A new breed of roaming Napster Inc. able to swap music, video and text at will is set to terrorise content providers and artists alike, according to the telecoms and new media consultancy Analysys Reseach Ltd.
In a white paper produced by its Scenario Planning department, Analysys suggests a "mobile multimedia meltdown" could be imminent. That would mean "the destruction of content value through peer-to-peer (p2p) technologies".
It says it is possible to imagine a near future where existing technologies could allow anyone to swap information without paying copyright owners, distributors, telcos or Internet service providers. "We are just seeing some of the devices coming along now, such as the Sony Corp. Cliè handheld, that are personal organisers with Bluetooth and MP3 capabilities," says Philip Guildford, head of the company's Web Systems group.
"All it needs then is some Napster-like software that will allow direct exchanges from one handheld to another. Young people would use it and as more and more did, you'd get more and more utility out of that network. "With this situation, you can't attack the equipment supplier, you can't chase the person who has put the software out and you're not going through a static network so you can't trace the source. It's that kind of moving decentralised network which is incredibly hard to police."
Guildford imagines a situation in the next 18 months where transfers of music, online newspapers and even pornography could take place over wireless Bluetooth devices used by commuters on their way to work or by teenagers in clubs: "It's an alarming scenario for copyright owners, parents, everybody," he says. Analysys advises the major players to begin developing their own offerings that will be more functional and secure than unofficial products and to work with manufacturers so that their hardware is optimised for recognised means of content sharing and delivery. "I think people would be willing to pay for that," says Guildford.