. Almost every American household has a VCR, but not many Americans remember the case of Sony vs. Universal (AKA “the Betamax case”). See, the entertainment industry saw these new-fangled video recording devices as a threat. The idea that a person could record a television show on their own tapes, watch it again whenever they wanted, and (gasp!) fast-forward through commercials, or even (double gasp!) share it with a friend made them start groping for their wallets. “That’s like stealing our content!,” they cried. “We’ll go broke!”

The Supreme Court disagreed, however. They stated that the fact that a video recorder could be used for infringing purposes wasn’t enough on its own to warrant making them illegal. There were plenty of non-infringing uses that would not cause harm to the market. Teachers could record educational documentaries to share with students. People could record programs while they were away from home, in order to watch them at a later time (“time shifting”). And furthermore, even in cases where the devices were used for illegal purposes, the manufacturers of said devices couldn’t be held liable for that.

The entertainment industry failed to kill this enemy, and rightfully so. And what happened? Did television and movie studios hemmorage cash and go bankrupt due to rampant piracy? No. They eventually embraced the technology, and video sales and rentals became a huge new revenue source for them. They’re making substantially more money now than they ever would have in a world without video recorders.

Trying to kill P2P is outright dumb, because they’re only looking at how it affects them, without consideration of network uses that don’t even involve copyrighted works. The entertainment industry sees a new enemy in P2P, and fails to learn the lessons of the past. Rather than trying to kill the technology, they should be thinking about how they can monetize it, improve upon it, and create value-added services that give consumers a reason to spend money on P2P. Fighting P2P is a dead-end path, a battle that’s already lost. TinyP2P proves that.

About Dougal Campbell

Dougal is a web developer, and a "Developer Emeritus" for the WordPress platform. When he's not coding PHP, Perl, CSS, JavaScript, or whatnot, he spends time with his wife, three children, a dog, and a cat in their Atlanta area home.
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