Ethics of file sharing

Ethics of file sharing

Ethics of file sharing is a subfield of ethics specifically relating to the ethical implications of file sharing over computer networks and the Internet.

File sharing occurs when people who are connected to the Internet use file-sharing programs to copy files between each other. The ethical issues come mostly from the concern that practitioners of file sharing may infringe copyright laws. This can happen if the content of a file being shared is covered by such laws.

Types of file sharing

There are many options for sharing files on the internet. One of the most popular is peer-to-peer networks, or P2P networks. Some of the most popular networks are LimeWire, Kazaa, Ares Galaxy, Gnutella, and eDonkey network. With these networks, the user downloads a program to their computer that allows them to connect to the network. Then with this program the user can search the shared media on other users’ computers and download this media from them across the Internet. These networks allow the sharing of any type of digital content, including songs, DVD-quality movies, and video games. However, these networks are mostly used for musicFact|date=July 2008.

One of the most popular ways to get very large files like movies, computer applications, and video games is to use BitTorrent, another type of peer-to-peer network. With BitTorrent large media files are broken down into smaller chunks, which are then transferred to the user (or peer) depending on the fastest possible connection to the missing piece; all of this is done while the user is uploading the pieces it already has to other users. While this type of file sharing is most popular and useful for large movies and games, it can also be used for music, but usually users download music by the album or artist instead of a couple of songs.

Legality of file sharing

The debate over whether file sharing is legal or moral has sparked many lawsuits. In the United States, some of these lawsuits have even reached the Supreme CourtFact|date=July 2008.

In 2004 there were an estimated 70 million people participating in online file sharing [ Delgado] . With that many people sharing files online it is virtually impossible for any government to track them down one by one and prosecute them. It is often the case that only file sharers uploading large quantities of illegal files will be prosecuted by authorities, if they can be located at all. However, there are so many different P2P networks that it would be very hard to stop them all. Besides, P2P networks are not the only way to share files. Fifty-eight percent of Americans who follow the file sharing issue consider it acceptable in at least some circumstances [] . According to a CBS News poll, nearly 70% of 18 to 29 year olds think that file sharing is okay in some circumstances [] , and the 18 to 29 years olds are the age group that does the majority of the downloadingFact|date=July 2008.

In 2001 the recording industries won a legal victory against Napster and in their fight against peer-to-peer networks. In 2005 the United States Supreme Court heard a case between MGM and Grokster, a P2P network. The Supreme Court ruled that the creators of P2P networks can be held responsible if the intent of their program is clearly to infringe on copyright laws MGM Studios v. Grokster. There are more cases pending against other peer-to-peer networks, such as Kazaa. The downfall of P2P networks could deal a major blow to internet file sharingFact|date=July 2008.

File sharing is not necessarily illegal, even if the works being shared are covered by copyright. For example, some artists may choose to support freeware, shareware, open source, or anti-copyright, and advocate the use of file sharing as a free promotional tool. Nearly all shareware, freeware, and open source software may be shared as much as the end user wishes, depending on the End User Disclaimer for that specific piece of software. Other non-software related intellectual property may be shared legally in any way the end user desires. Content in the public domain can also freely be shared.

Other artists believe that mass sharing of their creative products cheats them out of the monetary incentive to publish their work. When people share files, one song that someone shares can be downloaded by another person and shared by them, then two copies can be shared and the process repeats to effectively create thousands of digital copies of a song from the one original file. The musician, director, or game designer must copyright his or her creative product in order to maintain the exclusive right to profit from his or her product.

File sharing advocates

Some advocates claim that sharing helps the affected industry by allowing the consumer to sample the product before spending the money to purchase it. This in turn generates a new fan base as many discover artists that would be impossible to discover otherwise, thus generating far more accurate album sales. This is often the case with movies and video games too, because downloaded games and movies are often not at full quality, or they lack some materials like DVD bonus features. So once the consumer is allowed to sample it, they might decide to go out and buy the full legal version, where as they might never had bought it have had they not been allowed to sample the media on their computer first.

Some advocates also argue that file sharing doesn't hurt people financially. [ Pollock] summarizes several studies on this.

Another pro-file sharing argument is that movie, game, and other types of media are not seeing any drop in sales; but a rise. P2P file sharing is only one of many factors attributed to the recent drop in CD sales. If other media forms aren't suffering on P2P why is music? Pollock [ explains] this in-depth.

In the case of music, another argument is the alleged overpricing of CDs. Many consumers feel that CDs are far too expensive relative to decreasing costs of production. Consumers who only want one or two songs that have not been released as singles believe they should not have to pay the entire cost of a CD.

