Peer-to-peer networking popularly known as P2P has added a fresh dimension to communication. It is a distributed network architecture that enables participants to share their resources such as disk storage, network bandwidth or processing power amongst themselves. This way of sharing information is yet another modern communication method enabled by the Internet technologies. General Review of File Sharing
Peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing utilizes a unique protocol which results in an efficient process of exchanging data between systems connected to the internet without the need of an intermediate or central system in order to facilitate such exchange. (Subramanian & Goodman, 2005). In fact, the term P2P has been relatively well known to be synonymous with prolific sharing of games, programs, movies, music, books, and other files throughout the world. Thus the presence of P2P file sharing has predictably affected several aspects of the economy
The production of creativity-based products as exemplified by multimedia has been constantly associated with significant losses due to the presence of P2P. (Subramanian & Goodman, 2005). Instead of buying authentic items or copies, individuals who have sufficient knowledge and resources to engage in P2P are enticed to simply download such items from another individual in the network. The morality of such actions is questionable since the usual applications of P2P are outlawed in several areas in the world; however, at the same time, people tend to form groups which directly or indirectly are helping each other (Subramanian & Goodman, 2005).
Thus P2P file sharing may be considered as a contradictory action from the perspective of certain morals, but at the same time we cannot ignore the unique sociological bond that it forges. P2P file sharing is a result of the trends in technological development to encourage more and more internet-based human interactions. The popularity and steady improvement of the overall P2P process is directly related to the development of easily accessible file sharing programs and the creation of more efficient file sharing networks. Popular examples of P2P networks are Gnutella, FastTrack, DirectConnect, and eDonkey2000.
The commonly used P2P file sharing programs are Morpheus, Limewire, Kazaa, and eMule (Tech-FAQ, 2009). Hence it is evident that since the conception of P2P, there have been a numerous improvements and breakthroughs which signify its steady and accelerated growth. Historical Development The creation of USENET in 1979 was the first point wherein a true decentralized system with practical applications has been established (Moody, 2002). Although an example of a decentralized system like those seen in current P2P networks, USENET was never developed to exhibit the same actions as that of the conventional P2P.
In fact, USENET was merely developed to become an efficient method of exchanging data between UNIX systems; however, it is still considered as the starting point from which most of the current P2P systems are based upon (Moody 2002). It was in the 90s when the P2P networks were further developed, but during those times, they were mainly used for the purposes of businesses or small scale applications such as in homes with multiple computers (Moody, 2002). The reason for this was that the increase in demand for the internet was not equivalent to an increase in P2P applications.
Most of the systems utilized and connected to the internet exhibited client-server type of systems. The development of Napster, accentuated the actual beginning of the modern form of P2P. This file sharing program was the first to enable searches through the file database of another computer and allow downloads of desired files; actually, the reason why Napster became very popular is due to the fact that people have found a new and easy way to acquire songs in the form MP3 files (Moody, 2002). The development of other P2P file sharing networks and programs followed after the introduction of Napster.
The popularity of Napster led to its demise as laws were passed preventing its operation. Yet, despite what happened to Napster, other P2P programs and networks were still in operation and even began to increase in number (Moody, 2002). However, the problem that Napster had to go through can be experienced by other similar P2P systems as well. Lawsuits and charges are not necessarily a positive thing to anticipate. Hence, several P2P programs have started to cooperate with the government and have shifted to a more controlled operation (BBC News, 2006).
Such controls imposed over file sharing have disappointed the general communities which were involved with P2P network. Also, limitations of the P2P system that Kazaa and similar programs utilize have started to become apparent as larger files need to be shared. Hence, the advent of the torrent P2P system enabled new possibilities for file sharing communities. In fact, the method of file transfer in torrents enables a faster process since multiple parties may download a file part by part which allows for numerous sources to be utilized at once (Subramanian & Goodman, 2005).
It is evident that currently the most widespread method of sharing files, not only in the form of MP3 but to the extent of complete programs and movies, is through torrent P2P which is a peer to peer file sharing protocol that can transfer very large amounts of data. However bit torrent is only concerned with transferring specific files and anyone who has a copy of the file can create a tracker for it instead of operating through a broad-based network. This system blazes when it gets involved in transferring extremely popular file through P2P network and thoroughly complements its purpose.
