HTTP v P2P – Norms of Filesharing

Ernest Miller points out something that I use in class (usually after a student argues that P2P should just be outlawed) as an example of just how messy this problem gets — how does one distinguish P2P file sharing with a kind of filesharing that we do every day and think far less about – the use of our WWW browser. In both cases files are put up with the expectation that one will download a copy for use; in both cases, there are no reason to assume that the files are owned by the offeror. Yet one is wholly controversial and the other is not.

Take a look at Ernest’s approach: Compulsory Licensing – Where Are the Defenders of HTTP?

I venture that there seems to be a different set of copynorms for the practice of filesharing via P2P and http. Certainly some defend filesharing via both P2P and http, but others strongly defend P2P with nary a word in favor of http filesharing. Although I have no proof, I suspect that the public’s attitude toward filesharing would differ based on the protocol at issue. Would 12-year old Brianna Lahara think it was okay for her to put all her music on a website for the world to copy? Why don’t we see people uploading files to their websites more often? Why aren’t they more upset when told they can’t upload to their website then when they make files available via a filesharing program?

I believe that the difference is that filesharing by http is seen clearly as a public act, while P2P seems more like a private act [Can’t stay away from that Public/Private distinction, huh? – Ed.]. If I were to stand on a street corner handing out CD-Rs to strangers (even were I doing so with no possibility of remuneration of any sort), most people would not consider that proper. If the RIAA were to sue me for such an act, would there be such an outcry over the injustice of it all? Yet, if I handed a CD-R to a friend, most would defend it. The difference is that one is private and the other public.