This is the story of a private member’s bill, a rally and proof that both are a real good idea.
Last week NDP MP Charlie Angus introduced a private member’s bill that would amend the Telecommunications Act so that network operators like Bell and Rogers couldn’t monkey with our Internet access. It’s a net neutrality bill that would make history of the bandwidth throttling with which Canadian carriers currently hobble the Web.
As you will recall, Bell is throttling peer-to-peer Web traffic not only on its own network but also on the networks of independent ISPs who resell bandwidth to their own customers. Last week L’Union des Consommateurs in Quebec launched a class action suit over the throttling.
Angus made the announcement of the bill at a net neutrality rally held on Parliament Hill and attended by hundreds of Canadians (and ISP owners) protesting the throttling of peer-to-peer traffic and other corporate interference with what should be a public utility. We’ve got video from the event in the On-Demand area of rabbletv.
Just after those events, a cautionary tale unfolded in the U.S. that’s worth sharing. The beleaguered hero of the story is Revision3, a California-based company that serves up popular Internet video shows like Diggnation, Tekzilla, PopSiren and others. The villain? You’ll see.
Revision3 offers some of its shows in high definition. That means the shows’ files are humungous. So, in order to sensibly and legally distribute those HD shows, Revision3 uses Bittorrent, a form of peer-to-peer file sharing to spread the server load around. That’s the very file sharing protocol Bell and Rogers are throttling here in Canada. Hold that thought.
On the U.S. Memorial Day holiday weekend Revision3 found one of its servers under attack from another server that was sending connection requests thousands of times a second. This is known as a denial of service (DoS) attack and is often used by hackers to bring down a server or website. That’s just what happened to Revision3. The server went down and took all of Revision3, including its email server, down with it.
Who was behind the attack? Another California-based company called Media Defender. Media Defender touts itself as an anti-piracy solutions provider. One of its tactics is to use its 2,000 servers and a dedicated nine gigabytes per second Internet connection to launch DoS attacks on servers its clients think are distributing digital files the clients own. In the past those clients have included Sony, Universal Music, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).
It turns out that, not content with using its own servers to poison P2P networks, the folks at Media Defender were also using an open back door in the Revision3 Bittorrent server to piss in the P2P pool. When the Revision3 folks noticed the open back door and digitally slammed it shut, the Media Defender server fought back with the DoS attack (imagine frantic zombies pounding at the recently locked door of a brain fridge).
So, let’s step back from this. Revision3 produces and owns the content it makes available on P2P networks via Bittorrent. P2P file sharing is perfectly legal in Canada and the U.S. and is used by Linux developers, radiologists, independent filmmakers and, in Canada, the CBC.
Media Defender not only brought down Revision3 for three days, causing it financial harm, but also made unauthorized use of its servers to poison the P2P pool.
It’s not clear if Media Defender was acting on behalf of any client during the DoS. It’s not clear if the attack was deliberate, but the unauthorized use of Revision3’s server was, and that sparked the DoS. It is clear that the folks at Media Defender were cyber-bullies and roughed up an innocent victim with a blunt and stupid instrument.
Revision3 has asked the FBI to investigate and will, I would guess, be suing the pants off of Media Defender and whatever client(s) are involved.
The moral of the tale? For all we know Bell and Rogers are using companies like Media Defender here in Canada. And, if Revision3 could be crippled for three days so could the CBC, a hospital distributing radiology data via P2P or hundreds of other folks using P2P file sharing for legitimate purposes.
P2P is an Internet technology. It is not illegal and companies like Media Defender and its clients should be sued, fined and put out of business for violating and vandalizing the property of legitimate companies doing honest trade. The tale of Revision3 points out all of what is wrong with Bell and Rogers jackassing around with the Web.
In my mind there is little difference between the thuggish behaviour of Media Defender and the ham fisted throttling Bell is doing while damaging the business and reputations of legitimate ISPs.
So, good on Revision3, Charlie Angus and the protesters. They’re the real media defenders.
One final note. I write this column for free and exclusively for rabble.ca. I do that and help with rabbletv because I believe in rabble.ca as a cause, a voice and a media outlet. If this column or rabbletv is helpful to you please consider becoming a rabble.ca member. It’s only five bucks a month and you can get a free magazine subscription in the bargain. Thanks, and thanks for reading this far.