LimeWire - File Sharing
My kids are using something called LimeWire to download music and videos. They call it a a P2P file sharing program. Can you explain what that means, and how safe it is to use?
What is LimeWire?
Limewire is a free file sharing program, which allows individual users on the Internet to make music, video and other files available for direct access by other users. Limewire also allows a user to search for desired content on other users' computers and download those files.
Unlike the now-defunct Napster, no centralized server or website is used to store files. Limewire directly transfers files from the hard drive of one user (peer) to the hard drive of another user, hence the term "peer-to-peer" or P2P file sharing is used. Given that understanding, it's more accurate to say that a file is being "transferred" instead of "downloaded" in the context of P2P applications.
LimeWire allows you to share or access any file type such as MP3 (music), AVI/MPEG (video), JPG (photo), etc. Because it is written in the cross-platform Java programming language, it will run on Windows, Macintosh, Linux, and other operating systems. Some of the features that make LimeWire a popular file sharing application are:
- Ability to search by artist, title, or genre
- "Swarm" downloads from multiple computers speed transfers
- iTunes integration for Mac and Windows users
- Integrated chat
Is LimeWire Safe and Legal?
On their website, the LimeWire developers claim that "LimeWire has absolutely no spyware or adware. Zero. None. We do not bundle any other software with LimeWire." My testing has shown this to be true. I installed LimeWire on a test machine, then after using it for a few days, I did thorough scans with anti-virus and anti-spyware software. I also examined all the startup tasks, active programs, browser helper objects and other possible points of infiltration.
LimeWire gets a clean bill of health, in terms of freedom from viruses and spyware, and uninstalls cleanly if you no longer want the software on your computer. But is it safe to use LimeWire? And is peer-to-peer file sharing legal?
Copyright and Copy Wrongs
That all depends on what you do with the software. Some artists make their music freely available on file sharing services, in order to gain exposure or because they just want to give it away for free. Obtaining music on those terms via LimeWire or a similar P2P service is perfectly legal and even encouraged.
But copyright laws protect the creators of original works, such as music, movies, photos and artwork. Individuals who reproduce, distribute, or receive copies without the consent of the owners may be in violation of copyright laws. To put that more plainly, and in context: if you copy commercially available music or video files to your computer without paying for it, you're probably breaking the law. Even more bluntly, sometimes "sharing" is the same as "stealing."
Why do I say "probably?" Because there are some exceptions to the rule. If you don't own U2's "How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb" CD, and you download all the songs to your computer without paying for them, you are clearly stealing, and depriving the artists of their rightful recompense. But what if you bought the CD, and it melted on the dashboard of your car, or the dog chewed on it? In such circumstances, I would have no moral or ethical problem with using a P2P service to obtain those tracks, and burn a new CD.
Some people who disagree make the "crystal vase" counter argument. If you own a beautiful crystal vase, and it falls to the floors and shatters, you just can't fix it. And you have no right to go back to the store and demand a replacement... you have to buy a new one. So if your CD is damaged, they say, you should have to BUY a replacement copy. But this argument fails to take into account some important distinctions. Clearly to produce a copy of the vase, there are real costs involved: materials, labor, packaging, marketing, distribution, and retailing. But a digital download of a song you've already purchased doesn't cost or deprive the artist or the record company at all.
File Sharing Risks
EVery time someone downloads a song without paying for it, a bell rings. And the deep creases in the frowning faces of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) executives grow deeper. The RIAA has been known to aggressively pursue individuals suspected of music piracy, filing lawsuits and demanding the payment of steep fines. In some cases, they have demanded ISP records or posed as fellow file-sharers to root out violators. So be forewarned, the cost of "free" music downloads may be higher than you anticipate.
In addition to the legal risks, the use of file-sharing programs may accidentally allow others to copy private files you never intended to share. In LimeWire, you can check which files you’re sharing by clicking on the Library tab. It's a good idea to check this whenever you fire up LimeWire, to make sure that you're not sharing your tax returns, family photos and love letters.
It's also possible to unwittingly download a virus, spyware, child pornography or facilitate a security breach. Mislabeled files can hide malicious content, so use anti-virus and anti-spyware software to protect your computer. See Should I Buy Anti-Spyware or Anti-Virus Software? to get my recommendations for the best free anti-malware protection. And be extra cautious when downloading executable files with extensions such as EXE, SCR, LNK, BAT, VBS, and DLL. LimeWire will not launch these files, but they can be opened outside of LimeWire.
The Federal Trade Commission recommends that parents talk with family members about file-sharing. Here are some of the cautions they offer:
Got something to add to this discussion of LimeWire and file sharing? Post your comments below.
Posted by Bob Rankin on 14 Sep 2006
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- LimeWire - File Sharing (Posted: 14 Sep 2006)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved