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What Is Censorship Resistance, And Why Does It Matter?

Jeremy Kauffman • Sep 10 2019

What is censorship-resistance?

At the risk of tautology, censorship-resistance is the ability to resist censorship. Less tautologically, censorship-resistance is the degree to which a system is tamper proof. That is, a censorship-resistant system means a third party cannot modify or remove content created by someone else.

Just as nothing in the world is theft proof, nothing in the world is censorship proof. When a bank builds twenty foot walls around a vault with 3-foot-thick steel door that is monitored by security cameras, it does not do so to make theft literally impossible. It does so to make theft of the goods inside sufficiently challenging that it is extraordinarily improbable. When we speak of censorship-resistance, we speak the same as of the bank vault. A system can never be literally censorship proof, but it can be made extremely censorship resistant.

So when speaking of censorship resistance with regards to LBRY, we are speaking about how challenging it is to modify or remove content from the LBRY network without permission from the publisher

How censorship-resistant is LBRY?

We believe LBRY to be the most censorship-resistant system to ever exist for the purposes of publishing digital content.

To understand where LBRY’s censorship resistance comes from, we need to break the problem down into two areas: data (the digital content) and metadata (information about the digital content, such as it’s title or publisher).

In the case of the data itself, LBRY is as or more censorship-resistant as BitTorrent or other peer-to-peer networks. Like these other networks, when you publish a file, it ends up being hosted by dozens, hundreds, or thousands of other computers, depending on its popularity. Additionally, there are economic incentives to host content that is popular but undersupplied, which means that LBRY is even better than its predecessors, which were already world leaders in the censorship-resistance department.

In the case of the metadata, LBRY is truly novel. Previous peer-to-peer systems had decent censorship-resistance at the data level, but never the metadata. LBRY writes it’s metadata to a public blockchain, the same technology that powers the censorship-resistant Bitcoin. Metadata in the LBRY blockchain cannot be altered without a hard-fork of the network, which is an expensive and unlikely proposition. Even if this happened, it would be possible to roll-back the system to it’s last previously good state, resulting in only a temporary rather than permanent data loss.

How could LBRY be censored?

An internet service provider or network operator could conceivably censor traffic to the LBRY network entirely, by blocking or dropping packets that appear to be part of the LBRY protocol. However, given that this traffic is typically encrypted, consists of otherwise ordinary TCP and UDP packets, and can be headed to or from basically any address on the internet, this would be fairly challenging.

If a network operator did find a way to block LBRY traffic at the network level, we would work tirelessly to continue to evolve the system to make this difficult or impossible.

Why does censorship-resistance matter?

Censorship-resistance matters because there are many people in the world who would like to stop others from speaking. This can range in scale from national governments (China, North Korea, Iran) to college campuses (Evergreen).

Prosperity and freedom starts with the ability for people to communicate freely with one another. The ability to censor is the ability to control the narrative and spread propaganda.

For the purposes of discovering truth and fighting injustice, censorship-resistance is absolutely vital.

Photo of Jeremy Kauffman
Jeremy Kauffman · · ·

Jeremy knows how to build and scale a startup starting from day one. He knows how to deliver usable products and get those products in front of the right people.

Jeremy created LBRY because he fell in love with the idea of shared, global content registry that is owned and controlled by no one. Unsurprisingly, he is a longtime supporter of decentralized technology and freedom of information.

Prior to LBRY, Jeremy founded TopScore, a startup that processes millions of dollars monthly in event and activity registrations. He attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he received degrees in physics and computer science.