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Kazaa code rises from ashes to help ISPs block pirated material for profit


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ISPs will also be able to inject their own contextual ads into search results.

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The people behind a company once accused of being complicit in copyright infringement through peer-to-peer filesharing are now selling software that blocks pirated content—and gives Internet service providers a way to make cash in the process. And soon, a version of the same technology could be used by ISPs to inject their own advertisements into search results—a capability that is sure to raise the ire of proponents of network neutrality.

Global File Systems LLC, a subsidiary of Kazaa owners Brilliant Digital Entertainment Inc. (BDE), have developed software that combines a database of “known bad files” with Web filtering technology at the ISP’s firewall, allowing ISPs to intercept and change links in search results being passed back to a user’s PC—and sending searchers to sites where the user can pay for legitimate copies of the content.

“A number of trials have shown that, properly priced, it’s possible for the content owners and the ISP partners to take back customers from the pirate operation,” BDE’s Michael Speck, who manages the content management business, told Ars in an interview. He said that the software, called Global File Registry—advertised with the tag line, "What goes up can come down"—offers an opportunity to end “the friction between content owners and ISPs,” and to make content blocking a no-cost or profit-making capability for the ISPs themselves.

Speck said that the other solutions proposed by content owners and some ISPs to stop piracy (such as those that were part of drafts of the failed SOPA and PIPA legislation) require fundamental changes to the way the Internet works. BDE’s approach, he said, “is a software platform integrated into the existing machinery of the Internet,” and doesn’t require changes to the Domain Name Service.

Ironically, Global File Registry is based on Truenames, a file identification technology that was originally part of the Kazaa filesharing service. “It’s the Truenames patents that allow individual items of content to be located within a peer-to-peer or cloud environment,” Speck said. BDE has pursued a number of cloud companies to get them to license the technology, and Speck says that many have bought in, including Skype, Level 3 Communications, and Google (which Speck called “one of our most enthusiastic licensees”).

In the case of Global File Registry, which BDE has worked with Cisco to develop over the past few years, a database of Truenames identifying information is combined with the existing content-filtering capability of firewalls to intercept links to infringing content being returned in search results. The software, which is embedded in the ISP’s firewall, then modifies the data to remove and replace the link. “ISPs already have equipment that can identify ‘bad data’,” Speck said. “We’re only asking the machinery that operates the Internet to do one more thing after it identifies bad data—and that is to convert it to a positive response.”

Speck added that the software doesn’t look at the source of the infringing content or the destination of the search results, so it doesn’t identify users trying to access the content. “It’s only a refinement of the data being delivered,” he said.

Global File Registry is already being deployed, and BDE is initially marketing the software to ISPs in Australia, New Zealand, and France. In addition to the anti-piracy version of the software, Global File Registry is also being packaged for law enforcement customers in a version the company plans to give away as a way to block access to child pornography sites, drawing from data collected by child protection organizations.

But what may be the most controversial version of the Global File Registry product is yet to come. Speck says Global File Systems is preparing a version for the US market that allows ISPs to intercept contextual ads in search results and inject their own advertisements in their place. “At the moment, ISP operators invest in the network, acquire customers, and just open the window to the Internet, allowing other people to push advertising down customers’s throats,” Speck said. “We believe it’s incongruous that ISPs should just open the window and allow them to force-feed advertising,” rather than getting their own advertising revenue, he explained.

Speck calls the software “an ISP packet-adjusted advertising platform,” and says it relies on the same technology as the anti-piracy software. “Relying on that same technology, we have been able to replace a search engine or website’s advertising with the ISP’s own advertising,” he said. But he added that “we’re not suggesting we can forensically remove and replace every advertisement from every webpage”—the technology is specifically targeted at search-based ads “of a certain category.”

When asked how Google would feel about the idea of ISPs swapping their own advertisements for Google’s paid ads, Speck said, “I think they’re excited about the prospect that someone can do that, which is why they’re one of the most enthusiastic licensees of our technology.” But he admits there may be some resistance. “Whenever there is a fundamental shift in a business model, the primary resistance is going to be from the established players.”

Google has not yet responded to an Ars inquiry on the level of the company’s enthusiasm for the interception of its main revenue stream.

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