Music, Movies, and Software
Every day, millions of people view or download software and multimedia from the Web. Sites like YouTube focus on providing the public with videos to watch. Shoutcast, Live365, Yahoo! Music, and many others offer streaming music to the masses. Software is widely available from many sources, including Download.com, FilePlanet, and the Help Desk website.
Music, movies, and software are all available from another source too: peer-to-peer file sharing. Sometimes referred to as P2P, file sharing like BitTorrent are a virtual treasure trove of music, movies, and software.
Literally millions of songs are available for download using P2P software—and they are easy to get. Just install a popular file sharing program like uTorrent, enter a quick search for your favorite song, artist, or movie, and you're in business. Unfortunately, downloading copyrighted material (like music) without permission is illegal.
Everyone Does It—What's the Big Deal?
Lots of people download music and movies using file sharing software. If you don't do it, you probably know someone who does. With so many people engaging in file sharing every day, you might think, "What's the big deal? It's easy, free, and fun." The problem is that if you download copyrighted material without permission, you are breaking the law.
According to the U.S. Copyright Office, "copyright infringement occurs when a copyrighted work is reproduced, distributed, performed, publicly displayed, or made into a derivative work without the permission of the copyright owner." When you download or share a copyrighted song, movie, or software without the permission of the copyright holder, you are violating the copyright. You could face penalties like fines and you could be sued by the copyright holder.
If you use peer-to-peer software to download music, movies, or software, you may also be sharing those files to others. Whether you realize it or not, P2P software may continue running in the background and may be sharing files or folders on your computer. Each time someone downloads those files from you, you are violating the copyright. Copyright infringement is against the law regardless of whether you are downloading or sharing copyrighted files without permission.
P2P software can also be a gateway for viruses, spyware, and other malware. When you install a peer-to-peer application, it may silently install malware onto your computer. When you download files from a file sharing network like BItTorrent, the files could be malware disguised as songs or movies. When you try to listen to the song or watch the movie, you infect your computer instead.
Copyright Infringement is Illegal
If you download or share copyrighted material without the copyright holder's consent, you are breaking the law. Peer-to-peer programs make lawbreaking extremely easy—so easy, in fact, it might not seem illegal at all. Of course, if you get sued or arrested, the courts will not care that it didn't seem like you were doing anything wrong. The only course of action you should take is to avoid violating copyrights.
Peer-to-peer applications themselves are not illegal and you can freely use them to download non-copyrighted material (or copyrighted material with the owner's consent). But before you download the next popular song or movie, stop and ask yourself if it's worth the risk. Sooner or later, your actions may catch up with you.
For more information, please read 1161: Legal alternatives to illegal file sharing.