File Sharing, Copyright, Child Porn & Other Wonders of P2P SoftwareOct 5, 2003 Write an essay on this topic.
Popular Products in BooksThe Bottom Line is simple: I'm hard-pressed to come up with any real, legitimate legal use for online p2p file sharing programs.
E. B. White, Edith Goodkind Rosenwald, Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection (Library of Congress) - Charlotte's Web: Student Packet Grades 3-4
There is no doubt that controversy continues to exists around online peer-to-peer (p2p) file-sharing programs such as Kazaa, Morpheus, Shareaza, and through the now basically defunct but once extremely popular program called Napster (or, as I like to call it, Nabster). The heart of the controversy lies around the ability to illegally distribute copyrighted material. Whether it's music, movies or even television programs, there is no doubt that it is extremely easy to copy and distribute your home CD, DVD, VHS and TV libraries via file-sharing programs over the Internet.
At first, I was against p2p file sharing. As an artist, I understood the issue regarding not only an artist's right to fair compensation for the work that is put into a project, but the rights of all the people involved in the production of a project: from the technical to the business and finally to the in-store sales aspects of those industries. But as the popularity of Nabster increased, I too downloaded the program and became a fairly regular user of it. At the time, I followed the same faulty logic of those who argued that they cannot afford to purchase all the works of music they would like to from stores on the street.
Why did I follow this logic? Well, over the years I've always spent a small percentage of my monthly income on purchasing a number of new DVD titles every month. Usually, these purchases would come at the expense of not buying CDs. As such, based on the fact that I purchased DVDs over CDs, I started downloading MP3s in the late 1990s. Basically, I had talked myself into believing that because I spent a fair amount on brand new DVDs and VHS cassettes, it was ok to download MP3s of the songs I wasn't buying on CD. This logic is faulty because of the simple fact that any p2p file-sharing of music, movies or television programs is really nothing more than an electronic form of theft. And yet, there are those who argue that we should be able to do this. But I ask them: why should we be allowed to do this?
In the world of economics, there is a basic argument that we all have choices about what we can do with our money. If we are rich, then we can buy all of the latest CDs and DVDs that we want, or if we dont have a lot of money, we can be selective in our buying in that we only buy a few CDs or DVDs at certain times during the year, or even none at all. We can also choose to purchase fully-loaded digital television and satellite packages, that include hundreds of television and pay-per-view tv channels, or we can choose to purchase the less expensive, basic cable packages that have only a few dozen channels. Basically, the argument around p2p file sharing programs comes down to this: we can either choose to legally purchase what we want, or we can choose to steal it. And whether it takes place in-store or online, theft is theft.
But another, more sinister issue lurks behind p2p file-sharing programs. And that is the ability to freely distribute pornography, and more specifically, child pornography. Currently, the distribution of child porn is illegal in most places worldwide. And in most places, be it online or on the street, there are fairly strict controls over who can access pornography that is created by and for adults. But with online p2p file sharing programs, these restrictions disappear due to the very nature of the programs themselves.
Granted, most of the porn available through p2p is of very poor quality. And many adult websites use p2p programs as a way of distributing mini-movies that are nothing but advertisements for their websites. And the filenames for p2p porn are very, very long. So, even if you type in "gay lesbian porn" in the search box, hundreds of files will come up, with dozens of words in their filenames that include words like, but in no way limited to: "preteen", "teen", "gay", "lesbian", "Lolita" and "ejaculation." So no matter what you type in, you'll get porn of some type, be it "legal" or "illegal" forms of pornography.
And people who want this stuff aren't going to be responsible enough to not use these free forms of easy distribution; in fact many of these sickos claim they have a right to possess child pornography. Obviously, drawings and written material can be produced without ever infringing upon the rights of a child. And when it comes to photographs or video, in which child participants are involved, then we all have a duty to see that their rights are protected, no matter where they are in the world. And we all have a duty to ensure that its damn difficult for this filth to be distributed, be it freely or otherwise. The bottom line is: pornography shouldn't be available on p2p networks, unless some kind of control is involved.
