Downloading Music MP3s: Peer to Peer File Sharing

August 30, 2007

Sharing music online: some musicians hate it, some musicians love it. It’s barely legal in the USA. It is partially legal in Canada. And millions of people do it every day, regardless.

It’s called “Peer-to-Peer Sharing” (P2P). It’s based on the cooperative sharing of thousands of individual users. It works by having participants voluntarily install special file-sharing software on their machines. Once that P2P software is in place, these users start to trade music MP3 and AVI files of their favorite songs and movies. The sharing works by each user sharing little bits at a time. No charge, no cost…it’s almost as easy as doing a Google search.

This file trading, called “uploading and downloading”, is the core of the P2P online community. Although the files are commonly large (from 5 megabytes to 5 gigabytes), P2P software can make your bandwidth connection achieve amazing speeds.

For millions of people, it is possible to download an entire music CD in under an hour, and an entire movie in under 3 hours.

The great controversy is over copyright and money: that music and movie artists claim that they are not paid rightfully when users share files without the artists’ express permission. In Canada, the government has made it half-legal…Canadians can download music, but not upload it. In other parts of the world like the USA, the UK, Australia, and Europe, file sharers will get sued in class-action lawsuits, often for tens of thousands of dollars. In a couple of intimidation cases, the governments of Australia and Britain actually charged some file sharers in crown prosecutions. Yet despite these frightening law court actions, millions of people still trade files every day.

This controversial habit started with the most famous of P2P networks, “Napster 1.0”. Napster flourished from 1999 to 2002, and enjoyed 70 million users trading music. At its peak in 2002, Napster was estimated to have 85% of the college students in the USA participating in some way in online music trading.

Something sad happened to Napster in 2002: the Recording Industry Association of America sued Napster for copyright infringement, and ordered 250,000 songs removed from its P2P community.

By: Paul Gil

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