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File sharing is the practice of distributing or providing access to digitally stored information, such as computer programs, multi-media (audio, video), documents, or electronic books. It may be implemented through a variety of storage, transmission, and distribution models and common methods of file sharing incorporate manual sharing using removable media, centralized computer file server installations on computer networks, World Wide Web-based hyperlinked documents, and the use of distributed peer-to-peer (P2P) networking.
File sharing is not in and of itself illegal. However, the increasing popularity of the mp3 music format in the late 1990s led to the release and growth of Napster and other software that aided the sharing of electronic files. This in practice led to a huge growth in illegal file sharing: the sharing of copyright protected files without authorization.
Although the original Napster service was shut down by court order, it paved the way for decentralized and semi-decentralised peer-to-peer file sharing networks such as Gnutella, Gnutella2, eDonkey2000, the Kazaa network, and BitTorrent.
Starting in the early 2000s, some file sharing networks and services — including the original incarnations of MP3.com, Audiogalaxy, Napster, and Morpheus — were accused of facilitating illegal file sharing and were shut down due to litigation by groups such as the RIAA and MPAA. During the same period, the fight against illegal sharing also expanded into lawsuits against individual users of file sharing software.
The economic impact of illegal file sharing on media industries is disputed. Some studies conclude that unauthorized downloading of movies, music and software is unequivocally damaging the economy, while other studies suggest file sharing is not the primary cause of declines in sales. Illegal file sharing remains widespread, with mixed public opinion about the morality of the practice.
1 Types of file sharing
1.1 Peer to peer networks
1.2 File hosting services
3 Copyright and controversy
3.1 Economic impact
3.2 US legal controversy
3.3 UK government policy on illegal file sharing
3.4 File sharing in Europe
3.5 File Sharing in China
3.6 File Sharing in South Korea
3.7 File Sharing in Mexico
3.8 File sharing advocates
3.9 Available legal alternatives
4 Public perception and usage
6 See also
8 Further reading
9 External links
Types of file sharing
Peer to peer networks
Some of the most popular options for file sharing on the Internet are peer-to-peer networks, such as Gnutella, Gnutella2, iMesh and eDonkey network.
Users can use software that connects in to a peer-to-peer network to search for shared files on the computers of other users (i.e. peers) connected to the network. Files of interest can then be downloaded directly from other users on the network. Typically, large files are broken down into smaller chunks, which may be obtained from multiple peers and then reassembled by the downloader. This is done while the peer is simultaneously uploading the chunks it already has to other peers.
File hosting services
File hosting services are a simple alternative to peer-to-peer software. These are sometimes used together with Internet collaboration tools such as email, forums, blogs, or any other medium in which links to direct downloads from file hosting services can be embedded. These sites typically host files so that others can download them.
Main article: File sharing timeline
Files were first exchanged on removable media. Computers were able to access remote files using filesystem mounting, bulletin board systems (1978), Usenet (1980), and FTP servers (1985). Internet Relay Chat (1988) and Hotline (1997) enabled users to communicate remotely through chat and to exchange files. The mp3 encoding, which was standardized in 1991 and which substantially reduced the size of audio files, grew to widespread use in the late 1990s. In 1998, MP3.com and Audiogalaxy were established, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was unanimously passed, and the first mp3 player devices were launched. MP3.com offered music by unsigned artists, and grew to serve 4 million audio downloads daily.
Usenet was created in 1979. It is a network that was initially based on the UUCP protocol for dial-up connections and has, since being transported over the Internet, used a specialized client-server protocol, the Network News Transfer Protocol (NNTP). Its main purpose was the exchange of text based messages, but through attachments allowed users to encode files and distribute them to participating subscribers of Usenet newsgroups. Usenet remains one of the largest carriers of file sharing and Internet traffic. Legal challenges to P2P systems have spurred a resurgence of Usenet. Usenet itself has also been the target of legal challenges pertaining to its use in file sharing.
Between 1979 and the mid 1990s, file sharing was done through bulletin board systems and Usenet. The term shareware and its distribution model became more popular in part due to the BBS networks and systems. Putting shareware on BBS was a way for some developers to distribute their software and generate income. Games such as Doom became popular as a result of this distribution model. Bulletin boards eventually became obsolete as the Internet grew in popularity.
