Different copynorms for HTTP and P2P?

Ernest Miller has an interesting post over at LawMeme about why there is moral outcry about shutting down music filesharing on peer-to-peer systems, but not about sharing via the Web. (Props to Freedom to Tinker for the link).

Yet there hasn’t been much outcry over the fact that the RIAA has and continues to shut down hundreds of noncommercial websites offering copyrighted MP3s for download without authorization. The RIAA has even threatened lawsuits and gotten college students expelled over their refusal to remove MP3s from college websites. There has been concern (often expressed on LawMeme) about abuse of the DMCA’s notice and takedown procedures, but not much outcry when direct copyright infringement has been shown. Why is there no outraged defense of http filesharing?

I venture that there seems to be a different set of copynorms for the practice of filesharing via P2P and http. Certainly some defend filesharing via both P2P and http, but others strongly defend P2P with nary a word in favor of http filesharing. Although I have no proof, I suspect that the public’s attitude toward filesharing would differ based on the protocol at issue. Would 12-year old Brianna Lahara think it was okay for her to put all her music on a website for the world to copy? Why don’t we see people uploading files to their websites more often? Why aren’t they more upset when told they can’t upload to their website then when they make files available via a filesharing program?

I believe that the difference is that filesharing by http is seen clearly as a public act, while P2P seems more like a private act [Can’t stay away from that Public/Private distinction, huh? – Ed.]. If I were to stand on a street corner handing out CD-Rs to strangers (even were I doing so with no possibility of remuneration of any sort), most people would not consider that proper. If the RIAA were to sue me for such an act, would there be such an outcry over the injustice of it all? Yet, if I handed a CD-R to a friend, most would defend it. The difference is that one is private and the other public.

I think we’re seeing three effects here:

  • I agree that P2P feels more private than the Web, and so people feel the law should butt out. I would argue that the main for this is that P2P software is easier to set up than a webserver, so “normal” people think of P2P as private and HTTP as “that place that I pay someone else to host content for me,” if indeed they have a personal webserver at all.

    If everyone had their own website, I expect you would see similar copynorms for both P2P and HTTP. As completely anecdotal evidence, my more techie friends who have their own websites also share music via password-protected HTTP. It would be interesting to see if this distinction between the copynorms for the two protocols exists on college campuses where every student is given his or her own personal webspace.

  • P2P is newer, and so copynorms were set for P2P at a time when the Internet was used by normal, everyday people. Remember that when Mozilla and Netscape were first introduced people were still panicking about evil teen-aged hackers who could kill people from their bedroom computer and the horrible discovery that (gasp!) there was pornography on the Net. By the time mainstream America was online all the music-sharing websites had already been shutdown and sharing had moved to Napster, so “normal” people haven’t experienced it first-hand.
  • There’s the idea of reciprocation with P2P, where you are generally sharing with people who share with you. I think it’s this aspect that most counteracts the feeling that you’re handing out CD-Rs to strangers and brings it closer to the idea that you’re sharing mix-tapes with your 5,000 closest new friends.