The Ethics of PeerToPeer Networks

There is nothing illegal about peer-to-peer networks, and nothing illegal with using them to distribute files. What is illegal is to use these networks and associated software to download material which is protected by copyright. It is not always obvious what is still copyright protected, though you can be fairly certain that anything recent, such as recent chart hits or new computer games, cannot be legally copied using P2P software. Blockbuster films will also be copyright protected, but there are many films which have been specifically made for free distribution.

There are lots of new artists who use peer to peer networks to get themselves known. There are many computer games which are released on P2P networks to have them tried out prior to fixing the bugs and releasing them for general sale. This is the one aspect of the use of P2P services that makes me think of the morality of such networks rather than the legality. The reasons for observing copyright restrictions are well known. Copyright is a protection of an artist's work from plagiarism and unauthorized copying. If everyone copied every piece of music or every film from a free online service such as peer-to peer networks, then the originators and the artists would make no money from them.

This would result in the breakdown of the entertainment industry, and I can understand that line of reasoning. So don't get me wrong. I am not proposing that people should be allowed to break the law, and I firmly agree that copyright violation should be illegal and should be punished. My argument is against the movie and music industry and their false morality in campaigning for such high fines for copyright violation by young kids while condoning, and in some cases positively encouraging, lawbreaking, obscene and improper behaviour and illegal drug taking by so called artists who are making them money. What sickens me is the way many pop stars complain and bleat about us breaking the law, then have another snort on their line.

Once they stick to the law they may be qualified to complain about others who do not. Many forget where they came from and how they got to be famous. Have you ever heard something online that you found interesting? Have you heard a track by an unknown artist that inspired or stimulated you to find out more about the artist? I have. I downloaded something by a young girl called Amy Winehouse about three years ago. It was quite illegal, but I liked it and it prompted me to go out and find more of her work. I found she had an album called 'Frank', so I bought it ? bought it please note, not downloaded it! The point I am making is that had I not heard her on a peer-to-peer network and downloaded the track, I would not have bought the album and all her work since.

OK, she seems a bit of an alkie and perhaps into drugs, but she is a great singer. P2P helped her to get a fan and some sales so why should she want me arrested? Perhaps too many of these egotistical superstars forget who ultimately pays them and who helped them when they were unknowns! Lot's of people have downloaded a track or two then bought a ticket to see the act live. Who is doing most harm: the superstar junkie keeping the pushers in a job or the school kid downloading a track from his favourite band that he can't find in his local music store? Even if he can find it, he probably can't afford it due the obscene prices being charged in order that the artists can afford their drugs or drinks or whatever. This is where morality becomes an issue with me.

Would the large recording companies not be better cleaning up their own act, and those of the superstars they employ, than targeting kids who are copying tracks from peer-to-peer networks? How can they bleat on about copyright infringements while they pay filthy sex and drug-ridden junkies and gun-totin' grunters to produce the rubbish that is called music nowadays? Once they stop breaking the law themselves, and inciting others to do so in order to increase sales, I might listen to their whining and misplaced righteousness. Didn't many of these so-called stars use these internet services to advertise themselves until they became known? Why, then, give their approval to the RIAA and its tactics to prosecute school kids for using a service they themselves used to promote. It would be understandable if the RIAA were prosecuting the big boys who are making fortunes by copying and selling thousands of movies and albums, such as are continually found on eBay or sold in practically every bar in the land.

But no, these big guys are ignored. They are too hard to prosecute, so they target the kids for prosecution. Kids whose mums have to struggle to find the money to pay the fines. They can't afford to buy obscenely overpriced CDs for their kids' birthdays so where can they find the money to pay the massive fines ($30,000 - $150,000). The morality of the movie and music industries is open to question, and we can all see the egotistical brain-dead drug-ridden examples of the people they overpay in the name of so-called entertainment on our screens every day.

Once they start observing the law, acting with some decency and begin to set an example to the youth of our world ? once they start displaying some morality and become proper role models for our children, then that is when I shall erase my copy of MP3 Rocket or Limewire. In any case I only use them as they should be used: to find out what is new and popular, and if I find something I like I will download it, listen to it, then go out and buy the album. That should not be illegal, yet it is. If they want people arrested, leave the kids alone and target the consortiums that are making a lot of money by copying and marketing material downloaded from peer-to-peer networks. It's not the law I have issue with, it's the hypocrites who run RIAA and MPAA and also pay their law-breaking artists. RIAA: Recording Industry Association of America MPAA: Motion Picture Association of America.

Peter's views on the legal and illegal aspects of p2p file sharing are expressed in his website Online Free Movies. He is a graduate research chemist with a great interest in audio-visual file formats and codecs. He promotes p2p software and file copying software on his other site Legal And Free.

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