File sharing (peer-to-peer) programs came to worldwide prominence
with the release of Napster in 1999. Napster was created by Shawn
Parker. Napster allowed people to share files over the Internet;
although it primarily shared audio files encoded in the MP3 format.
Since Napster, a host of other file sharing programs/networks have
been released, which also allow users to exchange files, such as:
images, media files and other data. Napster was a small program
that only allowed users to download/upload/share a selection of
file types; with subsequent programs - such as Audiogalaxy and Kazaa
- allowing users to exchange a larger variety of file types.
The technology behind file sharing varies from program to program,
and network to network. To circumvent copyright laws, file sharing
networks have devised various structures in which users can share
files. BitTorrent - and Torrent files - are a recently new "type"
of file sharing technology; which use metafiles to link to copyrighted
content, making the direct link between file downloaders and uploaders
less obvious. Websites which publish metafiles, like Pirate Bay,
have come under "fierce" legal scrutiny, and legal challenges
to shut the website down.
One of the "chief" problems that users have experienced
with file sharing programs is adware/spyware. Some of the most notable
file sharing companies have secretly installed adware/spyware programs;
typically when the "main" file sharing program was installed.
Viruses have been another problem "area": with early versions
of file sharing programs not including a function to scan files
for viruses - before they were downloaded. The developers of file
sharing programs took note: most eventually promised they are adware/spyware
free, and have facilities to scan downloaded files for viruses.
A controversial aspect of file sharing is piracy. There has been
a crackdown on illegal file sharing by media bodies such as the
'Recording Industry Association of America'. They have correctly
cited that downloading and uploading copyrighted materials without
permission, violates international copyright infringement laws.
Many users, especially in the US, have been taken to court, or,
have settled out of court for fines of over $2000.
Due to the illegality of facilitating the transfer of copyrighted
material, many file sharing programs/networks have been shutdown
due to lawsuits and legal challenges. Napster, for example, in 2001,
was ordered to stop the trading of copyrighted material. Similar
scenario's have effected: eDonkey, LimeWire, Grokster, and the Madster
network. LimeWire, for example, in 2010, was ruled to have committed
copyright infringement in a United States District Court.
It should be highlighted that file sharing / peer to peer sharing
programs have a perfectly legal use. Sharing files which are not
copyrighted is within the law. It is only when copyrighted files
are uploaded and downloaded - without the express permission of
the owner - that the use of such programs becomes illegal.