So Napster is dead. What is the legal future for Gnutella?

This could have easily been in IMHO, but I fear it will degenerate into a debate. I sincerely hope not, as this is not a discussion about whether it is moral to download MP3’s off the internet.

I want to know what you think will happen to Gnutella now that Napster is on its way down. Gnutella would be extremely difficult to shutdown, since it does not have one major server that can be turned off. Instead, it exists all over the place and is basically run by the people who use it.

At the same time, you can download a lot more than just mp3’s on Gnutella. Any file anyone is sharing on their computer can be shared, no matter what.

Do you believe this service is likely to be shut down or made illegal someday also?

I tend to think Gnutella will be very difficult to stop. I can’t imagine how it will be shut down. It seems to be, as they claim it to be, “Lawyer Proof”.

Question: Can Gnutella be used against someone, as in, checking to see if they have copyrighted material on their disk that has not been registered, for instance? I think recent rulings decided that the user can be liable. I wonder if there isn’t a backdoor here that can never be locked. Are we heading towards a filtered or audited internet transmission system that favors big players?

I know relatively little about intellectual property law, but my guess is that Gnutella’s in trouble too. Even though it doesn’t have the “central server” problem that screwed Napster, the software itself is pretty clearly intended to allow users to exchange copyrighted material. That probably makes Gnutella quite vulnerable to suit, even though the practicalities of going after the program’s individual users make that approach unlikely.

Seems to me like you answered your own question.

The recoring industry or anyone else can chase down individuals sharing copyrighted materials via Gnutella. Unfortunately the industry would have to track down each individual separately and sue them separately. This would cost the industry in question a fortune to prosecute. Even if they did this to make a point they would be unable to recover very much money (I mean seriously…how much is most of our individual net worth compared to any of these industries…they could sue me for $1 million but they’d never see even 1/10th of that). This isn’t something they could reasonably keep-up for long.

They might, perhaps, go after some people who are extreme in their sharing of copyrighted material but mostly they would have to sit on the sidelines and watch.

This is one of the reasons some people felt going after the kill with Napster was a mistake. If they engaged Napster and worked out a solution that everyone could live with they might at least have retained some control and gotten some money from the whole deal. Instead they’ve driven it more underground and only marginally decreased the amount of ‘sharing’ that will go on.

What could happen is that the music (and movie) industries will go after a few individuals, and that might be enough to scare a lot of people from using it. Once the amount of users goes down, the Gnutella network will be less useful because there will be less shared files, and even less people will use it. And so on. But I doubt that will happen.

A possibly more useful strategy would be for the entertainment industries to sue ISPs into banning their users from using gnutella and similar file sharing tools. I don’t know how feasible this is.

In the Ninth Circuit opinion in the Napster case, available here, one of the main pegs the court hung its hat on was that Napster had the ability to identify and remove copyrighted materials from its system (albeit imperfectly) based on the header information that it kept on its system. My understanding is that Gnutella does not keep similar header information on its system, so the Ninth Circuit opinion would not be able to be used precisely aginst them in a preliminary injunction stage of a proceeding.

Remember, though, that the Ninth Circuit opinion dealt with a small issue in a very early stage of the case. Its holding was that the record companies were likely to succeed at trial as a ‘vicarious infringer.’ In light of that, the court found it to be legally appropriate to require Napster to take steps to stop the copyright violations pending trial. Part of the discussion of what legal steps Napster should take was a review of the steps it could easily and directly take to alleviate the problem.

The Ninth Circuit held that Napster could be required to remove songs that appeared to be infringing based on the header information, and sent the case back to the District Court to craft an order that would reflect this. The Circuit held that the District Court’s original order, which was a blanket prohibition of infringement, was too broad.

In the case of a system like Gnutella, the opinion leaves many questions unanswered. The opinion holds that a header-logging system like Napster can be ordered before trial to remove infringing files, but does not address what would happen in the next case where infringing file identification would be more difficult. More important, it does not address what would be an appropriate final remedy if Gnutella were held to be a ‘vicarious infringer.’ Under the preliminary decision, if Gnutella management knows that the system is being used for pervasive music piracy, there is a good chance that Gnutella would be ultimately found liable and subject to damages and/or a permanent injunction after trial (if a preliminary injunction were inappropriate).

In short, Gnutella’s system is not directly in the path of this bullet, but it is likely that the next ones will come a lot closer and eventually hit it.

Is gnutella freeware?
If so, then I think it is different than Napster.

Of course…IANAL:)

BTW…I downloaded this minutes after the court decision.

Gnutella has been dead for a while also. All thats left are its clones, which are pretty much the same as the original software.

As for Napster… Napster has its own clones too.

For example: has almost an exact copy of Napster.

I see these clones becoming a real problem in the future for the artists against this type of file sharing capability, because people will always be transfering mp3’s, and divx files, and game rips, untill the day the internet dies.

Isn’t Napster freeware as well? Or does the term “freeware” imply more than just not costing anything?

I was under the impression that you couldn’t go after someone who had copyrighted info shared into Gnutella, as Gnutella allows users to share data anonymously.

Only the next computer down the line knows if the next computer down the line knows that somewhere down the line is a computer that has the data.

I suppose they could make having open ports illegal, but then you’d pretty much have to ban the entire internet in any viable form.

jmullaney, I’m pretty sure is doesn’t work that way. I think the file transfers are direct from peer to peer. The receiving peer knows exactly what IP the files are coming from.

You’re right, Revtim. My mistake. However, if the RIAA or some government agency actually starts going after people, future versions will improve on the anonymity. Although, bandwidth is an ongoing problem it become less of one everyday.

However, there are other programs (whose names escape me at the moment) that allow anonymous peer-to-peer sharing without a central server.

Gnutella has no central server. There are no “headers stored on their system” because there is no “their system”. There isn’t just a single Gnutella network; if my friend and I are both running the software and I connect to him, that’s a brand new network.

Even shutting down Napster only affects their own network. Anyone with Napigator ( can still connect to several different sharing networks, and anyone can create his own network, or a new server for an existing network. However, since there are central servers, it’s possible to go after the people who run them.

I believe Freenet is a little similar to Gnutella, but it’s designed to make the shared information spread wildly, secretly, and anonymously.

Always have, always will. For all intents and purposes, it’s the same as a public library. You can borrow books, tapes, CDs, etc, for free, and copy them for yourself. Different method, same thing. Consider it a way to try before you buy. I can see how crummy artists might fear informed customers, however I’m not inclined to feel sorry for them.

In any event, that’s a different argument. Software similar to Gnutella has been around for ages, this is just its logical evolution. It can be used for things just as illegal as its ancestors, but good luck prosecuting anyone for it. A program like Napster, that relies on one central controlling agency, is easy to take down: you just knock out that one central hub and you get the whole thing. But this?

Say ten thousand people march on Washington DC, buck naked. They’re all guilty of public indecency, but how in the world are you going to prosecute ten thousand people?

It’s the old theory of safety in numbers.

actualy, it was designed to block exactly that information. the way gnutella works:
I (level A) request a file, my request is passed to one or more other users (level B). if the file is not on their computers, they pass the request on to someone else (level C)–the level C users cannot tell if the request is originating from the computer they got it from, or if it has been passed 50 times–it looks the same.
Once the request reaches a computer that has the file(e.g. level D), it passes it to the computer that it receved the request from (level C). the level C computer sees that this is a file that level B computer requested, and passes it on–the beauty part is that only the original requesting computer (level A) knows where the request originated from.