In June 1999, Napster was released as a centralized unstructured peer-to-peer system, requiring a central server for indexing and peer discovery. It is generally credited as being the first peer-to-peer file sharing system. In the case of Napster, an online service provider could not use the "transitory network transmission" safe harbor in the DMCA if they had control of the network with a server. Many P2P products will, by their very nature, flunk this requirement, just as Napster did. Napster provided a service where they indexed and stored file information that users of Napster made available on their computers for others to download, and the files were transferred directly between the host and client users after authorization by Napster. Shortly after the A&M Records, Inc. v. Napster, Inc. loss in court Napster blocked all copyright content from being downloaded.
Gnutella, eDonkey2000, and Freenet were released in 2000, as MP3.com and Napster were facing litigation. Gnutella, released in March, was the first decentralized file sharing network. In the Gnutella network, all connecting software was considered equal, and therefore the network had no central point of failure. In July, Freenet was released and became the first anonymity network. In September the eDonkey2000 client and server software was released.
In 2001, Kazaa and Poisoned for the Mac was released. Its FastTrack network was distributed, though unlike Gnutella, it assigned more traffic to 'supernodes' to increase routing efficiency. The network was proprietary and encrypted, and the Kazaa team made substantial efforts to keep other clients such as Morpheus off of the FastTrack network.
In July 2001, Napster lost in court and was shut down. This drove users to other P2P applications and file sharing continued its exponential growth. The Audiogalaxy Satellite client grew in popularity, and the LimeWire client and BitTorrent protocol were released. Until its decline in 2004, Kazaa was the most popular file sharing program despite bundled malware and legal battles in the Netherlands, Australia, and the United States. In 2002, a Tokyo district court ruling shut down File Rogue and an RIAA lawsuit effectively shut down Audiogalaxy.
Demonstrators protesting The Pirate Bay raid, 2006.
From 2002 through 2003, a number of popular BitTorrent services were established, including Suprnova.org, isoHunt, TorrentSpy, and The Pirate Bay. In 2002, the RIAA was filing lawsuits against Kazaa users. As a result of such lawsuits, many universities added file sharing regulations in their school administrative codes (though some students managed to circumvent them during after school hours). With the shut down of eDonkey in 2005, eMule became the dominant client of the eDonkey network. In 2006, police raids took down the Razorback2 eDonkey server and temporarily took down The Pirate Bay. Pro-piracy demonstrations took place in Sweden in response to the Pirate Bay raid. In 2009, the Pirate Bay trial ended in a guilty verdict for the primary founders of the tracker.
Networks such as BitTorrent via uTorrent and Azureus and the trackers & indexing sites, Gnutella via Limewire and the eDonkey network via eMule managed to survive this turbulent time. Furthermore, multi-protocol file sharing software such as MLDonkey and Shareaza adapted in order to support all the major file sharing protocols, so users no longer had to install and configure multiple file sharing programs.
Copyright and controversy
Main article: Copyrighted content on file sharing networks
A significant number of people share files in a way that infringes on the legal rights of copyright holders. Copyright holders have challenged the legality of file sharing networks which has led to litigation by industry bodies against certain private individual file sharers.
The legal issues surrounding file sharing have been the subject of debate and conferences.
Digital rights management intended to curb copyright infringement by preventing file sharing but proved unpopular with consumers due to the restrictive usage policies imposed.
The economic effect of file sharing on music revenue has been controversial and difficult to determine. Music sales dropped globally from approximately $38 billion in 1999 to $32 billion in 2003, and an increasing number of studies found that file sharing had a negative impact on record sales. It has proven difficult to untangle the cause and effect relationships among a number of different trends, including an increase in legal online purchases of music; illegal file-sharing; drops in the prices of CDs; and the extinction of many independent music stores with a concommitant shift to sales by big-box retailers. According to David Glenn, writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education, "A majority of economic studies have concluded that file sharing hurts sales", though not always to the precise degree "the record industry would like the public to believe."
A study by Felix Oberholzer-Gee and Koleman Strumpf in 2004, analyzing logs of downloads on file sharing networks, found that file sharing had no negative effect on CD sales, and would possibly slightly improve the sales of top albums. This work was challenged by Professor Stan Liebowitz, who accused Oberholzer-Gee and Strumpf of making multiple assumptions about the music industry "that are just not correct." In June 2010, Billboard reported that Oberholzer-Gee and Strumpf had "changed their minds", now finding "no more than 20% of the recent decline in sales is due to sharing".
