Saturday, February 7, 2009

Should File Sharing Programs be Outlawed?

You would think that with all the legislation being created these days to toughen laws regarding child porn that someone would decide that file sharing programs should be outlawed.

Here are the primary four reasons to have file sharing software on a computer:

1. To download copyrighted music for free.
2. To download copyrighted movies for free.
3. To download copyrighted software for free.
4. To download porn, including child porn.

I do realize that quite a bit of open source software is distributed using bittorrent and other P2P networks.  And this is a legitimate use for this kind of software.

From the Bittorrent Web Site

What Is BitTorrent?

BitTorrent is the global standard for delivering high-quality files over the Internet. With an installed base of over 160 million clients worldwide, BitTorrent technology has turned conventional distribution economics on its head. The more popular a large video, audio or software file, the faster and cheaper it can be transferred with BitTorrent. The result is a better digital entertainment experience for everyone.

BitTorrent is a protocol (a set of rules and description of how to do things) allowing you to download files quickly by allowing people downloading the file to upload (distribute) parts of it at the same time. BitTorrent is often used for distribution of very large files, very popular files and files available for free, as it is a lot cheaper, faster and more efficient to distribute files using BitTorrent than a regular download. (Emphasis is mine.)

Talk about marketing spin.

What surprises me is that parents, when told about the issues with this software, don't consider it to be a problem if their child is only downloading illegal music.  Seems like a moral dilemma to me.

If you stop to consider that having this software running on a computer is going to be primarily used for illegal activities, why wouldn't it fall into the same category as drug paraphernalia or burglary tools?

The issue of course is that a crowbar is a crowbar until it becomes a burglary tool.

It is pretty obvious that this software is used to swap a tremendous amount of child pornography, based on the number of people getting caught using the software for that purpose via Operation Fairplay or whatever that particular activity is called in a local jurisdiction.

("Operation Fairplay" is the backbone for monitoring the P2P file sharing networks.)

Based on published reports, as many as six hundred thousand computers in the US have child porn files on them or transmitted to them via these networks.

While I work these types of cases on the defense side, that does not mean that I think that child porn is acceptable in any way.  In fact, if I never heard of another child porn arrest, that would be a good day.  Because, hopefully, that would mean that children were no longer being victimized to support this nefarious industry.

Of course, that will never happen.

Obviously, you cannot control the Internet, but you can legislate what is legal to have on a computer.

Sadly, this would present an even larger problem for law enforcement simply because these programs are installed on, I am guessing here, millions of computers in the US.

Now I am not saying that everyone who has this type of software on their computer is going to use it to do something illegal.

File sharing software is file sharing software until it becomes a piracy tool.

I know that most people believe that once they purchase a CD or a DVD, they should have the right to share it.  However, becoming a distributor via file sharing networks is the same as burning and giving away thousands of copies of that same music or movie.

Most reasonable people would consider that to be piracy, but since file sharing programs handle it all transparently, people don't think about it the same way.

Kind of like using a credit card is not the same as spending real money.

Now I know that many people will disagree with me on the music thing.  And I really don't care about that so much.

I do care about the proliferation of child porn via these networks.

And like so many things, there is no simple answer.

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