BitTorrent is a peer to peer file sharing protocol that allows its members to share pieces of a file simultaneously such that each user can access and view the entire file without downloading it completely. It was designed to facilitate the sharing of large files and minimize the demand on an individual server. A seed user uploads the file and then peer users join the network, each simultaneously sending and receiving pieces of the file within the swarm of users.
BitTorrent file sharing has the capacity to be used for software and content updates as well as the authorized distribution of media content and comprises a significant amount of total web traffic and bandwidth consumption. Several BitTorrent sites index and catalog publicly-available media files, including movies, television shows, music, video games, and applications, while some files are shared only within a closed group.
When copyright protected material is shared using a BitTorrent protocol without the holder’s permission, each transmission among the users constitutes a copyright infringement. Media distributors, including movie studios, have begun targeting BitTorrent peers through their IP addresses and filing mass lawsuits against up to several thousand downloaders at time. Statutory penalties can be as high as $150,000 but are often much lower.
For the purposes of naming defendants in these sweeping lawsuits, internet service subscribers are identified by their IP addresses. For business owners, that means that any infringing downloads that occur over your connection by your employees, customers, and neighbors can be traced back to your business, in much the same way that a red-light ticket comes to the registered owner of a car regardless of who was driving it. While you may not be able to monitor all internet activity over your home or business network, especially if you have a large number of employees, network security and clear policies and training on internet use limitations can help to prevent unwanted copyright infringement in your business’ name. BitTorrent files and client software often carry viruses and malware as well and should be avoided unless needed for a designated purpose.
For more information on BitTorrent copyright enforcement, look for a complete article in the upcoming edition of Bowie & Jensen’s LegalEase newsletter.