The MPAA reported that American studios lost $2.3 billion to Internet piracy in 2005, representing approximately one third of the total cost of film piracy in the United States. The MPAA's estimate was doubted by commentators since it was based on the assumption that one download was equivalent to one lost sale, and downloaders might not purchase the movie if illegal downloading was not an option. Due to the private nature of the study, the figures could not be publicly checked for methodology or validity, and on January 22, 2008, as the MPAA was lobbying for a bill which would compel universities to crack down on piracy, it was admitted that MPAA figures on piracy in colleges had been inflated by up to 300%.
A 2010 study, commissioned by the International Chamber of Commerce and conducted by independent Paris-based economics firm TERA, estimated that unlawful downloading of music, film and software cost Europe's creative industries several billion in revenue each year. Furthermore, the TERA study entitled “Building a Digital Economy: The Importance of Saving Jobs in the EU's Creative Industries” predicted losses due to piracy reaching as much as 1.2 million jobs and €240 billion in retail revenue by 2015 if the trend continued. Researchers applied a substitution rate of ten percent to the volume of copyright infringements per year. This rate corresponded to the number of units potentially traded if unlawful file sharing were eliminated and did not occur. Piracy rates of one-quarter or more for popular software and operating systems have been common, even in countries and regions with strong intellectual property enforcement, such as the US or the EU.
Small independent labels have pointed out that the negative economic impact of illegal file sharing on them and their grass roots artists cannot be denied as it is difficult to compete with unauthorized free distribution of their copyrighted music.
US legal controversy
In Sony Corp. v. Universal Studios, 464 U.S. 417 (1984), the Supreme Court found that Sony's new product, the Betamax (the first mass-market consumer videocassette recorder), did not subject Sony to secondary copyright liability because it was capable of substantial non-infringing uses. Decades later, this case became the jumping-off point for all peer-to-peer copyright infringement litigation.
The first peer-to-peer case was A&M Records v. Napster, 239 F.3d 1004 (9th Cir. 2001). Here, the 9th Circuit considered whether Napster was liable as a secondary infringer. First, the court considered whether Napster was contributorily liable for copyright infringement. To be found contributorily liable, Napster must have engaged in "personal conduct that encourages or assists the infringement." The court found that Napster was contributorily liable for the copyright infringement of its end-users because it "knowingly encourages and assists the infringement of plaintiffs' copyrights." The court analyzed whether Napster was vicariously liable for copyright infringement. The standard applied by the court was whether Napster "has the right and ability to supervise the infringing activity and also has a direct financial interest in such activities." The court found that Napster did receive a financial benefit, and had the right and ability to supervise the activity, meaning that the plaintiffs demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of their claim of vicarious infringement. The court denied all of Napster's defenses, including its claim of fair use.
The next major peer-to-peer case was MGM v. Grokster, 545 U.S. 913 (2005). In this case, the Supreme Court found that even if Grokster was capable of substantial non-infringing uses, which the Sony court found was enough to relieve one of secondary copyright liability, Grokster was still secondarily liable because it induced its users to infringe.
It is important to note the concept of blame in cases such as these. In a pure P2P network there is no host, but in practice most P2P networks are a hybrid (see "Computer science perspective" below). This has led groups such as the RIAA to file suit against individual users, rather than against companies. The reason that Napster was subject to violation of the law and ultimately lost in court was because Napster was not a pure P2P network but instead maintained a central server which maintained an index of the files currently available on the network.
Around the world in 2006, an estimated five billion songs, equating to approximately 38,000 years in music were swapped on peer-to-peer websites, while 509 million songs were purchased online. The same study which estimated these findings also found that artists that had an online presence ended up retaining more of the profits rather than the music companies
In November 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives introduced the Secure Federal File Sharing Act, which would, if enacted, prohibit the use of peer-to-peer file-sharing software by U.S. government employees and contractors on computers used for federal government work.
