File sharing is the ability to give access to information you possess on your computer. This can include things like emailing a friend a picture, video or documents. P2P is a method of file sharing where a number of computers are linked together via a network. The computers on this network then have access to information which other parties may possess on their computer. The information is then simultaneously uploaded via the person who has the information and downloaded by the person who requires it. Sometimes, it may happen that multiple users on the network have the information someone else on the network requires, in this case all the computers having the information simultaneously upload the information and the computer downloading the information, decodes the received information from these multiple “peers”. Thus, the more the computers on the network and the more information that the “peers” have the faster the information that is required is transmitted.
P2P was popularized in the early days by Napster, an online music service that allows you to listen to any number of artists for a flat fee every month. Today, P2P is widely used by torrent providers like BitTorrent and UTorrent software which allows you to download torrents from sites like Pirate Bay and download many digital materials including movies, books, music, software and games. Since the cost of transferring large files is very low through P2P file sharing, it is very popular among its users. It is this very point that has been manipulated to share copyrighted material and transfer it to millions of people that makes P2P a very dangerous type of new media.
In the Wired article The BitTorrent Effect, Clive Thompson talks about how the creator of BitTorrent Bram Cohen introduced this open source P2P in a hacker conference in 2002. Cohen’s aim was simply to provide a platform for the exchange of Linux software online for cheap. What surprised the creator was the fact that his software was far more popular among TV and music fanatics than the nerds that he had aimed it towards. It opened up a whole new world of exchange of illegal and copyrighted material (shows like Heroes and Lost) which were demanded by the audience.
In the article Digital Pirates Winning Battle with Studios in the New York Times, it is clearly evident that no matter the method that a new movie employs to deter piracy, the project still fails miserably. The makers of Batman spent millions of dollars in this campaign and despite that 7 million people all across the world were able to gain access to the movie for absolutely no cost. This would have had an enormous impact on not only the video sales but also the sale of movie tickets since the movie is out for downloading mere hours after the movie is released in theaters. Governments are cracking down on the users of these sites and also the facilitators for their illegal use of materials. In Should Online Scofflaws Be Denied Web Access, it shows how different countries are coming up with laws to prohibit the downloads from various sites.
While P2P’s are helpful and certainly cost effective, one must keep in mind the abundant disadvantages that are posed by this new media. The creators of Pirate Bay were sentenced to prison time due to them facilitating the copyright materials to download and view at any time. Laws would certainly curb many from using this well formed technology in the wrong way. But is it possible for the law makers to constantly monitor the huge amounts of information that is being uploaded and downloaded in the internet at any given time? That remains to be seen.