PEER TO PEER FILE SHARING
Paul Faulkner 1
The topic of my research is Peer to Peer File Sharing, during this essay I will be carrying out
the following tasks:
What P2P actually is, and its functionality
P2P clients available for use today
Legal issues arising from P2P
Link between P2P and E-commerce
I will provide examples in the form of text and imagery, and talk in depth about various
aspects of P2P and also give my own view on the subject stating how I feel about it all.
I have a wealth of experience in dealing with P2P file sharing software, and with this
experience and knowledge I am able to go into depth when talking about certain pieces of
software and methods. To start off with I did a search in Google and yahoo for P2P File
Sharing, this produced thousands of website’s with information on about the topic, I mainly
used facts and figures from website’s to assist with my research.
Peer to Peer File Sharing involves making files (mainly and usually media) available for other
users to download on the internet via sharing clients such as Napster, Limewire, Bearshare
and Bit Torrent. File sharing of this nature follows the P2P (Peer-to-Peer) model, this is when
the files that are being shared and served to users are stored on each individual users hard
In a nutshell, P2P networking eliminates the need for hosting servers, as all computers
communication and act as equals through a client.
As you can see there is no central node to connect the users together, instead they all connect
to each other simultaneously (Image taken from www.kazaa.com)
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File sharing first came into use in the late 1990’s when users would utilize free web space
site’s like tripod and geocities, uploading various media files to share to the general public,
this was stopped shortly after its rise as web hosts became aware of the activities that were
taking place and were quick to act, and shut down these accounts.
Users tried various methods to try and counteract these actions from the web hosts, one of
these methods was to rename the mp3s and video files (example: .mp3 > .zip or .doc etc),
This only worked for a short period of time until the web hosts once again discovered what
In 1999 the first major peer to peer file sharing client was released in the form of at that time
an unknown small company called Napster. The client allowed users to connect to a server
with a web browser type interface and search for a particular song or artist, the search results
would then be displayed and with the click of a mouse button the file would commence
downloading to your hard drive. This obviously depended on how many users had the file, if
they had a download slot free, and also their connection type and speed.
Napster also included a lobby with IRC-Style chat rooms for users to enter and chat about
different musical genres.
Since the closure and re-opening of napster numerous P2P file sharing programs have been
released onto the internet boasting to be the next big thing, slowly they have dwindled in
numbers and only a handful of the bigger, main p2p companies are still running and offering
services due to them having the ‘market share’.
Free P2P Clients
There are many peer to peer file sharing clients available to use today, some free and some
pay, here is a short breakdown of the most popular ones.
Bit Torrent is a file sharing application that works by a user downloading a client such as Bit
Tornado, and then searching for certain files on torrent website’s, the files are hosted on other
users computers and there is no centralized server.
Files that appear on torrent search sites may have hundreds of sources or no sources at all, it
just depends on whether the user hosting the file has left his/her torrent open and active. This
is shown in the diagram below, the user is connected to 143 peers whom he downloads the
file off and also uploads to those who have less of the file than him.
Example torrent sites:
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Limewire is a free P2P program that operates on the Gnutella network and was coded in Java
to work on multiple operating systems. The developers of Limewire offer two different clients
to download, one if a basic free version, and the other is a professional version for $18 that
apparently can offer much faster download speeds.
The software works like this; you download the program from the official website and then
install it, during installation it will ask you where you want to store downloads on your hard
drive, once you selection the drive it will then share this drive as ‘public’ meaning that all
users of limewire can download whatever files are stored on this particular drive.
Once the program has installed and has been launched you have to type in what you want to
search for and select from the boxes which type of media it is, and what category. This will
action a search which will check all of the directories that are online at that moment in time
and display all of the available files in the form of a search result which is displayed. From
here you can download single of multiple files from users across of globe.
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Bearshare is a very popular file sharing client for use in Microsoft Windows, The program is
seen by many as the leader in P2P File sharing due to its vast user base, lack of spy ware / ad
ware, ease of use and vibrant music community.
As you would expect, the most commonly swapped files are mp3’s due to their availability
and size, mp3s are usually ripped straight from audio cd’s, and this is why large international
record labels are taking action as they feel threatened due to users downloading from P2P
networks thus hitting record sales. Record Companies.
Launching or filing a law-suite against a company such as Limewire or Bearshare would be
very difficult indeed, this is due to the whole nature of P2P as there is not a single centralized
figure to target; instead the company wishing to sue would have to take action against
individual network users who take part in the illegal file sharing activities, Only then do the
developers of the client get involved.
Taking action against these piracy promoting companies would surely make a dent in the
whole business of P2P file sharing, or so you’d think anyway. The whole Napster debacle
(which was highly publicised) was a prime example of how powerful P2P has actually
become, by shutting down napster the RIAA basically announced and advertised to the world
that P2P file sharing was the best and easiest way to find and download software and media
for free, which was exactly what they didn’t want.
P2P and E-Commerce
You may think that P2P file sharing has nothing to do with e-commerce whatsoever due to all
of the P2P services being free, think again. The companies behind the file sharing programs
are constantly looking for ways to boost their revenue stream; companies like Kazaa,
Limewire and Winmx now offer shopping services to their users and by using affiliate
programs they can generate revenue if one of the banners leads to a sale from a user, although
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the percentage maybe small from each sale if you consider that there could be up to 500,000
users on at any one time then the revenue earned can be significantly increased.
This may in turn enhance the service they provide to some users whilst making their bank
balance bigger, but for some users it will be very off putting having flashing banners and
advertisements that have nothing to do with what they are after.
Oblivious to many, but obvious to most, P2P file sharing technology is slowly but surely
killing the music industry and is therefore affecting E-Commerce. But on the other hand E-
commerce can benefit greatly from P2P, think of service like Napster that charges its
members to use the software. And if members of Business to Business exchanges (B2B)
could use the Peer to Peer technology to cut out the in-betweens, then these exchanges could
become extremely profitable for buyers and sellers.
A report by the E-commerce Times (http://www.ecommercetimes.com) last year suggests that
users in America are moving away from using P2P file sharing to access music, and are now
looking at different ways of swapping files away from the gaze of record companies and such
online vultures ready to swoop down on users. Users may also be moving towards legal
services that make you pay for downloads.
File sharing is becoming privatised due to the numbers of American users using paid online
music services increasing also the number of downloads is too.
My Personal View
As a regular user of P2P software down the years I have seen the good side and the bad side
of the technology. P2P file sharing is used mainly to share music freely, now you will
immediately think that this is a terrible thing and that bands and record companies will get
screwed out of millions of pounds/dollars due to users not actually buying the artists released,
instead downloading the material and making their own cd’s or just using the mp3s. This is
not entirely the case, distributing mp3s illegally via software such as Kazaa or Limewire has
been backed by many signed and unsigned bands not just in the US but also here in the UK.
They feel that it is one of the easiest and best ways to get their music heard by the masses
around the world, and for some bands it has worked wonders as fans have liked what they’ve
heard and then gone on to buy the bands albums and EP’s.
My view on this is that as long as the software developers are not fleecing users out of money
and the service is free then it’s a great way to find out new bands, personally I do this all the
time, if I download something I like I will go out and buy it.
With the above information, I conclude that P2P File sharing; from a business point of view is
both attractive and unattractive. Whilst at first being a very profitable business venture, it can
turn out to be a very costly business when faced with action from multinational record
companies due to loss of sales and such other accusations. On the other hand if the venture is
done properly and legally like most are doing currently then it can turn out to be a sound
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I have used the following sources on the internet to gain information about the topic
in question. No books or papers were used to aid my research, only online sources.
Paul Faulkner 7