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File Sharing - Sharing Legally
There is nothing illegal about file sharing or the technology that drives it. What is illegal however, is the sharing of copyrighted files such as movies, music and computer software. I’m not going to show you how to download illegal material. What I’m going to do here is to hopefully show you in an easy way to explain the basics of file sharing, why it is so popular and how you can use it to download legal files quickly and easily.
File Sharing Basics
Traditionally, downloading a file from the internet involves clicking on a link and then having the file transferred directly to your computer from that website. This is all well and good for small files, but problems soon occur of the file is large (a 500MB program, perhaps, or a complete operating system) and lots of people all try to download it at the same time.
If the website in question cannot cope with the demand, download speeds slow to a crawl and the site may even crash under the pressure. File sharing, however, uses what is known as peer-to-peer technology. This means the file in question is not downloaded from a central location, but obtained from several other computers on the internet that have the same file and are willing to share it. This splits the necessary resources between many computers, making downloads faster and more reliable.
Perhaps the best known file sharing technology is Bittorrent (www.bittorrent.com). This uses small files, known as torrents (these have a .torrent file extension), that point your computer in the direction of the others that have the file to a program such as Utorrent, and the file you want will start downloading. For a file to be shared using Bittorent, someone has to make the entire file available for download.
They do this by putting a torrent file online that directs others towards the copy on their computer. People who want the file can then start to receive pieces of the file sent from that original computer. It’s at this point the clever stuff starts happening. As these users start downloading the file from the original user, their computers start sharing the bits the have already downloaded. From this point on more people will be sharing more of the file, making downloads far quicker.
Power in Numbers
Speed is one of the biggest advantages of Bittorrent, but it is not the only reason to use peer-to-peer downloads. It also makes downloads more resilient. If a company puts its program online as a standard download and thousands of people flock to the get that file then the website will often fail, leaving users with no way to get the download. With a Bittorrent download, the original user can disappear once the entire file has been shared out amongst other users, it will still be available to new downloaders.
This is great for people who want to offer files for download, but there’s a bigger advantage if all you want is to get files from the internet without fuss. Standard downloads start by sending you the beginning of the file, then work onwards from there until they have sent the end. If you interrupt the download or turn off the computer it is normally impossible to pick up from where you left off. Bittornet downloads send the files in whatever order is most convenient, and can be paused at any point, whether that’s for 10mins or while you do something online, or 2 weeks while you go on holiday.
Bittorrent and peer-to-peer technology are often linked with illegal activities such as people downloading copyrighted movies and music. While there’s doubt that this sort of activity takes place, it is important to understand that it is these users of the technology that are illegal, not the technology itself. So it is easy to use Bittorrent and stay on the right side of the law. All you have to do is choose not to download copyrighted material such as movies and music.
There are several sites that list only legal torrent files for you to download, here are a few you can use…
1. Legit Torrents - www.legittorrents.info
2. Jamendo – www.jamendo.com
3. Legal Torrents – www.legaltorrrents.com
4. Public Domain Torrents – www.publicdomaintorrents.com
As if often the case, common sense can be a valuable ally here. If you see a torrent offering something that you would normally expect to pay for, whether that be software or the latest blockbuster movie, it is almost certainly illegal to download.
One recent high profile legal case relating to file sharing is that of ‘The Pirate Bay’, a popular Swedish website. Launched I think back in 2003, The Pirate Bay is home to one of the largest collections of torrents on the internet. For years It managed to avoid being prosecuted due to the fact that it didn’t actually store any illegal material on it servers, rather it stored only the torrent files that showed where that material could be found.
However in April this year its creators were found guilty in a Swedish court of breaking copyright law. Carl Lundstrom, Frederik Neij, Peter Sunde and Gottfrid Svartholm were all sentenced to one year in jail and ordered to pay more the 2million in damages. Despite this judgement The Pirate Bay remains popular, having more than 3.5million registered users. More recently, Swedish software company Global Gaming Factory X has bought The Pirate Bay and signalled its intention to find a way to pay copyright owners.
One of the most popular Bitorrents client is Utorrent. It’s very small, ease to use and can be downloaded free from www.utorrent.com . Once there, click the big green ‘Free Download’ button on this website. Once the file is downloaded double-click it to start the installation and follow the process, accepting all the default options.
When installation is complete, run Utorrent and a Speed Guide window will appear. This will configure Utorrent to best match the speed of the broadband connection being used. Click on the connection type dropdown box and select the most appropriate setting, for example, select xx/10Mbits option if you have a 8Mbit/sec broadband connection. At the bottom of the the speed guide window, the port that Utorrent will use is displayed. Finally click on the Use Selected Settings button to continue. The main Utorrent window will now be displayed. It might look at bit complex, but it is actually very easy to use once you get to grips with it.
The window is split into three panes..
(i) A list of all current downloads
(ii) Information relating to the selected download
(iii) Specifies which downloads should be displayed
Its important to remember that if you click on the cross icon to close the Utorrent window, it will continue running in the background, right-click the Utorrent icon in the Windows Notification (the system tray)
It seems likely that both legal and illegal file sharing will continue to flourish in future. The technology is already being used by large businesses such as BSkyB, which uses peer-to-peer technology to distribute the programmes shown on its Sky Player service. Similarly, the popular online telephone service Skype uses peer-to-peer technology to send its phone calls around the world, free, while Spotify uses the same technology to share a huge library of music that’s free to listen to only. The online file backup service Wuala allows its members to store data on the hard disks of other computers, although it is, of course, scrambled so they cannot read it.
With the ability to distribute large files at speed, file-sharing networks are set to be with us for many years to come. And although it is difficult or even impossible to envisage a day when there is no illegal material being distributed, the availability of legal downloads, including with innovative free services such as Spotify, could mean that fewer people will be tempted to opt for illegal alternatives.
File sharing may often get a bad press there is no reason why it cannot be used to legitimately download large files in super quick time. If you are careful about what you download and make sure your anti-virus software is up to date, using Utorrent to download via Bittorrent network can be both safe and legal.
The Wizard3, 2/9/09, 13:35