UK government policy on illegal file sharing
File sharing has been a contentious issue in the UK and the UK government believed action would help drive the UK’s vital creative and digital sectors to bolster future growth and jobs.  According to a 2009 report carried out by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry 95 per cent of music downloads are unauthorised, with no payment to artists and producers . Market research firm Harris Interactive believed there to be 8.3 million file sharers in the UK. Moreover the BPI claimed that in 1999 UK music purchases totalled £1,113 million but had fallen to £893.8 million in 2008 . However it has also been said that there is no accurate way to know the full extent of the problem.
The Digital Economy Bill has now become the Digital Economy Act 2010 which received Royal Assent on 9 April 2010. The Act may have serious repercussions for both file sharers and internet services providers.
Previous cases in the UK have seen internet users fined £2500 for sharing music on the internet . The Digital Economy Bill proposed that internet service providers (ISPs) issue warnings by sending letters to those illegally downloading files. Following this, the bill proposed that ISPs slow down or even suspend internet access for repeat offenders of illegal file sharing. The bill aimed to force internet service providers to disclose the identities of those offenders as well as making conditions for the regulation of copyright licensing. The Digital Economy Bill incorporated a graduated response policy despite the alleged file sharer not necessarily having to be convicted of copyright offences . The bill also introduced fines of up to £50,000 for criminal offences relating to copyright infringement - for example if music is downloaded with intent to sell. The high penalty is considered to be proportionate to the harm caused to UK industries . An appeals process exists whereby the accused can contest the case however concern has been expressed that this process will be costly and that, in requiring the individual to prove their innocence, the bill reverses the core principles of natural justice . Similarly, a website may be blocked if it is considered that it has been, is being, or is likely to be used in connection with copyright infringement  meaning that a site doesn't actually have to be involved in copyright infringement - rather intent must be proved.
The implications of the Digital Economy Act on providers of public Wi-Fi access is uncertain. Responsibility for breaches could be passed on to the provider due to the difficulty in identifying individual users. The internet provider therefore may risk losing internet access or facing a hefty fine if an infringement of copyright takes place. Many libraries and small cafés for example may find this impossible to adhere to as it would require detailed logging of all those requiring internet access. In libraries in particular this may provide challenges to the profession’s importance of user privacy and could force changes in future policies such as Acceptable Use Policies (AUP). Public libraries utilise AUPs in order to protect creative works from copyright infringement and themselves from possible legal liability. However, unless the AUP is accompanied by the provision of knowledge on how to obey laws it could be seen as unethical, as blame for any breaches is passed to the user 
The hospitality sector may also be affected by the Digital Economy Act. The British Hospitality Association has stated that hotels would have particular problems in providing details of guest’s internet access to Internet Service Providers and entire hotels may face disconnection. They have also expressed their concern that an individual's actions may lead to such a drastic outcome.
The bill was met with a mixed response. Geoff Taylor of the BPI claims the bill is vital for the future of creative works in the UK . Moreover, the Conservative spokesman for Culture and Media stated that those illegally downloading should be given a criminal record. Conversely, Liberal Democrat spokesman for Culture and Media, Don Foster, claimed the bill was reckless and dangerous stating that children could unwittingly be file sharing causing an entire family to lose their internet connection. In addition to this, there was concern that hackers may access internet connections to illegally download files and leave the bill payer responsible.
Internet service providers were also hostile towards the bill. TalkTalk stated that suspending access to the internet breached human rights. This view may be shared by many, as a survey carried out by the BBC found that 87% of internet users felt internet access should be the "fundamental right of all people". Certainly, people require access to the internet for many aspects of their life for example shopping, online banking, education, work and even socialising. Furthermore, Talk Talk Director of Regulation, Andrew Heaney has acknowledged that file sharing is a problem but the answer is to educate people and create legal alternatives. Heaney has also argued that disconnected offenders will simply create other user names to hide their identity and continue downloading. Talk Talk has claimed that 80% of youngsters would continue to download regardless of the bill and that internet service providers are being forced to police this without any workable outcomes 
Virgin media also criticised the Digital Economy Bill believing it to be heavy handed and likely to alienate customers. Virgin advocate government persuasion rather than force to try and eradicate the problem of illegal file sharing 
The bill provoked protests in many forms. The Guardian reported that hundreds were expected to march outside the House of Commons on March 24, 2010  . Moreover, an estimated 12,000 people sent emails to their MPs, through the citizen advocacy organisation 38 degrees. 38 degress objected to the speed with which the bill was rushed through parliament, without proper debate, due to the imminent dissolution of parliament prior to a general election. In October 2009 TalkTalk launched its Don't Disconnect Us campaign asking people to sign a petition against the proposal to cut off the internet connections of those accused of illegal file sharing . By November 2009 the petition had almost 17,000 signatories  and by December had reached over 30,000 .
