BitTorrent's Messy Future: Controlling Copyright Infringement on Peer-to-Peer Networks

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BitTorrent represents the latest, and perhaps most extensively used peer-to-peer (P2P) technology that currently falls through the legal cracks left in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decisions in Napster and Grokster. BitTorrent avoids using a centralized server like Napster by connecting users directly with one-another. Additionally, the technology’s developers have not promoted the software as a device enabling copyright infringement, so the BitTorrent technology avoids the Grokster pitfall of inducement. While BitTorrent facilitates a growing number of legal enterprises, a vast majority of the data being transferred is copyrighted. Computer users continue to illegally share a growing amount of copyrighted works in the form of music, movies, television programs, books and software applications, while the major copyright holders seek relief for what they see as lost revenue through infringement over peer-to-peer networks.

A number of organizations are trying to stop file sharing through BitTorrent, including universities and the U.S. Justice Department. Still, there are many legal uses for P2P networking and the technology presents a valuable asset to the future of the Internet, so courts face the task of carefully interpreting existing laws while legislators must avoid hindering the development of new technologies as they attempt to stop copyright infringement on the Internet.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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