With some programs, such as Shareaza, there are patches you can download that will filter out porn and child porn. You can also create your own filters, that will help prevent the downloading of pornography, even by accident. And some programs, like Kazaa have these filters and codes automatically installed. Ideally, programers could have two kinds of filters: one that blocks child porn (so that users will have to stop using certain words to describe their files, or simply stop distributing them altogether); and secondly, an optional filter that would block out all types of porn.
Peer-to-peer file sharing programs have a responsibility and a duty to the public to be more proactive by automatically programing their software to filter out any files that have words such as "child porn" or "preteen" in their filenames. Basically, they should crack down and make it very difficult to distribute pornography via their software. Otherwise, these services are just providing a vehicle to allow this distribution to happen. Apparently, this same problem exists with the many freenet sites that are in existence worldwide, and the solutions to that problem arent so clear.
Unfortunately, many online peer-to-peer developers claim that they are not responsible for the content of what is distributed through the use of their programs, because their programs are "decentralized." Essentially, this means that when you log into a p2p program, youre just hooking up with the thousands of other people who are using the program as well, as opposed to hooking up to one centralized computer database. But to me, the decentralization argument is nothing more than a lazy excuse to allow this illegal activity to continue. Surely more can be done to curb the distribution of copyrighted materials and illegal porn. This decentralization argument has also made the legal battle over the use of these programs much more sticky; in that police, production companies and private citizens have to work even harder to go after each individual user of these programs as opposed to the developers of the programs themselves.
Now I want to be clear that Im not against the distribution of porn and erotica, and Im all for the exploration of our sexuality which is sadly repressed in our North American culture that glorifies violence and blushes at erections. Ive personally read, and encourage other adults to read the works of Lonnie Barbach, Sallie Tisdale, Patricia Anderson, Lawrence OToole and Bernie Zilbergeld. But Im only for sexual exploration so long as it depicts and encourages sexual acts that take place among consenting adults, and so long as its distribution is controlled so that it doesn't fall into the hands of minors.
So do I think p2p file sharing programs should be banned? Perhaps. Or at the very least, more controls should be put in place regarding their usage. Right now, after considering this issue I'm hard pressed to come up with any real legitimate uses for p2p programs, simply because there are so many legitimate alternatives to using them.
Technology already exists that allows you to network computers and share files in a working environment, so I don't see the kinds of personal p2p programs being used by businesses.
For home users who want to share files within their own circle of friends, there are many messenger programs that allow you to transfer files between computer users online.
For users who want to download software, there are many sites online that offer access to freeware, such as http://www.twocows.com/ or http://www.download.com/.
For those who want to download movies, then there are sites where you can access really good, free independent movies online, such as: http://www.atomfilms.com and http://www.undergroundfilm.org/. And of course, there is always the video store, as well as pay-per-view and digital cable services that allow you to download any movie, any time, without having to leave the comfort of your living room.
And there are many sites, such as http://www.radiofreevirgin.com/ and many of the record studio sites, that have developed programs so you can download movies and music at a nominal per monthly fee.
And of course, there is no shortage of porn online that you can access with your credit card.
But taking this a step farther, do I think that the ability to copy CDs and DVDs should be banned? No, I don't. In fact, I've created about two dozen MP3 CDs that house my entire collection of about 400 CDs. Carrying around two dozen CDs is a lot easier than carrying 400!
And, there are other benefits, including the fact that my original collection is safely stored away in my basement, safe from the ravages and scratches of everyday use, thus prolonging the life-span of my collection. And, if I lose my portable CD player and the case that has my MP3 CDs, or have it stolen from me, I haven't lost any of my valuable collection and can easily cut new MP3 CDs to use.
Also, people should be able to use DVD and CD-Burners to record television shows to watch at a later time, just as we once did so often with VCRs. And we should have access to this technology to record our own home movies, which are so easy to create and edit with computers nowadays. But there is an important note to remember about these uses: they are for personal use as opposed to distribution. So in the end, I honestly don't see any need for people to be using p2p file sharing programs.
(c) October 5, 2003, Steven H. Lee
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