In addition to protests against the bill as a whole, the Pirate Party in the UK has called for non-commercial file sharing to be legalised. Formed in 2009 and intending to enter candidates in the 2010 UK general election, the Pirate Party advocates reform to copyright and patent laws and a reduction in government surveillance . 
File sharing in Europe
Problems with file sharing in Europe have not gone undocumented. A March 2010 study entitled Building a Digital Economy: The Importance of Saving Jobs in the EU's Creative Industries published figures stating that 1.2 million jobs could be lost in the European Union and up to €240 billion in retail income, by 2015.
April 2008 saw the European Parliament block attempts to criminalize file sharing by individuals, moreover the idea of cutting off internet access of offenders was also thrown out. 314 MEPs voted in favour of an amendment to the Telecoms Package (2007) to abandon these proposals with 297 voting against.
November 2009 saw the European Parliament vote again on further changes to the Telecoms Package. In regards to file sharing MEPs agreed to compromise and protect user's rights. A European Parliament statement read "A user's internet access may be restricted, if necessary and proportionate, only after a fair and impartial procedure including the user's right to be heard." EU members were given until May 2011 to implement these changes into their own laws.
Before Britain introduced the Digital Economy Act 2010, France paved the way with the Creation and Internet Bill which was passed in January 2010 after a lengthy battle in the French parliament. The law is enforced by an agency called the Higher Authority for the Distribution of Works and the Protection of Copyright on the Internet HADOPI law.
Under the law those accused of copyright infringement via the Internet are issued with a warning letter, then a second warning letter. Breaches for a third time are met with fines or, in some cases, this graduated response results in the user’s internet connection being terminated.
In comparison to the UK's Digital Economy Act, in France a judge has to sign-off on any account suspensions as opposed to the agency enforcing the law.
The bill's supporters in France believe the bill "is a model for other countries around the world that want to protect their creative industries and make clear to ordinary web-users that not everything is for free". President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife, the model and singer Carla Bruni, were supporters of the legislation.
Those[who?] opposing the bill have objected to its implementation on the grounds, they say, it will neither prevent file-sharing nor turn pirates into legitimate users. Furthermore, they have argued that disconnecting a citizen's internet access is unfair given the role the Web fulfils both commercially and politically.
It has been reported that Spain has one of the highest rates of file-sharing in Europe. In a twelve month period it was reported that there were 2.4 billion downloads of copyrighted works including music, video games, software and films in Spain. In 2010 statistics indicated that the figure for the Spanish population using file sharing sites was 30%, which was double the European average of 15%.
According to record labels this had a negative impact on the industry, with investment drying up, according to IFPI head John Kennedy. For example in 2003 10 new Spanish artists appeared in the top 50 album chart, however in 2009 not a single new Spanish artist featured in the same chart. Purchases of albums dropped by two-thirds over a period of five years leading up to 2010. "Spain runs the risk of turning into a cultural desert ... I think it's a real shame that people in authority don't see the damage being done."
Nevertheless, the association of music promoters states that "Music is alive" as despite the decrease in record sales the income due to concert tickets has increased a 117% in the last decade, it was €69.9 millions in 2000 whereas it increased to €151.1 millions in 2008. The number of concerts doubled itself from 71,045 in 2000 to 144,859 in 2008, and the number of people attending concerts increased from 21.8 millions in 2000 to more than 33 millions in 2008.
Despite the problems endured by the entertainment industry, file sharing and torrent websites were ruled to be legal in Spain in March 2010. The judge who was responsible for the court ruling stated that “P2P networks are mere conduits for the transmission of data between Internet users, and on this basis they do not infringe rights protected by Intellectual Property laws”.
In May 2010, Irish internet provider Eircom have announced they will cut broadband of illegal file sharers. Initially, infringing customers will be telephoned by Eircom to see if they are aware of the illegal downloads. When customers are identified for a third time they will lose their internet connection for 7 days, if caught for a forth time they will lose their internet connection for a year.
