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Imagine this: an unlimited supply of music, the music you like, at any time you want, more or less for free. First there was Napster which, in its own little way, changed the world. It was the doorway to a new way of spreading information, and since it didn't follow any of the rules of the old way of spreading information, it utterly terrified the old guard-- the monolithic bastions of copyright owners, trying desperately to pull shut the door*.

And the door marked Napster was shut. But that didn't mean they'd won, for the people had now noticed that the land beyond the door was really neat. They bore new holes through the wall, and these were much harder to close. Indeed, they couldn't close them... Gnutella, KaZaA, Overnet, BearShare, all the others... they had no one door (server) that COULD be closed. Going after any individual portal was worthless... thousands upon thousands upon thousands of others would remain regardless.

So once it became clear that the doors were open and were going to stay open despite the best efforts of The Man, they tried a new tactic. Instead of closing the door, put a scary monster on the other side, so that people no longer WANT to go through the door.

The scary monster was called individual personal law suits for astronomical fees that made just about everyone say "Now wait a minute, that's just not right!" We're talking thousands, ten thousands, hundred thousands, millions of dollars. They struck people at random, and even though they only nailed a few out of the thousands upon thousands upon thousands sharing files, it created quite a scare. Some people believe that they might win the lottery. Some people believe they might be hit by the RIAA. The chances are low in either case, but the reward is so high in the former, and the risk so great in the latter. The tactic seemed to work. People voluntarily stopped going through the doors, they stopped sharing files. When enough people stop sharing, the networks die.

Then there were some other people. They were scared of the big monster like most everyone else, but they still wanted to go to the bright and beautiful land beyond the wall of copyright. So they decided to make themselves a veritable Cloak of Invisibility. They called it PeerGuardian.

PeerGuardian was developed by Methlabs, located at Methlabs.org.1 It's basically a software firewall, much like the very popular ZoneAlarm, except that it doesn't look for and reject potential hackers, it looks for and rejects potential RIAA agents. It has a list of known IP addresses for various authorities that might be sniffing around for litigation, and it blocks them. They can't see you on KaZaA, they can't see you on Gnutella, they can't even see you downloading from a Torrent. Now, of course, this firewall is only as good as the list of IPs it blocks, but that list is apparently really rather good. Generally, they won't even know you're hiding, and since there are so many others who are easier to spot, there's no real need for them to go out of their way to try and hack around the PeerGuardian. It really works quite well.

Like the old saying goes, you don't need to run faster than the lion, you just need to run faster than the other guy.

Whether invisible to the law or not, of course, copying copyrighted material is still illegal, so do keep this in mind. And since PeerGuardian isn't necessarily 100% effective, there is still an incredibly small chance of still being hit with a lawsuit. But it does help. Just keep the risk in mind, and do consider your conscience.

* For a little extra reading as to why the laws making filesharing illegal are stupid and not necessarily moral in and of themselves, I recommend the Microsoft Research DRM talk, which is a long speech but well worth the read, as it makes numerous good points.

1. Editor's note: The URL has been moved to http://phoenixlabs.org/pg2/.

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