among urban legends and fake files, the legacy of peer-to-peer fraudsters


In the early 2000s, when the Internet began to sprout in homes, an incompatible track from System of a Down was played on CD players on a loop: legend of zelda, we can hear Serj Tankian, the singer of the American band, sing an ode in honor of Link, the knight of the Nintendo saga, with his characteristic voice. All accompanied by the basic instrumentation and cries of joy suggesting that the piece was recorded on a whim during a public performance.

Except that this recording of the band never actually existed. Confronting what many still insist on believing even today, System of a Down denies its origins. American radio show guests “love lines” In 2002, the band’s guitarist and drummer Shavo Odadjian and John Dolmayan said:

We do not own the song “Legend of Zelda” available on Morpheus, KaZaa or any of these download platforms. (…) The person who made this piece and claimed it was System of a Down was probably a kid working in his room with one of these new computer programs.

Nu metal isn’t the only band to have songs wrongly attributed to. With millions of views on YouTube, Bob Marley is still regularly rewarded with the comment: Don’t Worry Be Happy, crimson wine or bad Boys (songs by Bobby McFerrin, UB40 and Inner Circle); many punk tracks are associated with the Californians of Blink 182 (he is very fond of the ordeal of Lit and Me First and Gimme Gimmes), and Nirvana has, in fact, never recorded a title track. Half the Man I Was (Actually creepy, Stone Temple Pilots).

Are they guilty of these unfounded beliefs? These are called eMule, Limewire, Kazaa or eDonkey. These pieces, which are still sometimes misattributed today on the Web and in memories, as evidenced by the radio response by members of System of a Down, are directly related to the peer-to-peer era (P2P, P2P, “Peer to peer”direct shopping between Internet users) and the emergence of online piracy.

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The house where the eMule site was charted in May 2022.

scourge of an era

Then we are in 2001. As the first P2P platform dedicated to music, Napster closed its doors under pressure from rights holders after two short years of existence. This was followed very quickly by other services: Kazaa, Limewire and especially eMule (formerly called eDonkey2000)… each has its own protocol, but they all have one big difference compared to Napster: their decentralization.

“These fake files kept circulating because there was little control”says Ernesto Van Der Sar of TorrentFreak

instead of pornographic film MatrixInfected pirated version of Windows, badly coded Radiohead tracks… This decentralization was the main reason why users at the time quickly assimilated the idea that the file they were trying to hack might be of poor quality. call. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, most sharing was done by average Internet users, and it was more difficult to distinguish between quality content and badly named files. And because there was little moderation, these fake files continued to circulate.”explains Ernesto Van Der Sar, founder of TorrentFreak, an expert on sharing, piracy and copyright.

The exchanges between users, the quality of a file, and the relevant information without going through a single database depended entirely on the goodwill of the person presenting it to the community. At the time, 56K modems forced users to wait several hours to download a file (thus increasing the likelihood of mistakes), and rating and comment systems that could help separate the wheat from the chaff were still very rare.

But why make available files that we know aren’t true? “I think some people thought it would be ‘fun’ to bother downloaders with fake files”, says Ernesto Van Der Sar. And indeed, many American Internet users on forums today remember that one of the recurring jokes of the time was to replace a statement Bill Clinton made during the Monica Lewinsky affair and place the most wanted files.

Added to this are malicious people who hide malware under popular filenames, and others that are more opportunistic, renaming their files to correspond to the terms most searched for by Internet users. This ensured that they would see it downloaded in bulk, and in turn “ratio” on sharing platforms, that is, the ratio between what they download and what they make available. Important data, a bad rate that can be accompanied by a slowdown in downloads, or even a ban. Some went even further in antics, navigating trends to promote themselves or fool users. Like Soulja Boy, the American rapper who ended his career by popularizing his songs on download platforms.

There are many ironic memes online about viruses (represented here by an “.exe file”) that are accidentally downloaded on platforms like Limewire (here the equivalent of its logo).

Professionalization of Hacking

Condemned by the American trade regulator, the Federal Trade Commission, among others, this scourge of bad or corrupt files disappeared as practices evolved and spread. “It was the BitTorrent protocol that took illegal downloading to an industrial scale”, explains Sylvain Dejean, lecturer and digital economy and Internet expert at the University of La Rochelle. According to the researcher, the co-advention of new exchange technologies such as broadband and BitTorrent is gradually becoming a reality. “Community downloading”.

Born in 2001, BitTorrent spawned closed groups, often collaborative.

While services like eMule or Kazaa were fully open, BitTorrent, born in 2001, spawned closed groups, often collaborative. According to economists, in these smaller communities, there are few bad files in circulation because they are built on a foundation. “quality requirement” and together “a strictly controlled upload/download rate”. Like Oink’s Pink Palace, which author Stephen Witt describes in his book Attacking the record empire: When an entire generation commits the same crime (Castor Astral, 2016) and who writes on the site like this? Guardian : “While some files indeed remain unknown sources originating from unknown Internet residents, the vast majority of MP3s actually originated from a handful of organized groups.”

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Added a form to this “professionalization” According to Ernesto Van Der Sar, piracy is linked to the structuring of the piracy economy and competition between platforms:

Twenty years ago it was all about sharing and discovering content. Today people just want free music and pirate sites exist to make money. If a site or service offers poor quality content, people will turn to its competitors.

If piracy still persists, it has radically changed its face: torrenting files and direct downloading have led to streaming, which represents 95% of illegal content online today, according to a report by Musso. More and more books, sports competitions and series are targeted today, especially due to the proliferation of exclusive video content on platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple TV or Disney+: Users can’t pay for multiple subscriptions without breaking their bank account, they’re more gravitating towards illegally uploaded content.

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Finally, thanks to the spawning of comments, various forums, and a handful of articles, justice has finally been served for System of a Down, especially for the group that has been unfairly looting all these years. legend of zelda. Contrary to what Odadjian and Dolmayan suggested two decades ago, the piece was not recorded by a kid playing on his computer, but by a very real group: The Rabbit Joint, originally from Maryland. Thanks to another remnant of the internet made up of Joe Pleiman and Jesse Spence, we can still trace the title: MySpace.