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Downloading Copyrighted Material

By Safwat Fahmy

It's no secret that piracy of copyrighted material is running rampant throughout the Internet. In fact, this outright theft of recorded music, movies, videos, television programs, and software over peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing networks is so prevalent, and done by so many users, that it's become a routine part of computing worldwide. Music is by far the commodity most often taken without payment.

It's also no secret that this goes on daily inside our businesses, homes, and college campuses; and it's being done by our colleagues, family members, friends, and maybe even ourselves. But there are a number of dirty little secrets about downloading copyrighted material over P2P networks that no one seems to want to talk about:

It's illegal. For most, this is obvious, but still people find reasons for doing it that almost seem to make sense. Ethical issues aside, it's worth noting that many have been legally prosecuted and have faced stiff fines and even jail time.

It hurts the music and film industry. This may be one of hardest little secrets to believe, but it remains a fact. Most artists and actors are not the superstars making millions. Plus there are the sound mixers and engineers, gaffers and best boys, office clerks and production assistants. It's a vast group of behind-the-scenes workers that help bring the final product to completion. These are the people hardest hit when a studio or label is forced to make cuts due to decreased revenues.

It hurts productivity. With P2P networks running wild, some Internet service providers and internal networks have seen bandwidth drop by more than 60 percent during peak usage. Not only is productivity cut by the amount of time users and employees are spending searching for and downloading music, but the decrease in bandwidth can take a once vibrant network down to a crawl.

It can be dangerous. In some P2P networks, personal or confidential information is not safe from other users who may drop into your computer via a P2P-installed back door and steal it right from under your nose. "Share folders" are often hard to configure and search wizards built into the P2P client can leak personal information like bank accounts, credit cards, Social Security numbers, family photos, and virtually anything else you keep on your computer. Computer viruses can also be transmitted through the sharing of infected files.

It turns the user into an instant distributor of illegal material. Once a user downloads files from a P2P network, many of these P2P networks cause that user's computer to automatically begin re-sharing those files (and others) with anyone else in the network, effectively turning a thief into a dealer with a click of the mouse. The ramifications are staggering in that the seemingly innocent downloading of a single song could make that user an eventual distributor of copyrighted material to hundreds, even thousands, of others

P2P file sharing of copyrighted material must stop. It is damaging to the industry and to society as a whole. We need to hit the illegal file sharing networks where it hurts -- by disabling their transmissions and effectively drying out their stream, closing down the networks for good.

It is crucial to note that while much of the P2P world is involved with the illegal sharing of copyrighted material, numerous P2P networks continue to break new ground in Internet computing – legally. Such technologies include: P2P telephony (e.g. Skype), P2P TV (e.g. Joost, Babelgum), streaming based personal P2P (i.e. sharing of photos, videos, and other files with family and friends on a newly growing networks including Tubes), streaming based P2P video, P2P data syncing between computers, and distributed computing (e.g. SETI@Home). SafeMedia is committed to preserving and promoting this fair and positive use of peer-to-peer computing, that is why Clouseau was designed to only disallow P2P transmissions via networks that are known to be clearinghouses for copyrighted material.

The fight against Internet piracy via illegal P2P networks will continue, and we believe we have the odds in our favor.

Safwat Fahmy is Chairman and CEO of SafeMedia Corporation, a developer of  Clouseau®, an Internet piracy prevention technology solutions that protect digital copyright industries from the theft of their products via illegal peer-to-peer file sharing.

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