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Is P2P file sharing legal?

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Legality of Peer to Peer

Kate DubenskyThe legalities of file sharing are different in different countries and in different states, as different jurisdictions have tried varied approaches to deal with the problems associated with the illegal distribution of copyright material.

For example, in Canada it is not currently illegal to download music files, but it is illegal to "distribute" copyrighted material. A recent Supreme Court decision ruled that a file in a shared folder available on P2P networks did not qualify as distribution.

This approach is shared in the United States where the idea is meant to discourage people from making music files available rather than trying to discourage people from wanting to access it. Legally this approach intends to avoid a defense strategy claiming not to know the files are not legal downloads. Putting the responsibility on the supplier intends to make people responsible for the files and folders on their personal computers.

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In recent American cases, the argument has been based around the theory that folders marked "shared" and accessible by network members online are illegal offers of copyright material.

Attempts to Discourage P2P

A few other approaches try to raise the costs of downloading illegal music files. In Canada the government imposes additional taxes and levies on blank CDs and other recording devices and then uses the funds to reimburse and support musicians and others in the industry for lost revenues. In order to share files, users first have to download an application to their computer that gives them access to the network of users. The program includes a search function that is then used to scan the shared files of the network that are stored on all the other user's computers and the ability to choose and download these files to their own computers. There are several types of media files shared on P2P sites and the most common are songs, albums, movies and video games.

An Alternative View

At times, in Australia, the download of P2P file sharing programs themselves has been illegal. In the United States the RIAA - the Recording Industry Association of America - has launched cease and desist orders against some file sharing site, notably WinMX, a popular Windows-based P2P site, and pressured them with legal action until the site closed.

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