Peer to peer file sharing (P2P) is a technology which enables Internet users to “swap” files. It offers an easy method to share music, movies or other information in digital form. File sharing is a volatile current issue; it is also a debate which will likely never reach complete resolution by those who feel so passionately about it.
Napster made groundbreaking history when it was born in the late 1990s when it facilitated a decentralized way for users to share files with one another; a lot has changed since those early file sharing days. File sharing made it increasingly difficult to for owners of intellectual property to protect their works due to the ease of replication and “passing around”.
The Napster website was shut down in the earlier part of this decade after the courts ruled them in violation of the law because copyright infringement ran wild. Even though Napster in its original form is gone, the controversy lives on and today’s arguments surrounding file sharing comes down to a debate between perceptive freedoms and rights vs. ethics and the law.
Many other websites since Napster have picked up on the financial opportunities associated with file sharing and the practice has continued to stir controversy despite efforts to remain within the confines of the law. Using the websites and the software is not breaking the law, but downloading and sharing copyrighted files is.
This clash of values has continued because many people refuse to adhere to the court’s ruling and continue to violate the law using file sharing websites and installing P2P software to commit copyright infringement. Proponents of file sharing websites usually adhere to the school of thought of a “free” based Internet with little or no government intervention. They believe websites should be able to make possible and offer capabilities for millions of users to share files and users should be able to share whatever they want.
Opponents of P2P point out copyright violation as the primary reason its wrong and feel file sharing websites promote the practice of breaking copyright law. The legal file sharing websites do post notice that it is unlawful to break copyright laws, but this doesn’t necessarily stop it from occurring. Today’s file sharing websites are not promoting copyright infringement, they discourage it, but the conflict arises when users disregard the law, notice and break copyright laws.
Proponents of file sharing may argue “fair use” rights as their right to share files, and theoretically this is a solid argument. The problem is the Internet skewers interpretation of “fair use” because there is such a large audience. It is not the same as copying a CD for a friend because it puts files up on the Internet to share. This results in mass distribution and copyright owners are financially hurt from the significant numbers of sales lost.
File sharing websites are legitimate ones and the file sharing capabilities provided by technology are also valid for lawful purposes. Should the technology be banned because users disregard the law? Should websites and developers who market P2P be held responsible for what users do?
If this is a precedent, then most everything would be banned or held liable. A kitchen knife is a tool when used properly, but if someone harms someone else using it, it then becomes a crime. The same could be said for P2P, its a great tool to help ease sharing of information, but there is opportunity in using it to break the law; ultimately the resolution to the problem comes down to responsible usage.
Personal responsibility and accountability is the real issue with file sharing, not the technology, or the websites, but the users. Stifling the technology isn’t going to solve the issue, it will only hurt society in the long run because it puts roadblocks on future progression and development once the courts get involved. The root of the problem is people and until we, as a collective society, understand illegal file sharing is wrong, this will continue to be a controversy.