BitTorrent ethics: Punishing piracy or criminalizing sharing?

BitTorrent ethics: Punishing piracy or criminalizing sharing?

If you live in a densely populated modern city, there is a strong chance that wireless network transmissions that are in breach of copyright law could be around you at this very moment.

  The decentralized network architecture known as peer-to-peer  (P2P) communications allows files of all kinds to be shared over  the internet with other users without monetary exchange, and  millions utilize this technology on daily basis. To some, this  kind of exchange represents a new paradigm shift in sharing arts  and culture that has the potential to empower new content  producers who would have otherwise been consumers, while giving  rise to a new decentralized economic model. To those who have a  stake in maintaining the pre-eminence of copyright laws over the  means of distribution, the millions who utilize these new habits  of consumption are likened to renegade sea-bandits in arms –   pirates – and they need to be stopped.  

  Most file-sharing is utilized through BitTorrent, and involves a  host website that supports an index of .torrent files that can be  downloaded in separate client applications. The content itself is  not stored on a single centralized hard drive, but rests on the  individual hard drives of millions of users who share their files  through a P2P network, making file-sharing very difficult to  regulate. The kinds of files that are shared range from films and  music to software and e-books. All of it is done without monetary  exchange, just as one would share the same kind of content with a  friend. Much like the printing press, cassette recorders, VCRs,  cable television, mp3 players and the like, the film studios of  Hollywood and the recording industry view such innovations as an  existential threat to their industries – and file-sharing has  become the present day object of a witch-hunt led by the Motion  Picture Association of America (MPAA) and its counterpart, the  Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).  

  Internet 2.0

  Before the digital age, information was exchanged through bulky  bundles of paper and plastic discs. The internet was originally  developed as a means to circumvent these physical limitations by  creating a decentralized network that would allow users to  connect to each other irrespective of their physical location.  From the perspective of the file-sharer, the internet is  functioning exactly as it was intended to. For the intellectual  property industries that are bent on punishing offenders of  copyright law (people who exchange copyrighted files), the  internet cannot be allowed to exist as it does now. As a result  of massive lobbying efforts, trends are emerging among lawmakers  to develop far-reaching regulations to govern the internet and  inalterably change the way it operates. The bottom line is that  industries and the corporations that control them want to pass  regulation to give the private sector sweeping central authority  over the internet and its content under the guise of protecting  intellectual property rights, while vastly expanding the duration  of existing copyrights. 

Photo by Steve Rhodes /

Photo by Steve Rhodes /


  The unregulated internet is arguably the most representative and  democratic feature of industrial societies, and the ideology of   ‘copyright fundamentalism’ threatens this medium of exchange.  Because file-sharing is done through private means and  decentralized networks, copyright law cannot be enforced without  violating the privacy of individual users through mass  surveillance that would monitor sharing habits. What could the  regulated Internet 2.0 look like? Based on the fine print of  bills that have failed to become law, a few ideas come to mind.  Websites and blogs can be taken down without court order over the  most marginal cases of copyright infringement; file-sharers would  have their bandwidth cut for using P2P and be subject to pay  steep fines; invasive hard drive searches by police and  immigration officials at airports, and more. The end-game for  corporate lobbyists is to persuade governments to deregulate and  liberalize markets and economic space while regulating  communication mediums like the internet to protect the  deregulation of the economic space that protects corporate  monopoly profits. It’s liberty for the markets. Not for you.