But when a specific file that bit torrent is transferring is not very popular in nature then it differs from peer to peer networking because of the simple reason that it is file focused. Limewire uses the bit torrent protocol and works as a free P2P client of operating systems supported by Java software platform, Windows, Linux and Mac OS X. It runs through the Gnutella file sharing system and was established in the year 2000 by LimeWire LLC. Gradually it has acquired the position of most downloaded file sharing program on the internet.
It is successful because it caters to most popular operating systems. Like Limewire Current and Future Implications It could be implied that though P2P is considered unlawful by many, P2P file sharing is not completely illegal. Program developers and some multimedia companies have started to allow the release of samplers throughout P2P networks; also, there are firms focused on creating paid P2P services which enable the process of file sharing to be legal (Subramanian & Goodman, 2005).
The illegal form of file sharing occurs due to a lack of consideration for copyrights and loyalties as it is easier and involves no costs. Thus, most of the P2P programs have the capability of allowing both illegal and legal utilization. With this in mind, it is rather difficult to conceive the possibility of the whole P2P community shifting towards a complete accordance to the law in the near future. Currently, examples of completely legal P2P programs are iMESH, Napster, and Kazaa (Borland, 2005).
While other P2P programs such as Limewire have opted to operate and allow both legal and illegal downloads, and assures both the legality and quality of paid music downloads. Most of the downloads of the P2P programs such as Azureus, uTorrent, and GTK Gnutella, might look illegal but such programs cannot be considered entirely illegal due to the fact that they are distributing free but legal downloads as well. Hence, it can be inferenced that the legality of a program is not always questionable, since a P2P program cannot be termed as illegal simply based upon its structure.
The main point commonly assessed in questions of legality is the usage of those connected to the network (McCullagh, 2002). Thus if one joins the network and shares freeware then it is legal, but if one uses the network to share copyrighted material without proper permission then it is illegal. Effects on Society Taking into consideration, the presence of both legal and illegal P2P, with a greater focus on the more commonly utilized illegal P2P aspect; several positive and negative effects have been generated towards the society.
In terms of the positive effects, as mentioned, the global community has been indirectly helping those without much means to acquire programs or media. This implies that productivity in the society is increased. Another positive impact has been on the cash allocation of individuals. Instead of purchasing multimedia, people can spend on more necessary products. In addition, it has a beneficial effect on the general population in terms of being happier as they are able to access various forms of entertainment more easily (Beijnum, 2009).
Due to this the society at large is able to function better as it is happier and content this way. However, there are also negative societal effects which are rather easily foreseen. Individuals tend to disobey the law in order to get what they want. As a result a common notion gets developed that in certain cases, the law is not absolute. Not only this, some members of the society may be directly affected if their industry or job is being affected by P2P.
Also, those who completely utilize legal means of acquiring multimedia might begin to doubt their way of utilizing services when others are utilizing the same services in a much easier and cheaper manner. Due to this, the society might start neglecting law and also start overlooking the possible negative effects of their practices in general. Implications on the Entertainment Industry Considering the negative repercussions of P2P file sharing, it is rather clear as to why industries in general are against it. For one, they may not get as much income as possible from what they generate.
In the entertainment industry for example, entertainment firms heavily go against P2P due to immense amounts of estimated lost sales; also, copyright infringements damage the entertainment industry as well (BBC News, 2006). Most of the songwriters and artists have also stated their support against P2P. In fact, some songwriters and artists have stated that in a way illegal sharing of music makes them feel that they are let down by their fans; in addition, potential careers of upstarts are considered to be crippled as their creations are dispersed freely in an illegal manner (MusicUnited, n.
d). Apart from the artists and songwriters, other professionals of the industry such as the general staff, entertainment store entrepreneurs and clerks, technical engineers etc. are being negatively affected as well. The jobs of numerous people also associated with the industry, which are obviously considerably more than the stars of the entertainment industry, are in jeopardy as their companies continue to suffer losses. (MusicUnited, n. d). Despite this disheartening situation, several studies have pointed out that the entertainment industry generally benefits from file sharing.
