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File Sharing - Ethical Debate with Today's Technology

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Ethical Debate with Today's Technology


You may have illegal content on your computer right now! File sharing has become a very large issue today in society even though it has existed for decades. It has been the recent advances in our technology that has made it main stream and in the eyes of the general public. File sharing today tests the limits of technology along with our ethics making it a fuzzy grey area.

When discussing file sharing's effect on society, first you should have a brief understanding about the terminology, technology, and methods that are used. File sharing in its simplest form is "anything that allows the swapping of files (audio, graphic, animation, etc) between users across a network."

The breakdown of file sharing can be lumped into two basic categories, physical and virtual.

Since the invention of the cassette tape, back in 1962 (, people have been transferring data. Friends would copy a tape they borrowed or purchased from another friend and the chain was never ending. When the camcorders started to get smaller and more affordable movies would be bootlegged from the theater and sold.

Technology today has changed immensely but still we find ourselves in the same habits of sharing. Friends can now burn CDs within 5 minutes and DVDs within an hour. The one thing that has changed is the ability to protect the media using encryption keys, water marks, and other Digital Rights Management (DRM) that prevents the media from being copied. The overall effect from this is the average person is left with the headache of not being able to do what they want with their own media, while the pirateer continues to hack and bypass security measures.

The biggest contributor to file sharing these days is through software using virtual media. Before with the virtual media, the only way you could get something was if someone you knew had it. Now with the power of the web a user can find what they want from anyone around the world.

The internet is probably the most basic form using websites and emails. One of the earliest forms of sharing came from Internet Chat Relay (IRC) which is still used today. IRC's initial use was for chat but users realized files could be stored on the servers hosting the chat rooms and this opened a whole new world. Today the most common forms of file sharing is done through centrally indexed exchanges and peer to peer exchanges.

A centrally indexed exchange is based on a client server network model. This simply means that the client software logs into the network and tells the server all the files you are sharing and where you are located. When a search is performed it is the server that is queried and will return the address of who has the requested files. Some examples of centrally indexed exchanges would be Napster, iMesh, iTunes, and Scour Exchange.

A peer to peer exchange is similar to a centrally indexed exchange because you must use a software client to log into the network. The main difference is there is not an indexed server. Each client also acts as a server in this type of exchange. When a search is done each client is asked individually. Some examples of a peer to peer exchange would be KaZaA, Morphius, Overnet, and eMule.

Naturally each technology has both its strengths and weaknesses over the other. In a centrally indexed exchange searches are performed extremely fast and content can be verified by the server. The down side is security and lack of privacy is low, without a server there is no network, and at high volumes servers will bottleneck.

In a peer to peer exchange searches are much slower, they are harder to use and configure, and content is not checked. However peer to peer makes up for these weaknesses by providing content quicker for downloads, more secure and anonymous, and the ability to run without a server as long as there are at least two clients connected.


Despite the pros and cons of file sharing, whichever outweighs the other, many individuals feel that the question of the legalization of file sharing comes down to the issue of ethics.

This can be argued by both who support or oppose of file sharing, each side bringing up significant points for their stance.

Some view file sharing as an act of theft, infringing upon copyrights of the artists and damaging their albums in total sales. However, studies have shown conflict with this opinion of the opposing side. This research concluded file sharing did not negatively affect the sales of CDs. The researchers found that only the less popular artists suffered very little where as the most popular were actually positively affected by having their downloads attribute to the increase of their album sales.

The research done was done so with the intention for a better accuracy of the statistical facts of file sharing, if it indeed damaged the market of album sales in turn hurting the artist. The study wasn't done by survey of random selection, but was approached by tapping into the actual file-sharing servers.

Some considered file sharing to damage one's earned fortune is definitely not ethical, but according to this study, this act is simply not done. However, file-sharing does contribute to the artists' success. Is the complaint from people who say that file sharing is stealing and damaging, valid?

According to the outcome of this seemingly more accurate study, no, because it negates these individuals' claim. So, with this knowledge, why is file-sharing still not legal?

Copyright infringement is undoubtedly an issue. The written laws are still the same age as they have been since their originality. There are points that are brought up by some, by argumentative means about the copyright laws conflicting with the rights of the individual. In this respect, some people feel that their rights are being violated by anti-file-sharing laws. If they have an album in their possession, they feel they should have the right to do with it whatever they please. This belief is not valid according to the law. The law enforces its stance by basically not giving the purchaser full ownership of the material purchased. A consumer may buy the music, but not sale or give the actual item itself or a copy to anyone else who has not paid for the product. Does this law violate the rights of individuals? The individuals buy the music with the intention that they now have full control and ownership of the item they purchased.

Another concern that deals with the topic of the ethics of file sharing



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