Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is file sharing? And what are some of the legal considerations associated with file sharing?

"File sharing" may be defined as the use of a computer (or network, such as the Internet) to facilitate the copying of a file. This means that it could encompass:

  1. copying a file to another computer on a local network (such as between friends over a wireless connection);
  2. directly downloading a file from a centralised server (Napster initially employed a method similar this);
  3. using connective software to locate other users who have made files available to others (such as Bittorrent or eMule); or
  4. utilising a dedicated network to download from a "mesh" of servers (the mode of file distribution on Usenet may be loosely described in this way).

It is possible for any of these methods to have both legal and illegal uses (in the sense that a knife can be both a kitchen utensil and a dangerous weapon). Much of the controversy surrounding file sharing has tended to focus on the ease of use of these mediums to obtain copyrighted material.

It should be reasonably obvious that the downloading of the latest Hollywood movie is an infringement in the copyright of that film. The problem is that the commercial realities of suing an individual for downloading a single film involve lengthy court proceedings with costs (and no clearly settled law surrounding the role of ISPs). This goes some of the way to explaining why the present approach of aggrieved copyright holders has been to target the means of distribution (rather than the end recipient). Whatever the long term legal outcome, anyone utilising file sharing to obtaining infringing material should remain mindful of the potential legal consequences. 


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