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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Torrenting provides alternative in both protest and entertainment

Published: October 3, 2014
Section: Opinions

One of the great joys of living in this modern age is simply how many different avenues there are to access music, movies or television. Netflix and Hulu provide mainstream content to audiences for a very fair rate, be it through an actual paid subscription or being forced to sit through the same 30-second ads throughout an episode of “Modern Family.” Some networks make their programs available to stream right on their website—usually still requiring you to watch their advertisements—but never before has it been so easy to find what you are looking for in terms of movies or TV. Many musicians are beginning to understand the changes in their industry and are beginning to offer their records as free downloads. Most noticeably, U2 released their latest album for free over iTunes.

Yet there is another way to extract entertainment from the Internet, one that involves no payment at all. One of the most popular, though illegal, methods of attaining entertainment without spending money is through peer-to-peer file sharing or a variation of it, such as torrenting. A pretty complicated process that boils down to users downloading files straight from other connected computers over the Internet, torrenting has really forced the entertainment industry’s hand. Starting back with Napster and now with BitTorrent, peer-to-peer file sharing sites have effectively altered the way the music, film and television industries release their content.

While it is illegal, the amount of people who torrent is simply too numerous for much action to be taken against the perpetrators. The actual numbers are hard to find. A Stanford University report from 2004 estimated that 70 million people participate in file sharing, and this is to date still one of the most recent reports released. Yet even this statistic proves the magnitude of the problem. Institutions, such as Brandeis, are also obligated by federal law to make sure they curtail illegal peer-to-peer file sharing on their networks and keep watch over anyone who might be breaking the law.

When the issue first arose in 2007, the administration responded with a letter from then Vice President and Vice Provost for Libraries and Technology Services Perry Hanson to the community. In this letter, Hanson warned against the dangers the university faced from copyright violation—which is the main issue with peer-to-peer file sharing—and the actions the university would be taking to stop it. Additionally, LTS offers a more detailed account of the policies surrounding peer-to-peer file sharing. Yet these policies were most recently updated in September 2012. And while the laws and regulations might not have changed since then, the methods and ease people have to access these files has changed.

With so much data being accessed across the Internet on campus nowadays, it is difficult for LTS to be able to keep up with their plan of stopping torrenters by surveying the amount of bandwidth being used by individual computers on the networks. While more pronounced file sharers might face problems if they abuse the network and share gross amounts of files, the casual user would be able to get away with downloading a movie or album each night.

However, just because you would be able to get away with something or could get away with something does not exactly mean you should—if you believe in the sanctity of the law and that the creators should receive compensation for their work. But if you enjoy some civil disobedience, then by all means go ahead and torrent. Certainly Brad Pitt or Edward Norton aren’t going to suffer if you torrent “Fight Club” one night, and the film studio wouldn’t either. The real target here, though, would be the school and LTS. By dodging their awareness and torrenting files, explicitly disregarding the school’s policy, students can send the message that they will not simply follow every requirement the administration puts forth.

The most use students can get out of file sharing is downloading textbooks and other course materials, which could include films required for class. Instead of dealing with viewing films on Latte or spending extra money for books on top of tuition and fees, students can access the required materials cheaply and without much cause for alarm. Even though the policies are in place to limit illegal downloading, it still occurs excessively and not much can stop it past shutting down the entire network. And that would then create a much bigger issue than just dealing with copyright laws.