Peer-to-Peer (P2P) file-sharing technology allows computer users to find and share digital files. Files are distributed through a network of "peers" or computer systems connected via the Internet using P2P software.
P2P technology is used in video streaming, video-on-demand, voice-over-Internet protocol (VOIP), and Instant Messaging (IM) applications. Movie studios, recording labels, and independent artists use P2P technology to promote and sell copyrighted material.
The most common use for P2P file-sharing technology – and the one that continues to gain attention – is the downloading and uploading of copyrighted material without permission from the author or artist. The Institute for Policy Innovation, a nonprofit research group, reports that the global theft of music recordings costs the US economy $12.5 billion dollars per year.
Digital Life America, a unit of Solutions Research group, found that roughly 25 million Americans have downloaded a full-length movie. The vast majority of those users used P2P file sharing technology to exchange copyrighted movie files. These file-sharing activities are often viewed as harmless. The downloading and uploading of digital files without a license or permission from the copyright holder is not sharing or "fair use." It is THEFT.
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) are currently working to reduce the number of violations through both education and legal enforcement. The penalties for copyright infringement can be severe. For example, first-time offenders can receive up to five years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines. Many people do not get caught, but the risk of legal prosecution far outweighs any momentary benefits.
In 2007, the RIAA began a new litigation process for copyright infringement. The new process will allow individuals who illegally upload or download copyrighted works on a P2P network the opportunity to settle their claims before a "Doe" suit is filed against them.
Also, keep in mind that the use of P2P technology poses another risk that you may not be aware of.
File-sharing sites are commonly used to attract and attack victims with various kinds of malware including viruses, worms, Trojan horses, rootkits, and botnets. In short, it is simply a better deal to use legal download sites.