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The Honest Thief is not so honest

Elaborate April Fool's joke on the P2P world

By Ann Harrison, Network World
April 15, 2003 12:10 AM ET

A Dutch company calling itself The Honest Thief, announced in February that it would take advantage of a pro-P2P court ruling in the Netherlands and begin licensing its own P2P platform software to others. The company also said it would provide legal advice to other P2P services seeking a legal haven for file trading. As it turned out, The Honest Thief was not so honest.

A notice posted on The Honest Thief Web site on April 1 announced that the "company" was no more than an elaborate hoax to attract publicity for a book published back in October 2001. The statement on the Web site reads, "Well, guess what April Fools! The Honest Thief file-sharing venture was no more than a publicity stunt."

The book, "The Honest Thief" released by Greenleaf Book Group, is allegedly about using "uncommon sense to succeed in business and in life." But this seems like an uncommonly stupid way to flog a two-year-old book. Th Honest Thief folks didn't even bother to tell their Texas public relations company, The Alliant Group which was hired to promote the site. The PR folks were understandably miffed to have been duped into participating in the charade. As for all the news stories about the project, the incident just highlights how ridiculously easy it is to generate press attention for a venture with only an idea and a catchy name. It happened all the time during the dot-com boom.

The IFPL, which represents the international recording industry, had reported that the venture seemed to be producing nothing by vaporware. The software was set to be released in the second quarter and The Alliant Group even announced that a large U.S. company was signing up as the first customer.

Pieter Plass, the guy who set who set up the stunt, contends that The Honest Thief caused no harm or financial damage. Aside from alarming the entertainment industry and embarrassing a few media outlets, this could be true. What the stunt did do is direct international attention to the ruling issued by the Amsterdam Appeals Court, which said that said Kazaa BV could not be held liable for the copyright-infringing actions of those who use the Kazaa file-sharing application.

That decision is being appealed at the Supreme Court of the Netherlands, which is expected to rule in October. But the decision opens the door for similar rulings in other countries that could, in theory, refuse to prosecute P2P ventures for copyright infringement. If the Dutch Supreme Court upholds the ruling, I predict that a viable P2P venture will indeed launch itself in Holland offering the very things that The Honest Thief promised. It may have a hard time gathering much initial credibility in the business press, but the file traders themselves would have the last word on whether it's useful and legally well defended. 

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.

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