In 2001, Napster was forced to shutdown after losing a lawsuit to the Recording Industry Association of America for infringing copyright laws. Napster was a peer-to-peer file sharing system that allowed users to download music online for free. Essentially, a peer-to-peer system allows users to take bits and pieces of files from each other until the file, in Napster’s case, a song, was fully downloaded.
Ten years later, BitTorrent faces a similar case from a couple of movie studios. BitTorrent is also a peer-to-peer file sharing system, but instead of music, its primary downloads are video. Lawsuits for piracy are not uncommon, but it is the number of users that distinguish this case. Currently, it is not BitTorrent that is being sued. Instead, nearly 50,000 users are implicated for downloading one of two movies from those films’ production studios.
The film studios are chasing after the IP addresses from service providers to track down the identities of the users who have illegally downloaded either of the two movies. BitTorrent maintains that it merely provides the software, and while there is quite a few legal downloads that occur using BitTorrent, it is not to hard to find files for movies and television shows that have not been officially released for BitTorrent download.
The trouble with the film studios’ approach is that there is not an automatic connection between IP address and the person downloading. It could be that someone has hacked into a neighbor’s wireless router or one roommate uses BitTorrent software on the shared network. There are also ways to scramble or mask an IP address if someone desires to. Whoever may eventually be identified as an illegal downloader, care must be taken to not immediately point the finger at the name signed up for internet service.
While, identifying the users will be difficult, there is no argument that something must be done to protect copyrights from rampant piracy. Nothing comes free. The internet may provide access to more information than anyone can handle, but maintaining integrity for original works is essential for not just individual film studios as in this case, but the free market as a whole.
There is no excuse for illegal downloading. A song can be purchased for a single dollar and an infinite number of videos can be streamed legally online for less than ten dollars a month. The issue in the BitTorrent case is not why the everyman should be punished for taking advantage of free entertainment because that answer is as simple as saying that is not how our market works. Instead, the question is how to identify those pirates and exactly what should be done to enforce only legal BitTorrent downloads.
Good luck with the second issue. If Napster and BitTorrent have taught the courts and market anything, it is that users will find a way to access what they want for free. The search is still on for a method that enforces copyright without bogging down the court system.