This Article Was Written By Josh Dimino of The College at Brockport SUNY.
Contact Josh at JoshDimino@gmail.com

One of the biggest dilemmas presented by the concept of the internet is the protection of personal content. The premise of the internet is the open sharing of content through an ever growing complex “web” of pages and links. But as the internet has exploded to new mediums, platforms, and concepts for usage and content – the unending battle of copyright infringements is just one of the shockwaves that has rippled across the ever widening pond called ‘the net’.

Now I am not at all about to get into the legality of piracy, etc., instead I was recently tipped on a new underground trend used to obtain massive files without paying for the content. Almost every semi-conscious American under the age of 30 has probably downloaded or obtained content of some kind illegally at some point.

Napster Screen Shot

A screen shot from March 8, 2000 when Napster was still in it's Beta stages

The site that started it all right around the year 2000 was Napster, followed there after by other top hit freeware software like iMesh and Limewire. The concept of peer-to-peer content sharing quickly turned into the black market for online content. Everything from music and videos to software and games became only a click away to anyone with something better than a dial-up connection.

Peer-to-peer networking, commonly referred to as P2P, is any distributed network structure composed of participants that make a portion of their resources (such as processing power, disk storage or network bandwidth) directly available to other network participants, without the need for central coordination instances (such as servers or stable hosts) Peers are both suppliers and consumers of resources, in contrast to the traditional client–server model where only servers supply, and clients consume.

Limewire Screen Shot

Limewire became the most popular Peer-To-Peer network and remaind so for several years through the mid 2000's

P2P engines like iMesh and Limewire have declined steadily in popularity and functionality over the past few years. Viruses and misnamed or foe-files spread more and more as they were downloaded by its users at the same time that legal battles began, and the FCC began targeting average Americans one-by-one for their use of file sharing software. As users backed away out of fear and frustration, the iMesh and Limewire platforms for sharing files began to unravel. Without users to host content, there is less and less legitimate content for other users to consume.

The decline of freeware software marked the beginning of iTunes run in the spotlight in combination with Apple’s explosively popular MP3 and other mobile devices. While some were happy with paying .99 cents per tune, others still looked elsewhere to obtain content without paying. What came next is our present day model of internet piracy, and for tech nerds like me it is one of the most complex and fascinating examples of just what the internet is truly capable of.

First implemented in early July 2002, BitTorrent is a peer-to-peer file sharing protocol used for distributing large amounts of data. BitTorrent is one of the most common protocols for transferring large files, and it has been estimated that it may account for as much as 43 % of all Internet traffic (depending on geographical location) as of February 2009.

Torrent Comp

An example of a torrent system in action. (Image from Wikipedia)

First, a user playing the role of file-provider makes a file available to the network. This first user’s file is called a seed and its availability on the network allows other users, called peers, to connect and begin to download the seed file. As new peers connect to the network and request the same file, their computer receives a different piece of the data from the seed. Once multiple peers have multiple pieces of the seed, BitTorrent allows each to become a source for that portion of the file. The effect of this is to take on a small part of the task and relieve the initial user, distributing the file download task among the seed and many peers. With BitTorrent, no one computer needs to supply data in quantities which could jeopardize the task by overwhelming all resources, yet the same final result—each peer eventually receiving the entire file—is still reached.

After the file is successfully and completely downloaded by a given peer, the peer is able to shift roles and become an additional seed, helping the remaining peers to receive the entire file. This eventual shift from peers to seeders determines the overall ‘health’ of the file (as determined by the number of times a file is available in its complete form).

While this new system of downloading isn’t useful for just getting that one song you heard on the radio, it is useful for sharing albums, collections, or even entire discographies – as well as full length high quality movies and large software files. It is however much harder for federal agents to track and determine who is downloading a given file because the seed the user is downloading is being pulled from multiple hosts through a variety of internet mirrors.

It is unclear how long of a run BitTorrenting will have before it meets its inevitable demise as all the other systems previously discussed did. One thing is for certain though – as long as there are users on the internet who desire a particular type of content, there will always be new ways of obtaining it. In a future article I will explore one of the new methods being used to obtain audio files, both popular and obscure – and its not from a P2P network. Stay tuned…

This Article Was Written By Josh Dimino of The College at Brockport SUNY.
Contact Josh at JoshDimino@gmail.com

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