We've heard repeatedly that "the horse is out of the barn." This phrase is used to refer to the proposition that because P2P and Internet technologies have such a large adoption rate, and are so easy to vary, any technology-based attempt to prevent infringement are futile. This should not be taken as fact though, it would be possible to regulate at least domestic infringement if Congress were to adopt some extreme policies. One easy way would be to impose a duty on every ISP to ensure that no copyrighted materials travel on their network except via a specifically authorized port requiring prior notice to the ISP. From a realistic perspective, this is unlikely to happen, we can throw the phrase around w/o consequence.
However, that's only one of the horses. If our end goal is the prevention/reduction of copyright infringement, we can extend the metaphor a bit further. The horse that hasn't quite made it out of the barn is the social norm of paying for music. P2P has only been around for 6 years, and it's high popularity has probably been the case for only the last 4 years. I was 11 years old when I made my first music purchase (Gun's n' Roses, Appetite for Destruction - laugh away!). Using Kaus's Theorem (I'm not unique, many people must be like me!), we'll assume that people generally start buying music around 9-13. People who illegally download music today have most likely been doing so for only 4 years or less.
Music consumption, at least prolific music consumption (not necessarily purchase), typically occurs during the adolescence and early adulthood. Record companies are under pressure because they recognize that it's not too late to re-socialize current P2P infringers to the norm of paying for music. My concern is that the passage of time, coupled with a weak response from record companies during this time, will cause a generation of potential customers to believe that music should be free. They will never, or only rarely, experience the act of paying for music, and in turn, will come to think of music as a free commodity rather than a valued good.
This is the horse that really matters. Perhaps you can accuse me of 20/20 hindsight, but I never thought that the solution was going to be purely technology-based. More realistic would have been a government mandated technology standard, but fortunately, the CEA has successfully kept that "solution" at bay. Software (P2P technology) is essentially information, and when coupled with the Internet, the result is a viral technology that is near impossible to stop. We haven't been able to stop the distribution of strong encryption programs, a tool undoubtedly used for terrorist communications. Likewise, we were unable to stop the dissemination of our nuclear secrets, which is arguably more important than copyright infringement.
We must remember that any government attempt to hinder the development and spread of "bad" technology while enabling the growth of "good" technology is likely to have unintended consequences. This is because government only has blunt tools at it's disposal; the Betamax case should offer easy proof. That is a slippery slope not worth traveling down.
Technology has transformed our lives, mostly for the better. It has enabled us to do great and terrible things. The 9-11 hijackers went to travelocity.com in order to pick flights that had a low number of passengers so that they could more easily control them. Travelocity provides real time data on passenger loads. Good for us when vacationing, but good for terrorists also, when planning an attack. Yet no one blames travelocity, and rightfully so.
The Internet was originally created so that our defense networks could continue to communicate with each other in the event of a nuclear attack. In its early incarnation, it was a four node network between four universities, and primarily used by academics to collaborate on projects. No one foresaw the tremendous potential the Internet held, and that is to be expected. We shouldn't hinder the development of certain technologies simply because of how some choose to use it. We should punish the act, not the technology. When someone is murdered in a shooting, we don't punish the gun. Oh, wait...