During the last week thereís been much noise over the BBC Newsnight show on Friday 24 February in which BitTorrent was accused of being a harbour for terrorists and pedophiles. Debatable as it is, it caused a surge of anger on the part of p2p users that can be seen on the BitTorrent forum. Ultimately the BBC officials had to appologize. Certainly no technology can be judged upon only by behaviour of a small portion of users and one should be careful choosing words. Moreover if we continued the line we could end up banning the Inernet itself, so the outrage of BitTorrent users is quite reasoned.
However whatís more important and what both sides seem to have forgotten is the so-called sensitive legal issues concerning peer-to-peer file sharing. On one hand the technology was created for sharing all kind of music video and text files by allowing other users to copy your files and thus participating in a file sharing community. This technology can not be called illegal as it is capable of substantial non-infringing use, i.e. it does not necessarily imply acquisition and distribution of copyrighted material.
While on the other hand the BitTorrent file sharing protocol is a perfect tool for acquiring next to any music or video file without paying a cent which no doubt causes losses to copyright holders. According to the U.S. Justice Department the total loss caused by internet-piracy exceeds hundreds millions dollars. And if we consider reliable the data provided by BBC that Torrent traffic accounts for more than a third of the internet, it becomes evident that the losses are more than substantial enough to be talked about.
Complexity of the issue makes ordinary users confused and lost in arguments as p2p owners claim that their technology is absolutely legal and safe. Nevertheless we canít overlook the Metro Goldwyn Mayer, Inc. vs Grokster Ltd. court case of the end of 2005 when the court stated that file sharing companies could be sued for inducing copyright infringement. As a result Grokster (maker of Morpheus) decided that it would no longer offer file sharing device and was forced to pay $50 mln to the music and recording industries. At present Kaaza and Napster are banned in Australia.
Futhermore itís not only p2p protocol makers/owners who are at danger. Any person committing illegal file sharing and thus violating the copyright law can be sued. A similar case was recently heard in London when the British Phonographic Industry, the trade group representing U.K. record companies, sued two persons and both of them were found guilty. The Court forced them to pay a ₤5000 and a ₤1500 fine. Or another case in US when for $12,500 to $17,500 each.
To conclude, this technology is on the brink of being legal and itís impossible to forsee whether the court would be loyal to you personally if you happen to be sued for file-sharing.