Friday, September 29, 2000

A Conversation with Ian Clarke

Ian Clarke, the 23-year old Dublin-born wunderkind enlightened and entertained an audience of freethinkers as he discussed his file- sharing network, Freenet, in a conversational interview with's LA-based senior correspondent Bruce Haring. Throughout the ninety-minute discussion, he pointed out Freenet's advantages over other file-sharing programs under scrutiny, like Napster and Gnutella. Although Freenet hasn't been free of controversy, this decentralized, efficient network solves many of the problems brought up in connection with Gnutella -- even though it was designed and completed before Gnutella launched. His system uses "TCP/IP the way it was meant to be used" and "collaborative filtering" (a system that finds things based on what you search and download). This is the sort of system that will give unknown bands an opportunity to gain more exposure. It's similar to's book recommendations: if you search on Tori Amos, U2 and Placebo (Clarke's current favorite listening choices), you'll get those results, as well as other bands that the system thinks you'll like. It's all based on your initial choices. In response to a question on decoy songs placed in other free file-sharing systems, Freenet has a subspace that is a "trusted" space for file exchange. 

Focusing on the music industry, Clarke stated the current copyright system doesn't work for signed artists. He added that the music industry knows it needs to change - but it hasn't a clue what should be changed or how. He acknowledged that, of course, the Record Industry Association of America (RIAA) feels threatened by the Internet and new developments that challenge copyrights. He also defended accusations that Freenet would be taken advantage of by child pornographers. This crime has existed for decades, he said, before the Internet and Freenet. To abolish Freenet because of this would be to cut off your nose to spit your face. Clarke said he believes that source code speech, as in speech for computers, warrants the same protection under copyright law. When addressing the fear hackers present in these free file-sharing systems, Clarke divulged that most don't resemble the image of the crazed hacker using wild mathematical equations. He or she is usually someone posing as a phony tech support person calling in to get the password. Clarke went on to answer questions on the music industry, copyrights and his efficient Freenet.