In fact, recent studies have implied that there are no real losses in terms of sales, and P2P instead has provided a sampler effect which boosts sales (Beijnum, 2009). The mentioned sampler effect pertains to the fact that if people who have acquired entertainment-based products from P2P networks really like these items, then they will be greatly convinced to buy the original copy. Even more so, other studies have discussed that the losses that firms associated with the entertainment industry are claiming to be due to P2P may be simply and overreaction and in fact unsubstantiated (P2P On, 2009).
In addition, more details on the effects on artists of different tiers are presented from another study. The top artists are said to have losses, but the bottom artists are considered to gain much from P2P sharing (P2P On, 2009). This is possibly due to the fact that upcoming artists may utilize P2P as an advantage in terms of increasing public knowledge about them. It should be noted that such findings and implications are rather opposite to what have been stated by several anti-P2P advocates.
In fact, certain stars from the entertainment industry especially those involved with television shows have started to acknowledge that P2P is generally positive as it increases popularity and awareness, which leads to gains in terms of DVD sales (JoostTeam, 2007). However, even when recent studies on P2P file sharing has been proved positive in several ways; the general reaction of the majority of the government officials and law makers towards the technology has been largely antagonistic. Countermeasures
The latest news is that several governments around the world, especially the United States government, have conducted many methods in order to reduce, if not eliminate, illegal P2P file sharing. Apart from introducing laws that clearly limit the use of illegal copies of games, music, movies, and other related items, the government has provided lawsuits to stop those who are behind P2P networks and those that release files throughout the network (BBC News, 2006). Apart from all this, there have also been anti P2P movements especially in colleges and universities, which aim to clamp down the usage of P2P networks by students.
In fact, the American government has in a way forced universities to introduce appropriate anti P2P measures, implying that if they do not, actions will be taken to lessen the benefits of their students; these movements of course have had mixed reactions, as some universities were appalled by such a notice (Broache and McCullah 2007). Apart from taking all these measures, in the movement against P2P, the governments have also urged internet service providers to reduce P2P usage by limiting the bandwidth allocation.
In addition, offenders are supposed to be notified and eventually blocked (Paul, 2007). Also, aside from the actions made by such governments, the businesses that claim to be affected by P2P have also provided access restriction technologies in which they may limit users of illegal copies of their products (Electronic Frontier Foundation [EFF], n. d. ). Other groups such as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) are also heavily leaned towards stopping illegal P2P file sharing. Possibility of Becoming Legal
As a possibility of becoming entirely legal in the future, the visible changes for P2P may provide a different perspective. As mentioned, some P2P programs have become completely legal due to the fact that such programs have shifted into allowing copyrighted music downloads at a price and eliminating free downloads. Such changes of course have not become popular as the support for Napster has dwindled since the shift (CNET News, 2001). In this context, P2P may only become legal if the government finally admits that it is a senseless battle and acknowledges the fact that P2P has various positive effects towards the masses.
In fact, governments of other countries such as Canada have opted to allow P2P downloads and has confirmed that there are no repercussions to downloading as it has become completely legal by law (Borland, 2003). Hence P2P might only become completely legal in future if laws regarding it are changed. However, in the United States this is very much unlikely due to the constant pressure from digital rights groups such as the RIAA which heavily supports the U. S Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Borland, 2003).
Thus, there is a possibility of P2P becoming legal, but the possibility varies from country to country. Predicting the Future Even with stringent actions provided by governments and business firms, it is difficult to predict whether P2P will be completely eliminated in future or not. This is due to the fact that P2P has become more prolific than ever before with a global reach that possibly was difficult to imagine a few years back. The use of both illegal and legal forms of P2P has affected the society and different industries in both positive and negative ways.
Given such widespread presence and effects, and taking into account the fact that the main driving force of the P2P system are the users themselves and that the networking parties provide and acquire files directly as they do not need a central-based facilitation, it is difficult to trace users. Not only this, separating those that use P2P in the legal manner and those who use it illegally, may also serve as another hurdle for authorities if they aim to track down each and every offender.
In fact, according to certain internet service providers, there is no actual way of possibly stopping their users from using P2P file sharing programs as known methods, such as slowing down connections and blocking certain ports of internet traffic, have failed even after constant pressure from the law to do so (ZeroPaid, 2008). Thus, analyzing all these factors, it can be inferenced that P2P file sharing is indeed impossible to eliminate and will probably even continue to grow and further evolve in future.
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