The History Of The Act Of Torrenting Information Technology Essay

File hosting has grown from small MP3 files on Napster to large gigabytes of software stolen from the largest companies of our time. Controversy comes into effect as copyright laws are infringed, as ‘torrenting’ movies, music, books, software or anything a company or a person has claim over is illegal without their consent, but thousands of people continue to host torrents and millions continue to illegally download the files. Ethically this plays on what a person believes to be right and wrong and questions a person’s (who uses illegal downloads) definition of theft. Economically billions of dollars are lost each year from downloading files that would usually cost some money. These losses are not only felt by large companies, but also by thousands of small businesses, artists and workers involved in various capacities in the development or sale of these products.


Piracy: the unauthorized use of another's production, invention, or conception especially in infringement of a copyright [1]. Piracy is arguably just another form of theft, but in today’s day and age it isn’t attributed with eye patches and wooden ships, but rather simply with a computer and a tech savvy nonconformist with internet access.  Internet piracy has had exponential growth over the last decade, past research that [2] has conducted reveals that "access to high‐speed internet services, technical skill in an Internet‐based environment, ownership of multiple technologies including computers and iPods, gender, race, and age all significantly contribute to engagement in piracy". Peer to peer file sharing or P2P, has its roots from Shawn Fanning; the pioneer behind the widely popular and controversial Napster in 1999. From there, it has grown from one person sharing among his friends on one platform to millions of people illegally distributing files to countless millions more, on hundreds of different platforms; the key factor being torrents and torrent hosts. Torrents are an innovative way to share freeware and non-copyrighted files among peers in a fast and reliable format, but where there is an ever growing technology there will be people looking to take advantage of the situation. This paper will discuss the history of internet piracy and its spring board from Napster to where we are today. Then it will go into detail about how torrent software works and explain peer to peer sharing and hosting, followed by an overview of the controversy behind torrent software and internet piracy.

History of Peer to Peer Sharing

2.1 Shawn Fanning

The early beginnings of internet piracy are associated with one name; Shawn Fanning. After hearing from his friends about how they had trouble finding music they enjoyed, Fanning starting developing a concept of software that would allow him and others to share music files by searching them in the software itself. He integrated three main concepts into his design [3]:

A search engine: dedicated to finding mp3 files

File sharing: to share music files directly, without the need for them to be hosted to a server.

Internet Relay Chat (IRC): The ability to talk to peers while online.

Fanning began writing code which took him several months to develop and in late 1999 he uploaded Napster (naming it after his high school nickname) to, where it rapidly became an instant hit [3].

2.2 Concept of Napster

Napster was completely different than what was available at the time for downloading music. Traditionally, music files were hosted on a server (usually owned by record companies) where people could purchase them to download, but Fanning flipped that around and developed a concept which leads to the basis of torrents today. Instead of loading the songs on a central server, they are stored on user’s computers; this is called peer-to-peer sharing, or P2P. Simply, when you want to download a song using Napster it searches for that song on other Napster user’s machines and then downloads it from there. If you ran Napster back in 1999, the following steps would be taken to share or download music [4]:

You started the Napster software on your machine. Your machine became a small server able to make files available to other Napster users.

You searched for the song you were interested in and the Napster utility queried the index server for other Napster computers online that had the song you requested.

When the program had finished, it built a list of available hosts of that song and gave you the option to pick which one to download from.

After selecting the host, a connection was attempted between your machine and theirs; if successful the song was downloaded.

2.3 Beginning of the end

This revolutionized the file sharing world; Fanning became a legend attracting attention from not only students, but record labels as well. Fanning quickly dropped out of college and in May 1999 founded the company Napster Inc. [5]. In August 1999 [5]; the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) contacted the management of the then new company, Napster. The RIAA informed them that

Although they thought Napster had an interesting technology, its business model was a violation of their member's copyrights. The RIAA suggested that they stop offering the music-sharing service and go through the proper channels to get permission to use copyrighted materials. [5]

At that time, Napster only had a few thousand users and decided to disregard the suggestion from the RIAA, and in December of 1999 a lawsuit was filed against them [5,6]. In July 2001, Napster received a court order to officially shut down the platform; following that, Fanning’s corporation was sued by many different record labels in trials that exceeded eight years and ended with approximately over 300 million owed [6]. Napster had brought Fanning fame, even landing him on the cover of Time Magazine in October 2000, but not fortune; Fanning declared bankruptcy and officially sank the pirate ship named Napster.

