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Evolution of Peer to Peer

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The current phenomenon of peer-to-peer programs (also known as P2P) all began with a college student named Shawn Fanning at Northeastern University, who wanted an easier way of finding music over the internet. Websites that offered good music all seemed to lead to dead ends, frustrating Shawn and those around him. It inspired him to make a file-sharing system combined with a music search function that would allow users to “bypass the rats' nest of legal and technical problems that kept great music from busting out all over the World Wide Web.” It was called Napster. The system consisted of having its users connect to a central server, which would facilitate searching for music on other users computers. However, many believed it would be unworkable; it relied on the users, not the server, to provide the goods. As one of his friends explained, “It's a selfish world, and nobody wants to share.” All doubts were crushed when a year later, the number of users peaked at 26.4 million.

Napster faced many legal challenges during its rise to the top. Almost immediately after its launch, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) filed a lawsuit against the service for copyright infringement. Although Napster was not directly responsible for the copying of such files, it qualified as indirect infringement, as a service that facilitated the unlawful sharing of over 200,000 copyrighted songs. Representing the recording industry in the United States, the RIAA sought damages of $100,000 per song, bringing the total to a unfathomable 20 billion dollars. In the coming months, other bands and artists would file lawsuits as they saw their works being shared for free. In July 2001, Napster was shut down.

In its place, several new P2P protocols such as FastTrack and Gnutella were quickly developed. These second generation technologies were fundamentally different than its predecessor; where Napster had its users connect to a centralized server, these had users directly connect to nodes, other users that would route messages to other users. New users entering the network would start out as “leaves” on the edge of the network tree, and if their computers were capable enough, would be promoted and act as a temporary indexing server for other, slower clients. In essence, each user that entered the network had the chance to aid in the entire network's growth, whether it be files or resources. The entire network would be self-functioning, and no one node could shut down the entire network.

However, these networks



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