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Community Newsletter: Q&A forum: Is peer-to-peer software such as LimeWire legal and safe to use?

by: Lee Koo (ADMIN) March 8, 2007 10:42 AM PST

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Is peer-to-peer software such as LimeWire legal and safe to use?

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) ModeratorCNET staff - 3/8/07 10:42 AM


Here's my questions to you guys and gals. Someone at work recommended to me to use Limewire to download music from, however I have heard through other people to avoid it, as such programs are illegal to use and possibly unsafe. I would like to try Limewire to get music, but I'm afraid to use it because of what I'm hearing from others. So is it legal or not? When they mention being unsafe, is it the music that is unsafe or are we talking about something else. Sorry I sound so naive, but this is all new to me and I'm very curious. Thanks for any advice.

Submitted by Brandy L.

Answer voted most helpful by our members:

Brandy, LimeWire is a P2P (Peer-to-Peer) sharing application along the same lines as the old Napster, WinMX, and a
plethora of others. Users log in, share their files, and search for others with music or videos or what not to download.

The problem with LimeWire (and the other P2P sharing apps) isn't that the application itself is "illegal" to use--it's the
content being shared. And therein lies the crux of the problem. SOME content is perfectly legal to share. Either the
song or video is public domain, or the license for the song allows people to share it with reckless abandon. New groups
sometimes grant licenses like this in order to "spread the word" so they can gain a listening audience.

Then there's the rest of the content universe. Most music and videos out there are NOT freeware. Most music by popular artists are protected by copyrights and such and if you download them, you could seriously be violating the law. ALL feature films are likewise protected by copyrights and downloading them IS likewise a big no-no.

The problem is determining exactly what is legit and what isn't. None of the P2P apps have any indicators that will tell you if the song's OK to download or is a one way ticket into trouble. You have to do a bit of research to see if a given song or video is OK to download or not.

And if that weren't enough... It gets worse. The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) and the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) have been fighting back on a number of fronts. You've probably heard of 7 year old kids being sued for downloading a couple of songs. The RIAA and MPAA have software that can trace songs back to their point of origin by way of the IP (Internet Protocol) address of the person allegedly sharing the content. Never mind that the software in question is by NO means foolproof - there have been cases where they've tracked a song to an IP address only to find that the computer located at the address in question has NO trace of either music or video files, nor the programs allegedly used to share the files, NOR any trace that they were ever on the person's hard drive.

The other main methodology behind the RIAA/MPAA's plans to combat piracy is to "pollute" the sharing system with bogus files. On the one hand, the files may contain the first 30 odd seconds of a given song or a few minutes of a given video, but the rest of the file is garbage or lots of 0's - dead silence. If you download it from one of their agents, they record your IP address and send you a nasty gram demanding money. If you get it from someone else, they still win because the file is incomplete junk and you've wasted time and effort downloading it.

Needless to say, MOST people nailed in these operations by the RIAA/MPAA get sued for copyright infringement. Most of these people usually cave in and pay their ransom (read: settle out of court) instead of fighting back. The reason behind this is obvious. It's far cheaper to pay a few thousand dollars than to hire a lawyer, go to court, and ultimately potentially lose the case - and then have to pay THEIR lawyer's fees as well as your own on top of whatever punitive damages the court decides you need to pay the RIAA/MPAA member in question.

As far as safety's concerned... It's not worth the effort either. Software obtained from services like this can be corrupted, or otherwise infected with who knows what viruses and such. It can cause more problems than it solves.

So the bottom line - while it may be an appealing means to get your music, video or software fix, you may find yourself in heap big trouble. The "glory days" of downloading stuff willy-nilly on P2P networks are over. Unless you're filthy rich or you're a world class hacker who can cover your tracks on the web with the skills of a cyber-ninja and are an expert in solving software problems, it just isn't worth the hassle.

It's far cheaper to buy a CD, rip the tracks you want and keep it in your archives OR buy the track/video from a legitimate source than to get busted by the RIAA/MPAA storm troopers for sharing a few songs or go to court and really get the shaft.. Thus far, the RIAA/MPAA has an almost bulletproof record in winning the cases where the case went to court.

Submitted by: Pete Z. (CNET member: Wolfie2k5)

If you have additional advice for Brandy, please click the "Reply" link and offer it up.

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