Liability in Peer-to-Peer Systems

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CitationWhite paper presented to members of the PORTIA project and the Yale Law School Information Society Project, April 13, 2005
AuthorChris Riley


There is little disagreement left over the claim that there is a great deal of copyrighted content being traded in peer-to-peer systems and that this trading is not protected by traditional conceptions of fair use, even if questions of how much actual damage is caused and what the proper way to deal with the problem is are still hotly debated. Current approaches to using the law to combat piracy in peer-to-peer file-sharing networks are two-fold: sue the software developer, and sue users who are demonstrably making files available (identified using network logs and information provided by the users' ISP). This paper asks whether other ways to assign liability in a peer-to-peer system might be preferable. It examines the abstract process of the transfer of files in a peer-to-peer system, considers the necessary actions needed to enforce the liability as assigned, and considers these actions and other effects of this assignment from the standpoint of several different values.! It then compares the structure of a system such as Grokster to two different categories of systems, to understand the effects of general system topology on the assignment and enforcement of liability. The question of where liability should best be placed is not the first question to ask in responding to this issue. But it ought to be a component of the ongoing discussion between policy makers and interested parties as we collectively consider how best to approach it.

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