Peer-to-peer (P2P) software such as BitTorrent is becoming increasingly popular, especially among college students looking for a cost-effective way to share music, computer software and movies with one another.
But P2P file sharing is not without risks. Wrongful use of these programs can be considered copyright infringement and could lead to fines and a civil lawsuit.
How does P2P software work?
P2P software is based on a centralized client-server platform that allows users of the software to interact. Users with P2P software create a copy of something, such as music in the form of an mp3. Then other users can ask for the item via the P2P software. The person who created the copy can then send the file to the other user, who uploads it to their computer.
Are P2P users committing copyright infringement?
Under federal law, copyright holders have the right to exclusive use of their works. P2P users potentially commit copyright infringement because they are making copies of someone else’s works without their permission and sharing them with others.
P2P users can commit copyright infringement even if they share items at no cost or they are not aware that the program indexed their files by default and made them accessible by others.
Exceptions to copyright infringement such as “fair use” or the Audio Home Recording Act might not always apply to P2P file sharing. As the registered accountholder of P2P software, users are considered responsible for any actions committed via their account.
P2P users who commit copyright infringement could be sued by the copyright holder and could have to pay tens of thousands of dollars in statutory damages. They may even face criminal charges.
Still, some P2P users have been successful with lawsuits brought against them. This is because it can be difficult to identify the correct P2P user who copied and/or downloaded the file. Thus, it is possible that a case brought against a P2P user will be dismissed.