How old is file
The internet started as a
network that enables its users to share data. All the early
versions of the internet provided a mechanism by which users
could share files without any centralised server. For instance,
ARPANET, the world’s first packet switching network (the most
dominant form of data transfer today), funded by the US
department of defence developed File Transfer Protocol (FTP) by
the early 1970s. However in the first few decades of its
development internet primarily served academic institutions or
research laboratories and hence copyright infringement was never
When did copyright become an issue?
In the mid 1990s a new format of audio started spreading
on the internet. MPEG Audio Layer III (MP3) changed the way
music was consumed. In this format, songs could be compressed by
factors of 10 to 14, assuring quick download and mass storage in
personal computers. In 1997, the Winamp audio player was
released and MP3.com was launched offering thousands of free
songs by independent artists. These events made the new format
immensely popular. The game changer however came in 1999 when
Shawn Fanning launched Napster. A person downloading music from
Napster was getting the data from the computer of another user.
The utility became immensely popular with millions of active
users. Napster faced several lawsuits and was eventually shut
down and later sold.
What is the most common way of file sharing today?
The same period also witnessed introduction of
BitTorrent files which enable the distribution of large amounts
of data over the internet. The file, for example a movie, is
divided into several pieces. A person downloading a movie will
download its ‘piece-1’ from ‘user A’, Piece-2 from ‘user B’ and
so on. He/she will simultaneously allow ‘user X’ to download
‘piece 1’ and ‘user Y’ to download ‘piece 2’. The file is thus
distributed by people who want to download it.
Is it legal to download copyrighted stuff through P2P ?
Although it’s universally illegal to distribute
copyrighted material, enforcement agencies have faced problems
in enforcing this. Many experts cite the ambiguity in the
interpretation of laws of different countries. Also the millions
of alleged violators are distributed across the world and mass
usage of various technologies makes it impossible for companies
to file lawsuits against every individual. With the
ever-improving internet, shutting down one utility has typically
resulted in the creation of better protocols.