Steal This File Sharing Book. What They Won't Tell You About File Sharing
by Wallace Wang

No Starch Press 2004.
ISBN 1-59327-050-X. LoC TK5105.525.W36. 272 pages. $19.95. Index.

Reviewed by  Robert Bruen   November 17, 2004 

Ah, Peer-To-Peer, P2P, File Sharing, the RIAA - so many problems, so few solutions. Little else comes close to being the poster child for the effect of the analog-to-digital change in our world today. Putting blatant security problems aside, giving file sharing capabilities for the average Joe is a far more serious long-term threat to our way of life than almost anything else. "Our way of life" in this instance includes institutions that control our decisions about when we watch, look at, or listen to recordings. It means the way business is conducted and the way we look at our culture.

The threat is different from vulnerabilities in software in which a security hole is found, an exploit released and a fixed distributed. The whole point of peer relationships is that no supervisor or controller intervenes, not unlike Martin Luther's view that started the Protestant religion, that there should be no intermediary between him and his God. The consequences of that seemingly innocuous wish have been monumental.

The P2P experience could have been a quiet one, but institutions have appeared to both facilitate it and prevent it, causing growth in both directions. The RIAA has continued its Sherman's March lawsuit juggernaut, now joined by the Motion Picture Industry. The war is big because the money is big. The shift of control, and thus revenue streams, is moving ahead because it is easy and obvious. The resisters to this change are trying to be just as powerful.

It seems to me that the underlying technology of sharing files will be allowed just because it is a neutral technology, like a car. No one is going to outlaw cars because someone used one as a getaway vehicle. You can, however, be arrested or lose possession of your car if you allow it to be used in a crime. The same approach will be the way file sharing ends up. It happened to jukeboxes, VCRs and other technologies. The fun part is passing through the actual change as we are doing now.

In order to understand the game you need a scorecard, because the game is complex. The technology of sharing a file is simple, but the P2P networks set up for this purpose and the legal battles surrounding them are not simple. Wang has put together a really good resource for understanding the complicated environment by way of his readable explanations. He also helps to focus issues such as: What impact does the content being shared have on how sharing is done, and how it is resisted? It is not just music and movies that are shared. The movies run from homemade adult films to Hollywood productions. Some producers use the courts and others do not.

I found this book well done and it has good resources, so I recommend it for learning about the issue. Sooner or later we will all deal with the fundamental problem. The ultimate solution may be something that is not obvious now and will have a major impact on our entertainment media.