Internet Essay - Freenet, Survey and Implications

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Freenet: Survey and Implications

Abstract: Freenet is a peer to peer file sharing network protocol, first conceived by Ian Clarke, and designed to meet several goals: scalability, anonymity of both publishing and reading, and immunity to all but the most determined denial-of-service (DOS) attacks, whether legal or technological in nature. This paper briefly examines some of Freenet's predecessors, examines how Freenet attempts to achieve its design goals, and examines the implications of a fully functional, world scale Freenet.

Keywords: Freenet, peer-to-peer, p2p, open source, file sharing, Ian Clarke, copyright, censorship, intellectual property.

Historical Background: Peer-to-peer is an idea as old as the internet. From the first days of Arpanet, it was recognized that arranging computers in an anarchic, rather than hierarchal configuration offered far greater scalability and reliability. (Brand, 2001) Once the internet began to be widely implemented, it also became clear that to a great degree, it also offered anonymity.

Approximately two years ago, Shawn Fanning released the Napster client beta. Napster usage immediately began to increase at an exponential rate, and new users signed up almost as soon as they heard about it. (Napster, 2001). Until that time, the internet had been moving increasingly towards a central server model, away from the original idea of a collection of peers. (Shirky, 2000). Indeed, Napster also uses a central server, although it is only to create an easily accessible catalog of all files available at any particular moment. All actual file copying takes place directly between two client machines, and it is also the clients who decide what, if any, content is available to the network. (Napster, 2001)

Although Napster was, and remains immensely popular, it was also recognized that it was not the type of program that powerful intellectual property providers were going to accept easily. In fact, a matter of months after release, and soon after incorporating, the brand new Napster, Inc., was sued by the Recording Industry Association of America. (Napster, 2000).

However, it was quickly recognized that Napster was only vulnerable to legal attack because a central entity was required to run the indexing servers. Nullsoft, who created Winamp, a popular Mp3 player for Windows, soon released Gnutella, a proof-of-concept design that built upon the Napster idea by sharing all types of files, not just Mp3s, and needed no central servers at all. Although Gnutella remained on the Nullsoft website for only 24 hours before parent company AOL removed it, it was quickly disseminated to much of the internet, reverse engineered, and new clients based on the original protocol were released.

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