Peer to Peer File Sharing and Copyright Infringement

Digitalization has paved the way for many platforms while enabling you to download songs, movies and share similar files. This always seems very casual but little do you know about the civil and criminal consequences and illegality of file sharing and reproduction of the same without approval. Sharing the files may seem too simple in out look but it gets deeper when illegality gets into it. This article sheds light on the platforms, the procedure, illegalities, and the consequences when copyright protection is enforced.

Meaning and concept of the Peer to Peer File Sharing: 

Peer to peer file sharing denotes sending files like songs, movies, video clips, etc. to another person by means of internet connection where the receiving person can download the same. Peer to peer file sharing is often supported by the peer to peer websites,networks, and software like Bit torrents that offers end to end software which has file connectivity. Peer to peer file sharing is like a library where everyone brings their books as they arrive. People come in and search through the card catalog for a book they want. If somebody at the library has the book,then you can copy it.

For example, Bit torrents, p2p software has a file divided into smaller parts distributed to a number of connected systems or nodes. When a person downloads a file, it collects these several parts from the nodes or peers and combines these parts to deliver the downloaded file. This may be very convenient but it is followed by technicalities like loss of information, virus attacks and legal ramifications which most people are unaware of and the rest of them choose not to pay heed to. The legal issues crop up only if the shared material is protected by copyright.

Basics of Copyrights and Interaction with Peer to Peer Sharing:

In simple terms, copyright is a tool in the hands of the creator which gives him the exclusive right to do anything with his creation including the right to protection of his creation from unauthorized reproduction. Copyright shall prevent access to the original expression of an idea but it cannot be extended to the idea itself. Copyright is generally granted to acts of literature, drama, music, cinematographic films, sound recordings, etc. It is vested with the first owner of the art but it could be assigned to another person who is interested in that creation. It shall be assigned partially or wholly, for a fixed period of time, with limitations or restrictions, and the assignee is known as the Copyrights Holder. The first owner is entitled to royalty during the period of assignment from the Copyright holder and this can be made enforceable by a contract.

The first owner of the copyright in any existing work or the prospective owner of the copyright in any future work can also, apart from Assignment, grant Copyright License which is either Statutory License, granted by author on voluntary basis or Compulsory License, granted under compulsion or as per the operation of law, provided that in the case of a license relating to copyright in any future work, the license shall take effect only when the work comes into existence.

Copyright interferes in peer to peer file sharing. In a situation where a file is protected by copyright, a peer sharing a file has to be a copyright or license holder. If a peer shares a file that has a copyright,he is said to have infringed the rights of the copyright holder and he could face civil and criminal liabilities for the same. The most important civil remedy is the grant of an interlocutory injunction, other than that there are damages, restraints, etc. Infringement of copyright shall also attract criminal penalties including imprisonment, fine or search and seizure of the infringing goods. However a fair comment, criticism, research, review, etc. do not come under the ambit of copyright infringement

The outlook on copyrights issues is laid in the landmark judgement in A&M Records, Inc. vs. Napster, Inc. The plaintiff was a music producer and the defendant operated a peer to peer file-sharing network. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant had enabled users the access to download songs that were protected under copyright laws without the permission of the copyright holders leading to contributory and vicarious copyright infringement and thus pleaded for an injunction against the defendant. The defendant contended that it was just for sampling and it was legitimate work. The case was initially taken before the District Court and the defendant claimed lack of jurisdiction. It was taken to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit through an appeal filed by Napster. Previously the District Court ordered the plaintiff to notify a list of files whose copyrights have been infringed and directed the defendant to remove those files. The defendant defaulted and the Court ordered to disable its file transferring services on the second cognizance and on the third default, it was asked to shut down. The Court of Appeals confirmed the decision of the District Court and held that Napster shall shut down its file-sharing website to the order of the District Court order. 

Another landmark judgement in this subject is Sony Corporation of America v. Universal City Studios. The plaintiff was a manufacturer of videotape recorders and the defendant was a copyright holder of certain television programs. The Universal City Studios initially filed a case in the Federal District Court against the plaintiff alleging copyright infringement since they developed a technology that could help a consumer to record programmes on television without the authority of the copyright holders. The respondents sought monetary damages as well as an injunction restraining the plaintiff from selling their product in the market. The District Court held the use of the videotape recorder in the household as fair usage of the material and that it was non-commercial and pronounced that it did not amount to copyright infringement. However, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the decision. It pronounced that the Sony Corporation and had to pay damage or continuing royalty that was equitable to both the parties thus implying that recording of the copyrighted material is a form of infringement. 

Copyright Laws in the Indian Scenario:

The subject of copyright in India is governed by the Copyrights Act of 1957. Copyright has gained its importance only in the 20th century after the advent of the cinematic industry and other media which created awareness to protect one’s creation. The Act contains an elaborate list of the creations that are eligible or not eligible to obtain a copyright. Generally, all artistic, literary, musical and dramatic creations, as well as computer software, can obtain copyright under this Act. It also contains what all acts constitute and what all acts might not be considered as an infringement of copyright. This Act also provides for the procedure to obtain a copyright. It also establishes a Copyrights Office and confers powers to the Registrar of Copyrights to perform functions under the Act. 


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Written by Payal Goyal


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