File Sharing in China
The People's Republic of China is known for having one of the most comprehensive and extensive approaches to observing web activity and censoring information in the world. Popular social networking sites such as Twitter & Facebook cannot be accessed by its citizens. China requires sites that share video files to have permits and be controlled by the state or owned by state. These permits last for three years and will need renewal after that time period. Web sites that violate any rules will be subject to a 5 year ban from providing videos online. One of the country's most used file sharing programs, BTChina got shutdown in December 2009. It was shutdown by the State Administration of Radio Film and Television for not obtaining a license to legally distribute media such as audio and video files. Alexa, a company that monitors web traffic, claims that BTChina had 80,000 daily users. Being one of the primary file sharing websites for Chinese citizens, this shutdown affected the lives of many internet users in China. The Chinese government is primarily concerned with people being able to access information that has not been filtered, not the issue of copyright infringement. China has an online population of 222.4 million people and 65.8% are said to participate in some form of illegal file-sharing on websites.
File Sharing in South Korea
In March 2009, South Korea passed legislation that gave internet users a form of three strikes for illegal file sharing with the intention of curbing online theft. This is also known as graduated response. As the number of cases of illegal sharing increases, the proportion of youth involved has increased. As illegal file shares are monitored, they are sent messages instructing them to stop. If their illegal file sharing continues, their internet connection may be disconnected for up to six months. The force behind this movement is the Korean National Assembly’s Committee on Culture, Sports, Tourism, Broadcasting & Communications (CCSTB&C). With help from local internet service providers, the CCSTB&C have gained access and formed communication channels to specific file sharing users.
File Sharing in Mexico
Recording companies pursued approximately 20,000 lawsuits in 17 countries in 2009 against illegal file-sharing; however, not a single case was filed within Mexico. Because Mexico’s government has made opening legitimate businesses bureaucratic and costly, consumers have learned to count on a much cheaper means of acquiring music and other media for their entertainment. Consumers continue to illegally file share because the laws in Mexico are very weak and have not been updated in order to take into account online trade such as file sharing; therefore, intellectual property laws do not punish file sharing and Mexico’s intellectual property laws cannot affect file sharers because no money is being exchanged. The issue of file sharing is becoming especially problematic for the entertainment industry in the sense that fast broadband connections have become even more common within Mexico, doubling to 61 percent of Web-enabled Mexicans in the last two years. Although file sharing laws are almost non-existent in Mexico, Mexican legislators are considering the approval of the punishment of unauthorized file sharers with fines of up to $20,000 and ten years in jail. However, even if the laws do change in regards to file sharing, finding offenders will not be easy by any means because approximately one-third of Mexico’s Internet users go online at Internet Cafes, where several people may use the same computer every hour. Ultimately, the Internet poses two challenges within Mexico: (1) the sale of counterfeit/pirate hard goods and (2) the distribution of illicit new releases, subtitles, covers, and dubbed versions of films, as well as music, software and books. There are many pirate servers that are hosted within Mexico; however, the majority of these pirate servers are based in the U.S. and Europe but administered in Mexico. According to the recording industry, Internet piracy of music dominates approximately 90% of the total music market in Mexico with Peer to Peer networks as being the most predominant form of music piracy.
File sharing advocates
Further information: Anti-copyright
An anti-copyright researcher wrote a paper to argue that file sharing doesn't hurt people financially and that movie, game, and other types of media are not seeing any drop in sales; but a rise and P2P file sharing is only one of many factors attributed to the recent drop in CD sales
A different type of file sharing is also occurring in academic and research circles, where researchers wish to access subscription journals and books, but do not wish to pay a licence fee. File-sharing websites allow researchers to request articles, which are then found by those who do have access to them, and then the articles are posted to the website for all to access, a practice that appears to be unknown to many editors of these journals. The file sharing is extended even further by researchers who share library access codes (usernames and passwords) so that other researchers can access the library databases directly themselves.
Significant cultural sources for arguments against copyright include the Free Software culture, anarchism, the pirate and warez cultures, libertarian and civil libertarian groups . Rasmus Fleischer argues that Web 2.0 has changed society so significantly that personal behavior and business models simply make copyright law irrelevant.
