The film and recording industries scream bloody murder about â€œinternet file piracy,â€ and more laws are being enacted to guard against the illegal distribution of media. Peer-to-peer networks and free music websites have been thoroughly vilified in the last ten years. Many companies and file hosts have shut down, changed their services, or been forced to remove large portions of their hosted media. Lawsuits have been pressed against, not just the hosts and creators of programs that allow free file sharing, but against individual users caught illegally downloading. Taken together, all of this has begun to make the average person more than a little gun-shy about using the internet to get a hold of new media.
However, file sharing itself is not illegal, and people shouldn’t be afraid to use programs such as Bittorrent to expand their personal media libraries. There’s a fine line between file sharing and outright piracy, and the devil’s in the details. Primarily, the difference lies in what is being downloaded. Feature films and hot new albums are illegal to download without payment to an authorized dealer, because such an activity infringes on copyright law, and the respective industries are well within their rights to prosecute such cases.
But other media is not always copyrighted, nor does it always require payment. Many budding musicians, authors, and filmmakers depend on file sharing in order to spread knowledge of their work. Without access to the Internet they have a hard time gaining a following. They don’t ask for payment, or require that their work be procured from a specific source. They simply want to get it into circulation, to expand their fanbase.
Using the Internet in order to freely take possession of media is totally legal. A consumer simply needs to be aware of what they’re getting. If its copyrighted, high-selling material, go out and purchase it legally. If its a homemade movie or a debut album from a struggling artist, and the creator has given free reign, then by all means, use that software to bring yourself a little entertainment and them a little recognition.