Law in the Internet Society

A Cost-Benefit Understanding of File Sharing

-- By MattSavoff - 21 Oct 2014

The existing culture of file sharing on the NET provides significant benefits to the users. But when someone offers you something for free, you must always look for ulterior motives as we will find out. Most of our generation cannot remember life without file sharing through the internet. This file sharing technologies range from programs such as BitTorrent? , Limewire, and Kazaa all the way back to the likes of eDonkey and Napster before the turn of the century. While the file sharing technology has changed and evolved since the days of Napster, the initial premise has remained the same: allow users to share and access a range of software free of charge. But what is the true impact on this growing phenomenon?

The Current State

Marco Montemagno, and Italian media communication expert and entrepreneur wrote a manifesto which focused on the central tenet that this phenomenon of file sharing is "unstoppable, useful, effective and a major disruptive technology able to breach into the oligarchy of established media business". Montemagno argues that the current culture of file sharing is revolutionary and a technically unstoppable technology. And while capitalist companies show nothing but disdain for such technology, file sharing presents positive elements for both companies and the users. The advent of programs such as BitTorrent? create the most efficient form of content delivery and distribution which in turn makes file sharing networks the future frontier for publishing and content distribution. While traditionally this sharing has been used for music and movies, it is only the early and spontaneous use; the applications of such a technology are endless. According to CacheLogic? , a British web analysis firm, BitTorrent? accounts for over 35% of all the traffic on the internet. BitTorrent? is optimally used to distribute software even as large as operating systems, even though it is more publicly known to be used for downloading music and movies. While software industries continue to fight against file sharing technology, it is fighting a losing battle. We have seen programs come and go (Napster, Kazaa, Limewire to name a few) and more continue to not only take their place, but grow larger than their predecessors. Thanks to these file sharing technologies, anyone can step into their industry of choice and become profitable all while using file sharing technology as the vehicle to expose themselves. Examples of this can range from music artists to software designers. This has never been seen before and provides some insight as to the value of file sharing technology.

File Sharing Effects on the Companies and Users

Rising file sharing networks even provide new opportunities for media companies by offering unprecedented distribution and delivery channels. These networks offer "to any online company a direct, permanent, unmediated, highly efficient communication channel with their customers" (Montemagno). By the very nature of such networks, every individual who is a customer of any of these online entities also becomes a marketing agent for that company, thus creating an endless loop of viral marketing. This is the very reason that Linux now offers many of its distributions (such as Knoppix) online for free. This is but one example demonstrating how the rising culture of file sharing allows companies to save resources while also increasing efficiency of distribution.

File sharing is seemingly good for the users. This extends far beyond the sharing of music and movies for people to download illegally. Sharing is the way of the future and the most innovative projects work around the idea of sharing. This ranges from sharing pictures (Flickr, imgur, facebook) to sharing of friends (facebook), business contacts (LinkedIn? ), job contacts (Monster), and audio sharing (Skype, Ventrilo). File sharing technologies such as these allow any given user to transform into his or her own media center. As mentioned earlier, any person can now create music, movies, tv shows, software, or anything of the sort and distribute it anywhere right from their computer. As Montemagno states, "sharing is an attractive activity because it gives the users autonomy and freedom. Autonomy to decide what to share with others. Freedom to do it".

Is Free Really Free?

Much of this file sharing comes at a price. And that price is our privacy. As Eben Moglen stated in his Freedom in the Cloud lecture, Mark Zuckerberg has done more damage to the human race at his age than anyone has before. And that is because of his creation of facebook, which spies on each user (over 1.35 billion people) for free, all the time. By joining the online network, we are effectively giving up our privacy. It is as though we are living in a world with microphones and cameras hidden in bushes and trees all around us. Furthermore, due to the creation of the cloud, virtually our entire lives is on record in a location that one cannot point to with their finger. The cloud is anywhere and it is everywhere unlike old servers which were stored in a physical location. But the problem does not originate from the creation of the cloud. The cloud only reshaped the problem. The true problem comes from the un-free software which has been woven into our way of life. Facebook’s constant surveillance of its users is an example of the un-freedom of much of the software out there. Softwares such as this are not actually free because the cost is our privacy. While file sharing networks and software facially appear to be free, a deeper understanding reveals that these free resources often are quite expensive. So while the net has provided access to open source software through file sharing that is free and free, many free resources on the net are in fact extremely un-free.

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r5 - 06 Jan 2015 - 02:08:55 - MattSavoff
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