Can P2P networks help stop software piracy?

— 5:42 AM on July 22, 2004

That's what this writer over at that other TR, Technology Review, tries to argue. On July 7, the Business Software Alliance (BSA) released a report claiming that 36% of all software around the world was not paid for and estimating that the losses for this year may be as much as $29 billion. The author tries to make the case that perhaps the best way to stem the rise in software piracy is for legitimate content-providers to offer their content over P2P networks. Why P2P networks? Because that's where more and more of their consumers are flocking to these days.

No one would dispute that a lot of illegal file sharing of copyright-protected content goes on over these P2P networks. While the RIAA has begun to go after individual users of P2P networks, the BSA, as of yet, has not chosen to be as aggressive. That being the case, the author claims that companies who are victims of software piracy are missing the boat here by not recognizing these very same P2P networks as virgin marketplaces for legitimate software sales. Contrary to popular perception, he says that there's nothing inherently wrong with P2P networks. It's just that a lot of files are exchanged over these networks and in most cases, these files happen to be free.

On its face, offering to sell a piece of software in a forum where users can obtain the same product for free sounds like a futile endeavor. However, the illicit nature and reputation of these networks makes these sales more likely. Here’s why: With the possibility for viruses so high when downloading a piece of software from these networks, consumers may be more likely to purchase software from a trusted source. “If you’re an intellectual property owner, you have to make it as easy to legitimately acquire your product as it is to swipe it,” says Garland. “People don’t care if an MP3 file is Sony sanctioned. But if you’re going to do your [finances] with a piece of software, you want to get the real McCoy.”
Many of you may be saying, "Not!" Yet some music companies have begun to offer songs for download over Kazaa, for one. At the very least, P2P networks may end up being another means for content-providers to deliver their content to consumers.
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