P2P as a Function of Democracy

One of the things that has long bothered me about being a student at Western using Western’s otherwise fantastic T3 connection is the fact that P2P networks are verboten.

P2P: Peer to peer. Peer to peer technology allows two computers to connect without a central server; two users can connect their systems and trade files. Examples of famous P2P networks: Napster, Kazaa, Limewire, etc. From Kazaa’s P2P philosophy page: The most valuable contribution you can make to peer-to-peer is to provide original content for others to enjoy. You can also collect works in the public domain, that are licensed for public distribution (e.g. Creative Commons licenses), or open source software and become a resource for others.

But what P2P means to most people is the quick and dirty ability to steal music.

See, I use P2P systems all the time. Mostly this is because I do a lot of collaborative work, and use mulitple, difficult to network computers. I use P2P networks to trade word files back and forth. To trade links. Software. .php and .html files. The most annoying thing of all time to me when I first arrived at Western is that they shut down the ports that permit P2P sharing. Because, you know, trading mp3s is bad.

The number of assumptions involved in that decision is truly boggling. First, the file extension .mp3 isn’t limited to illegally ripped music files. It also includes recordings of public domain lectures. It includes music files that are owned by, say, me, or my friend Jason. If you’re paying attention to things like Wired or even MuchMusic you’ll know that musicians themselves use P2P networks to collaborate on creating the music we’re not supposed to be sharing over the internet.

So this is just one of those things that ticks me off about internet security. From a campus location, I’m not allowed to recieve or send .zip files (which, for someone like me with 92,000 words of manuscript to fire off, is extremely annoying) or open up my ichat file transfer system and send that zipped up manuscript to my friends in New York for a read through. No, I need to trust the wilds of email, which, by the way, are notoriously insecure and are owned and monitored by the University of Western Ontario. Argh, don’t even get me started.

But here is a good use of P2P: outragedmoderates.org is using P2P network technology to create a Government Document library. From Download for Democracy:

Peer-to-peer file sharing, or “P2P,” is best known for the role it has had in transforming the music industry. But what about using P2P to provide people with a way to rapidly transmit large amounts of political information? This isn’t a new idea – other groups, including the Libertarian Party, have used P2P to transmit political information before. But P2P hasn’t realized its full political potential until it has had a significant effect on a state or national election.

I think the time is right. The Download For Democracy campaign is currently offering PDF’s of over 600 government memos, communications, and reports, all of which were obtained from mainstream media sources, respected legal or academic groups, or the federal government itself.

Now, how about access to P2P gov docs libraries in, you know, libraries? I can feel the shiver starting, can’t you? [via metafilter.]