When the Napster online file-sharing service was ordered March 5 to block the exchange of copyrighted material, a Los Angeles radio station called me to ask what people would do next. The interviewer seemed to expect a list of other music-sharing Web sites, but the essence of my answer was that digital music is now everywhere, that every major server farm, whether in the enterprise or academia, probably has at least one covert repository of MP3-formatted music files. “So,” the interviewer asked, “the genie is out of the bottle?” Exactly so.
I saw the handwriting on the wall at this years Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where several brand-name makers of home entertainment equipment were showing stereo system components that played MP3 music off the Internet. It seemed to me that these vendors needed no further convincing that people would want to do this, one way or another, and that there was no reason to leave their potential business on the table for someone else to pick up. Even Apples new iMac ad campaign includes the line “Rip. Mix. Burn.”
Not only is the genie out of the bottle, hes even speaking pig Latin: One utility program scrambles descriptive text in files to evade simple filtering tools based on titles or artists names. “Awberrystray Ieldsfay, by the Eatlesbay”? The New York Times Web site once posted a Java applet that transformed text into a baseball game play-by-play narrative or reversed that process so that a message could evade keyword filters (the kind that look for words like “bomb”) without looking like an encrypted file. Other tools embed data in what look like ordinary image files.
Data has unlocked its chastity belt. It wants to go out and have fun, and it wont ever be locked up again.