file sharing home
A global struggle is going on over the intersections of technology, law, ethics and philosophy. The antagonists in this war generally rally around two opposing flags: money and ideals. There are those who wish to protect their interests, and there are those who believe that the greater interests of humanity are at stake. Somewhere in the middle of all this are the scavengers, those who are unconcerned with the big picture and merely want to acquire for free that which they could buy, but prefer to have at no cost. File-sharing software highlights this dispute.
File sharers generally use peer-to-peer (P2P) software to connect to a network of other sharers who store files on their personal computers. The files are accessible to whoever is connected to that particular P2P community. In principle, it should be used strictly for privately produced material that has no copyright. But in practice, it is predominantly used as a medium to swap intellectual property without paying its authors or producers.
Across the globe, music, videos, hacked software, games and books are routinely exchanged in their millions every day. In 2006, an estimated five billion files were exchanged through P2P. And Spain has been crowned the King of Thieves.
In 2006, 32 percent of all unauthorised film downloads in Europe occurred here, far more than any other EU country, according to the German-based market research group, GfK. Italy came in second, at 25 percent, and Holland third with 11 percent. And that’s just for films.
Partially to blame for this surge in popularity is the state of Spanish law. “There is no question that downloading intellectual property is absolutely illegal,” said Manuel Benito of the Anti-Piracy unit of the Sociedad General de Autores y Escritores (SGAE) in Madrid. “But for now it’s not a felony. No one can go to prison simply for sharing repertories that they don’t actually own. It’s not like Anglo-Saxon law, in which the judge establishes what is legal or not. In our country, it’s decided on a case-by-case basis.”
Getting paid for their work is the issue for those who are opposed to the unauthorised download of copyrighted material. But there are others, like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), who believe copyright laws are overly restrictive. Copyrights that—two centuries ago—lasted for 14 years can now extend for up to 150 years, thanks to aggressive efforts by the entertainment industry.
But what about fair distribution of that wealth? Many believe that executives in the entertainment industry make way too much money, and they advocate piracy as a form of civil disobedience. “The labels are abusing the confidence of the consumers by charging so much,” said Elena C., a 17-year-old high school student in Sant Quirze del Vallès, who declined to give her last name.
Elena is joined by musical luminaries such as Janis Ian, Manu Chao, Kiko Veneno, Moby and Courtney Love, who argue that the only real victims of file sharing are the producers and record labels. Artists generally make their money through performance, said Love in an address to the Digital Hollywood Online Entertainment Conference in 2000, and file sharing is an ideal medium for generating a fan base that will buy concert tickets.
Ultimately, the industry’s fight against file sharing may prove to be quixotic. P2P technology is pandemic. And it is spreading exponentially—continuously evolving, becoming simpler and more anonymous. As Erik P.—another 17-year-old high school student from Sant Quirze—said, “Everybody’s doing it and it’s easy. If you can get the same thing without paying, why pay?”