Torrent ban may result in better file-sharing sites


How old is file sharing?

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 an issue.

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 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.