Peer-to-peer file-sharing user numbers still growing

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Sunday, July 17, 2005

Statistics released by online media measurement company BigChampagne indicate that the average number of simultaneous, individual connections to file sharing networks has increased to around 9 million by June, 2005. This contrasts dramatically with an August, 2003 figure of just under 4 million users.

The eDonkey network is a good example of file-sharing platform that has seen strong growth. Today eMule, which connects and transfer files via eDonkey, had user numbers of more than 9 million at one time. One year ago the total number of eMule users barely reached 3 million.

Online file sharing reportedly includes the widespread distribution of unauthorized copyrighted content and continues despite civil prosecution of both users and developers of file-sharing software in the United States as well as criminal prosecutions in Europe and Hong Kong. Grokster and StreamCast Networks are two recent examples of companies targeted by legal prosecution in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Court ruled last month that companies who provide file-sharing software with the specific intent that it be used to violate copyright laws are liable for the actions of those who use the service to download copyrighted files.

The Court's decision was widely misreported by the news media to have found file-sharing software illegal. However, the Court's finding was much narrower, introducing a new and murky "intent" test for determining the culpability of the software provider. Specifically, the Court held that "one who distributes a device with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright, as shown by clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to foster infringement, is liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties."

Few noncommercial programmers on open-source projects appear ready to quit over the Court's ruling, but they do discourage piracy talk on open forums. File sharing networks that work under a loosely formed open-source programming project, such as Shareaza, could defy the definition of what is called a company.