Radical media, politics and culture.

filesharing from the barricades

In the aftermath of Genoa I became a video-internet mole. Indymedia Italia made available documentaries in various states of completion so as to intervene in the national polemic and the international reflection on the confrontation of that week. Ensconced in my then New York home, I also mined archives of all the major television networks for their footage. As the sounds of helicopters, the stench of tear gas and the memory of people's screams as their mouths and eyes burned stayed with me, it would be fair to say that reconstructing the events of that time became something of an obsession.

Over the last year much of my work has enatiled an analysis of the means used by media conglomerates to maintain their technical advantages and market domination in a digital realm which was once heralded as the bearer of a new age of communicative democracy, Genoa provided the catalyst not only to study this in detail but also triggered consideration of how some of their strategies might be overcome.

The high level of interest in those events meant that there were significant numbers of people attempting to download such files simultaneously, resulting in excruciatingly slow download speeds from the Indymedia FTP servers. With some perseverance however I did manage to download the files, but it occurred to me that being in poissession of a cable modem over a fairly decent network (RoadRunner new York), I occupied a relatively priveliged position in the food chain of downloaders. Corporate content from the likes of CNN was far faster to access and indeed this parallel streched across a panorama comparing independent and commercial media sources. It should be obvious that this difference in performance influenced the selection of sources used by computer users during that period. Who knows on how many occasions an indymedia download was initiated and then cancelled as the time of download completion expanded towards the horizon. Those undeterred by the inconvenience may have been swayed by cost considerations, particularly users accessing data over dial-up lines where they are charged for either use or telephone calls or both.

As a delinquent sharer of MP3 files in recent times I was already familiar with many of the file-sharing systems available and the various innovations which have helped extend their reach into the dial-up user population, and so I wondered if anyone was employing such networks for the purpose of distributing radical documentary and film. Cursory searchesd on the two principal networks Gnutella (BearShare, Limewire etc.) and FastTrack (Kazaa and, at that time, Morpheus) yielded a total of szero results on Genoa and one for Indymedia - the item in question was in fact a recording of Richard Stallman singing his Free Software anthem! I went to bed feeling perplexed and somewhat dismayed.

Shortly afterwards I stumbled across EDonkey2000, which is an independent network. The interesting thing about this system is that it is primarily designed and used for large audio-visual files. The Donkey breaks large files up into smaller segments, increasingly the likelihood of successful transfer through reliance upon modularity. The program also contains features (which have now become standard) that allow a user to download from multiple locations simultaneously, and allows others to initiate transfer from you prior to the completion of your own download. The sum of this is to maximise bandwidth speed in a manner impossible when conducting a transfer with one node alone.

Files within the Edonkey system are not identified by name but rather through a unique hash generated from the file itself. In the first instance the consequence is to make searches fore desired content more difficult. The advantage however is that provided one is able to identify the source of hach as a trusted party, the integrity of the file is guaranteed. The importance of this cannot be overemphasised, particularly as we move into the next stage of the copyright wars, where strategies such as the insertion of spoof or corrupted files by media conglomerates eager to dissuade filesharers appear certain to be used with greater cunning and regularity. Likewise such hach functions provide protection against malicious users seeking to circulate viruses or trojans.

Sharereactor.com (Full of horrible pop-ups I'm afraid)is an independently operated party which functions as an accessory to Edonkey, playing the role of a portal where groups or individuals inserting files into the network can convey the news to the other donkey riders. The site operators review the file to ensure that it's not bogus, verify the availability of the file on a threshold number of nodes, and then publish news of the release in a php based blog which is also searchable. The review of the release also contains the actual hash key itself, allowing users either to save it and commence a search later or alternatively - should they have edonlkey installed and open - to launch the search directly from Sharereactor.

Given the fact that critical thinkers, actors and usrersd are already heavily invested in network cooperation across mailing lists, blogs etc, it strikes me that it would be easy to enlist volunteers to dedicate a portion of their computer's memory and bandwidth to providing a system for the distribution of video files across the net in this way, and that a portal analogous to sharereactor specialising in politically radical or socially interesting content could be established and comaintained by users of sites such as tao.ca, slash.autonomedia.org, infoshop.org and indymedia.org.