File sharing is a very popular way of downloading large files and sharing them with others. However, it is sometimes looked upon in a negative light because some people use it for illegal purposes, including the downloading and uploading of copyrighted materials without the authorization of the copyright holder.
But file sharing can be a great way to safely and legally upload and download files. Here are some basic answers to the most common questions.
What exactly is file sharing?
A popular version of file sharing known as peer-to-peer file sharing is abbreviated to P2P. Essentially, it is a way to share files with other people across an internet connection though using bittorrent client software.
Once you have the software installed, you can find torrents and download files to your computer, including very large files. You can also share your own files with other people.
Is file sharing legal?
File sharing itself is completely legal. It is a simple and very effective way to share large files that you might have difficulty sharing in other ways. The legality of file sharing only comes into question when it is used for illegal purposes.
There are many legal ways to use file sharing software. However, if the material is copyrighted, sharing it using file sharing software becomes illegal if the copyright holder has not authorized or licensed free sharing, because only the copyright owner can decide whether and how to make the content available.
How does copyright affect file sharing?
Many of the problems surrounding file sharing arise from copyright protected content. Copyright protection is where rights are granted to the owners of the content, including authors, photographers, musicians, and filmmakers. Quite simply, if something is copyright protected, you cannot reproduce it in any way without permission to do so, unless the reproduction falls under a complex exception called “fair use.”
When you share content that you do not have the copyright to without the authorization of the copyright holder, unless the work no longer protected by copyright or was never protected by copyright and is in the public domain, it is called copyright infringement and it is illegal.
How do I know if something is copyright protected?
If you are downloading something that can be purchased, it is most likely copyright protected. For example, if you would otherwise have to buy a song or movie in a store, it is probably copyrighted and you should avoid downloading such content.
There is a lot of content that is not copyrighted, such as material in the public domain. However, a good general rule is that if you have doubts, avoid downloading or sharing the content.
Is it still illegal if I only download copyrighted files and don’t upload them?
Even if someone else made the copyrighted content available to download without the authorization of the copyright holder, it is still illegal to download it. Don’t assume that the only person breaking the law is the person who uploaded the content. If you are using file sharing software to download copyrighted content without the authorization of the copyright holder, this is illegal and may be a crime.
What Can I Share Then?
File sharing is incredibly useful for sharing large files, such as user generated video files. More and more people are sharing their private videos like weddings and holidays to loved ones this way. Creative commons licensed video, music and software are also popularly shared, often without violating any copyrights. The distributors of the Vuze bittorrent client are at the forefront of pointing their users in the right direction when it comes to sourcing good, legal to share content.
Make Sure You Use File Sharing Legally
File sharing is a fast and efficient way to share and download content. There are many copyright free and authorized materials that you can download using a bittorrent client, so having access to file sharing software can be very useful. Just make sure that you steer well clear of copyrighted content not authorized by the copyright holder for free distribution and sharing, and only download content that you have permission to copy or don’t need permission to copy.
Amber Newson is a law student with a penchant for technology. When not using the web for research and file management, she enjoys writing about the basics for improving one’s use of the internet for productivity and entertainment.