3. Current Technology

Napster may have ended, but it laid the foundation for illegal file sharing for years to come. Peer to peer sharing was such a simple idea that between 1999 and 2001[7] three major file sharing programs were created; Gnutella, Limewire, and Kazza. These three programs worked on the same premise as Napster and eventually were all shut down; some faster than others. From the ashes and unsettled dust of past P2P programs, rose a platform that learned to adapt to the law, while still providing a platform for piracy; BitTorrent.

BitTorrent was created by Bram Cohen in April of 2001; after being frustrated by slow download speeds of P2P programs, Cohen developed his own protocol, building on Fanning’s work. Before Cohen, file sharing between peers was a one to one interaction, the BitTorrent protocol differs from this by allowing users to download from multiple peers and besides relying on one individuals internet speed (which could be slow if multiple people are downloading from them) it takes a piece of the file from multiple sources, greatly speeding up the process. The more people hosting a file or "seeding", the faster it is to download for everyone and the less people hosting and the more downloading or "leeching", the slower for everyone [8]. Cohen used the Python language to create the software and allowed others to download BitTorrent for free under the MIT License [8], the first usable version became available in 2002 [8]. The basic premise of a torrent as defined by [9]:

Torrents are true Peer-to-Peer networking where the users themselves do the actual file serving.

Torrents enforce 99% quality control by filtering out corrupted and dummy files, ensuring that downloads contain only what they claim to contain. There is still some abuse of the system, but if you use a community torrent searcher like, users will warn you when a torrent is a fake or dummy file.

Torrents actively encourage users to share ("seed") their complete files, while simultaneously penalizing users who "leech".

Torrents can achieve download speeds over 1.5 megabits per second.

Torrent code is open-source, advertising-free, and adware/spyware-free. This means that no single person profits from torrent success.

The BitTorrent client and protocol saw early success in 2004. According to [10], other developers started using the same protocol to mimic the design and it achieved even more wide spread recognition when Japanese anime fans started sharing cartoons over the platform. By the summer of 2004, Cohen had hired a five person team to develop and run a search engine for BitTorrent, the search engine was to compete with other torrent sites that had gain vast popularity, like, which averages about seven billion visits a month and is the 74th most visited site globally today [11]. Unlike other torrent sites though, Cohen and his team took initiative to avoid copyright infringement. In 2005, Cohen came to an agreement with the Motion Picture Association of America to remove any copyrighted music or movies from the BitTorrent website and later in 2007 unveiled the BitTorrent Entertainment Network, which delivered movies, TV shows and music legally to users [11].

Area of Controversy

Cohen went to great lengths to ensure BitTorrent didn’t end up at the bottom of the sea with Napster, but while his own torrent site is clean there are countless others that are anything but that. According to [12], 98.8% of data transferred using P2P is copyrighted, there are $12.5 billion in economic losses each year due to internet piracy and the average iPod contains $800 worth of pirated music. It is clear that the main controversy with P2P file sharing is copyright infringement; while this was easy to shut down with Napster, as it was the only host in a single P2P platform, with BitTorrent it becomes more difficult. Since BitTorrent has nothing to do with the files being hosted, companies can’t sue them for copyright infringement; the files themselves are uploaded by one person, then another person downloads and usually leaves it up to "seed" and it continues like this till thousands of people are "seeding" a single file making it impossible to detect who the original host was. Taking advantage of this, groups like TVTeam, YIFY, and IMAGiNE go out of their way to host files illegally and compete with one another to be the first group to upload the latest movie, music or software. The only way to stop internet piracy would be to shut down all P2P networks.


Internet piracy can be attributed directly to the creation of peer to peer file sharing, while this technological innovation is a great way to quickly and efficiently share files among individuals it did open the flood gates and pave the way for what might be this generation’s most unresponsive crime, as 70% of users find nothing wrong with illegal downloads [12]. Fanning began something extraordinary, but lacked discipline and direction; Cohen improved where Fanning failed, but still didn’t (or hasn’t) managed to put the brakes on his program from being used illegally. Following trend, it would appear then someone will come along and improve Cohen’s design and perhaps solve internet piracy from peer to peer sharing, once in for all.