Available legal alternatives
Voluntary Collective Licensing - making file sharing networks subscribe-only for a small fee and then distribute the collected money among the artists based on the popularity of their work - has been proposed as a legal alternative to illegal file sharing. Another alternative is the threshold pledge system.
Public perception and usage
In 2004, an estimated 70 million people participated in online file sharing. According to a CBS News poll, nearly 70 percent of 18 to 29 year olds thought file sharing was acceptable in some circumstances and 58 percent of all Americans who followed the file sharing issue considered it acceptable in at least some circumstances.
In January 2006, 32 million Americans over the age of 12 had downloaded at least one feature length movie from the Internet, 80 percent of whom had done so exclusively over P2P. Of the population sampled, 40 percent felt that downloading copyrighted movies off the Internet constituted a very serious offense, however 78 percent believed taking a DVD from a store without paying for it constituted a very serious offense.
In February 2008, the LA Times Blog published results of a US campus attitude survey which showed that 64 percent of respondents downloaded music regularly through file-sharing networks and other unauthorized sources. The respondents were also asked to rate on a 1 to 7 scale "how nervous they were about being punished for illegal downloading" (with 1 being "not concerned" and 7 being "extremely concerned"). Two-thirds answered 1 (43 percent) or 2 (24 percent) but only 4 percent answered 5 or 6, and none answered 7, "extremely concerned".
In July 2008, 20 percent of Europeans used file sharing networks to obtain music, while 10 percent used paid-for digital music services such as iTunes.
In February 2009, a Tiscali UK survey found that 75 percent of the English public polled were aware of what was legal and illegal in relation to file sharing, however there was a divide as to where they felt the legal burden should be placed: 49 percent of people believed P2P companies should be held responsible for illegal file sharing on their networks, 18 percent viewed individual file sharers as the culprits, while 18 percent either didn’t know or chose not to answer. In the same survey, 60 percent of people reported downloading music because of a limited budget. A common attitude concerning music downloading was that of ‘why should one pay for something when they can get it for free?'
According to an earlier poll, 75 percent of young voters in Sweden (18-20) supported file sharing when presented with the statement: "I think it is OK to download files from the Net, even if it is illegal." Of the respondents, 38 percent said they "adamantly agreed" while 39 percent said they "partly agreed".
Researchers have examined potential security risks including the release of personal information, bundled spyware, and viruses downloaded from the network. Some proprietary file sharing clients have been known to bundle malware, though open source programs typically have not. Some open source file sharing packages have even provided integrated anti-virus scanning. A drastic increase in inadvertent P2P file sharing of personal and sensitive information became evident in 2009 at the beginning of President Obama's administration when the blueprints to the helicopter Marine One were made available to the public through a breach in security via a P2P file sharing site. Access to this information has the potential of being detrimental to US security.
Furthermore, shortly before this security breach, the Today show had reported that more than 150,000 tax returns, 25,800 student loan applications and 626,000 credit reports had been inadvertently made available through file sharing.
Since approximately 2004 identity theft has become more prevalent, and in July 2008 there was another inadvertent revealing of vast amounts of personal information through careless use of a P2P site. The "names, dates of birth, and Social Security numbers of about 2,000 of (an investment) firm's clients" were exposed, "including [those of] Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer."
Researchers have discovered thousands of documents containing sensitive patient information on popular peer-to-peer (P2P) networks, including insurance details, personally identifying information, physician names and diagnosis codes on more than 28,000 individuals. Many of the documents contained sensitive patient communications, treatment data, medical diagnoses and psychiatric evaluations.
The United States government has attempted to make users more aware of the potential risks involved with P2P file sharing programs through legislation such as H.R. 1319, the Informed P2P User Act. According to this act, it would be mandatory for individuals to be aware of the risks associated with peer-to-peer file sharing before purchasing software with informed consent of the user required prior to use of such programs. In addition, the act would allow users to block and remove P2P file sharing software from their computers at any time, with the Federal Trade Commission enforcing regulations.
Comparison of file sharing applications
File sharing in Canada
File sharing timeline
Open Music Model
Privacy in file sharing networks
Trade group efforts against file sharing
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^ Filesharing Report Shows Explosive Growth for uTorrent
^ Top P2P Applications: 1.6 Million PCs Rank Them
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