What is P2P good for?

Randy Picker asks: Peer-To-Peer: What Is It Good For? Check out the interesting posts (here and here) and comments over the new U of C blog. I agree with Tim Wu (see the comments) that p2p is a powerful enabling technology with some valuable current uses (e.g., cheap mass distribution of large files) and perhaps more importantly, significant potential for future innovative uses. In addition, as Lior Strahilevitz notes, p2p has “substantial utility in those circumstances where anonymity or decentralization are desirable,” as in the speech context. As a distribution system optimized for commercial content, p2p may have a long way to go and may not be generally viable, for the reasons suggested by Randy Picker (e.g., “we do not have a payment structure or sufficiently effective digital rights management (DRM) systems to make compensated peer-to-peer distribution work”). In other words, p2p may not be a viable pay-per-use or subscription-based system, at least not now, although it might be in the future. Nonetheless, evaluated as a distribution system for certain types of commercial content (e.g., jamband music) and many types of noncommercial content (government docs, speech, …[there are links for this but I cannot get them now-feel free to add in the comments?]—in my odd jargon, as a mixed infrastructure—p2p may be good for quite a lot. I touched on some of these issues in a short essay published last spring (before Grokster).

One thought on “What is P2P good for?

  1. P2P may also be “good for” nothing (Randy Picker starts down this road, but seems not to stick to it), in the sense that we can’t identify and define its welfare effects in terms of “speech benefits,” political organizing, or appropriability mechanisms, yet P2P still be valuable as a foundational tool for “goods” that we not only can’t see, but can’t (today) anticipate. Brett describes this in infrastructural (i.e., economic) terms; I have an essay that describes it in sociological terms.

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