Despite criticism of such an event occurring, recorders charging more for their albums seems very unlikely due to the record labels already trying to make maximum profit. If they were to up prices this would deter sales, ultimately hurting the record companies.

A very simple argument in support of file sharing can be made by identifying the essence of the act. That is, downloading a piece of content or software boils down to writing numbers on a piece of hardware (a hard disk, for example). Provided that the hardware was not stolen, it is completely absurd to deny the owner of the hardware certain privileges associated to its use. For instance, under the DMCA, it is illegal to write certain numbers on a hard drive, namely those which can be associated to a piece of copyrighted material. By using the same logic, it would therefore be illegal to write a quotation from a work of art (a movie, a song, a poem, etc) on a napkin.

Some file sharers argue that the companies whose intellectual property is being copied are large and generate high profits, and can thus afford the possible loss in profits.

Other advocates of file sharing believe that this does not affect artist's profits; due that the revenue occasioned from the product sales only benefits the distribution company.For instance, a film is made by a huge crew where many individuals take part in the creative processes, (including Directors, Editors, Directors of Photography, and many others) which do not receive a proportional part of the sales net benefit. Therefore, the favorite argument of corporate entertainment distributors is proven a lie. Many advocates adamantly believe that access to Music and Films is, by its intrinsic cultural value, a right that should not be subject to distributor's oligopoly.

A further argument in favour of file sharing is that not all of its users would buy all of the material that they download. In other words, one illegal download will not immediately translate to one lost sale, as many anti-piracy groups maintain. No study has yet been done to ascertain the proportion of users that would buy any of the material they download, if downloading were not available, and there is no currently available method to determine the number of sales that are represented by a given number of downloads.

File sharing opponents

Opponents of file-sharing believe that the music and other files that are downloaded are the work of the artist, programmer, or film director that made them, not public property. When files are shared, the artist or copyright owner does not receive any compensation. Therefore, they believe, sharing and copying files is stealing the same way shoplifting is.

Opponents of file sharing argue that not only does sharing files decrease the income of the artists; it especially affects the staff that works for them. For the film industry, the set builders and makeup artists take the fall. If someone downloads a movie from the internet, that person may not go to see the movie in theaters or buy the DVD. If that happens then the production studios make less profit or may not be able to recuperate the high costs of production. This leads to salary decreases for employees. It also leads to less financial backing for both mainstream and independent filmmakers because investing thousands or millions of dollars in a movie becomes even riskier.

File sharing opponents also argue that file sharing could have a larger consequence on the economy as a whole, in addition to the music, film, and gaming industries. They fear that if file sharing is allowed to continue unchecked and grow even larger, eventually more and more people will not feel the need to buy the media they want; instead they will download all of it. If enough people switch to downloading instead of purchasing, then the media industries may not make enough money to keep producing. This could result in fewer people being interested in going into the film, music, or gaming industries, because there would not be as much profit in it for them. On the very extreme end, file sharing opponents fear that the media industries might be forced to fold, causing a massive loss of jobs and gaping hole in the economy.

One thing that the media industries might do to compensate for a lack of sales is to raise prices. The film industry might raise ticket prices at movie theaters and the cost of DVDs, the music industry might start charging more for CDs, and the computer gaming industry could start charging more for its games. All of these things are already fairly expensive, and increasing their prices would hurt the consumer even more. As the prices become higher and higher people will start looking for cheaper ways to get this media and more people will turn to downloading files from the internet, causing an even greater downward spiral.

Neutral view

Some people hold a neutral view. They believe that the music, film, gaming, and software will continue to be created but it will require a massive reshaping of the music and film industries and how they try to sell their product. This would mean the creation and destruction of many jobs and industries.

For music, Napster and iTunes are arising as ways to legally download music from the internet. Napster is a service that charges $9.95 a month to download or rent an unlimited amount of songs from their list of over 1 million. iTunes charges 99 cents per song, both are usually lower than the price of buying a whole CD.

There are also similar services for movies and video games, like Netflix, Blockbuster Online, and GameFly, where a monthly fee is paid to rent a few movies or games at a time and as soon as the viewer returns them he/she receive new ones. These movie and gaming services do not allow users to own a copy of the movie or game, though individual users are often permitted to keep these items indefinitely, or for as long as the users continue to subscribe to the service.

ee also

* Disk sharing
* File sharing timeline
* File-sharing program
* Open Music Model
* File sharing in Canada
* Warez


[ The Internet Debacle: An Alternative View, by Janis Ian]

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