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Home > Media Reviews > News Review Last Updated: 14:54 03/09/2007
News Review #376: December 14, 2006

P2P Software Inventor Convicted

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

P2P Software Inventor Convicted
(Reuters) Australian IT,7204,20925627%5E15319


Winny is a software developed by a Japanese researcher when he was studying at the University of Tokyo. It is a peer-to-peer file exchange software which allows files to be freely transferred among PCs connected to the internet.

The behavior of the program may seem somewhat similar to the U.S.-based Napster, but Winny does not require internet servers for the dispersing of files, making it easier to implement, but with larger potential risk to the users.

Indeed, Winny has become known to the people not from possible infringement of copyrights, but from leakages of official information stored at governments and its agencies. They included a whole range of sensitive information from personal records of local residents to military operation plans. Most often they were downloaded to personal PCs of employees - usually with good intensions of doing work at home although prohibited by rules in various respect - and either inadvertently or by falling victim to viruses, the files flowed out to the vast space of internet.

The court ruling to convict the developer of Winny, however, did not refer to the problem of leakages of confidential information. The judgment was solely based on whether the development and/or the dissemination of Winny have aided others in violating copyrights.

Prosecutors had demanded a one-year prison term for the developer by arguing that the developer's motive was to destroy the current system of copyright protection, citing comments the developer posted on his and other internet sites. It turned out that the court ordered him to pay a 1.5-million-yen (abt$13,000) fine.

The court said that the program itself is meaningful in nature because it can be applied to various fields and the technology itself is value-neutral, and that the developer did not intentionally bring about the state of copyright infringement nor gained any economic benefit.

But, the court continued, that the developer cannot be exonerated from criticism for continuing to provide Winny despite being aware of the risk that copyright holders' profits would be damaged, and even promoted his program among general users, and took no action to prevent copyright violations.

The developer is reportedly intending to appeal the ruling, and the opinions are split over the conviction.

On one side, there are those who believe such a ruling could hinder development. Citing a saying that a knife can be used to cook or kill, they stress that a developer has no responsibility on how the offspring of the development is utilized. One the other side are those with the view, and apparently adopted by the court this time, that a developer must consider the expected impact and influence after revealing a new technology.

Thus, the issue is in a way a reflection of an old controversy over technology development of is the developer, either criminally or morally, accountable for the results of the product. In fact, it has been raised notably in modern Japan with regard to the creation of nuclear bombs, never reaching a consensus while those involved in the affair gradually passed away.

But in the case of Winny, or on the issue of copyright on internet, the ruling may have little significance. Since the developer was indicted in 2004, technology and environment with regard to internet have progressed significantly. Various types of software as well as legal and social frameworks are now being developed and implemented in the aim to satisfy the needs, in terms of both protection of (copy)rights and the desire for a better society.

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