Case Peer to Peer Filesharing Advisories
What is Peer to Peer (P2P) File Sharing?
Generally speaking, peer-to-peer file sharing
refers to a system or service
- that allows individuals within the system to
share files with one another
- through which users store and distribute files
independently—without reliance on a central server
- whose content is controlled by users of the
system rather than through a central authority.
Advantages of P2P
P2P systems can use less bandwidth, enable faster file transfers,
reduce redundancy, and enable peers to connect directly with one
another without going through a central authority. Numerous
software vendors, especially small comercial or open source vendors,
use BitTorrent to distribute software products.
NASA's Visible Earth site
used to distribute all photographs and animations directly through
their Web site. Some of the images had extremely large file
These took a long time to download, used significant bandwidth and
sometimes put such a load on the server that users would be
disconnected before their downloads were complete. To solve the
problem, NASA took advantage of the popular P2P technology, BitTorrent,
which distributes their larger files (typically more than 100MB) in
small pieces via other users who have also made copies of the files
available. This reduced the strain on NASA's image servers and made for
reliable user experience.
Disadvantages of P2P
As P2P systems don't have central file repositories neither do they
have central authorities to verify the quality and legality of files
within their systems. This shifts the burden of responsibility to users
who must personally ensure that they only share and download safe and
legal materials. There are both legal and practical considerations to
Sharing and downloading copyrighted material,
without permission of
the owner is illegal. Most people know that; but when movies, songs,
games and other files are discovered via P2P networks it can sometimes
be difficult to tell whether they were shared legally or not. When in
doubt users should do further research to find out if the copyright
holder authorized the distribution. If no such authorization can be
found, one should assume the material is protected by copyright and not
legally available for file sharing.
Legal Considerations: Copyright Infringement
For example, fans may know that the popular band Nine Inch Nails
(NIN) has released some music for free on the Internet. If a user
finds a NIN song available via P2P, that doesn't necessarily mean it
distributed legally. The only way to know for sure is to check with the
band/artist. In this case, NIN provides links to their free content on
Web site and clearly publishes their licensing policy. Their most
recent album, The Slip, is
licensed under a creative
commons attribution non-commercial share alike license
in which NIN encourages "you to remix it, share it with your friends,
post it on your blog, play it on your podcast, give it to strangers,
If an organization such as Nine Inch Nails or NASA
is making content
freely available, they will make it clear through their Web sites or
other communications channels. If no such statement is available, one
should assume the material in question remains under copyright
There is a really interesting podcast of Fred Von
Lohmann discussing the RIAA litigation trail, from the Center for Internet and Society
at Stanford University. This will give you some real context on
what can happen.
Litigation Process is illustrated in this site. The College
Version of the ex parte
discovery procedure gives more pertinent details to university
users. The take home message from the litigation process is the
only case to go to trial so far has resulted in the (Capitol
v. Thomas) plaintiff being awarded $9250 for each of 24 infringed
recordings, for a total verdict of $222,000. Note that this
decision was set aside by a District Judge and ordered for a new trial
in September 2008.
Practical Considerations: Do You Really Know What
You Are Downloading?
The use of P2P makes it easy for anyone to share
content. Ideally the files are
legitimate documents, but they may not be. Anyone who's been Rickrolled—when
one starts to watch a video about topic X only to have it turn into a
Rick Astley video—knows that what you see is not always what you get.
But other bait and switch tactics can cause bigger problems. Some file
sharing programs include spyware, viruses or worms while others may
share information on your computer that you didn't intend to share. To
be safe, users should download files, especially executable files such
as software, from legitimate resources and maintain up-to-date virus
protection on their computers.
Learn More about Peer to Peer Filesharing
v. The People: Four Years Later A report from the Electronic
Freedom Foundation (EFF)
Connect: P2P File Sharing
to Peer (P2P) File Sharing - Risks You Need to Know!
Peer-to-Peer File-Sharing Technology: Consumer Protection and