File-Swapping Sites Grow By 300 Percent

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) may be on the verge of holding individuals accountable for their online file-swapping behavior, but according to employee Internet management company Websense Inc. they are facing an uphill battle.

A report released Thursday by San Diego-based Websense suggests that file-swapping networks have moved beyond trading just music files to a more diverse selection of content, including popular television shows, video games, and software.

This type of content diversity, says Websense, will only create more supply and demand among users who are interested in exchanging illegal and legal content online. The end result could translate into bandwidth overload and increased security issues for many companies whose employees exploit their networks for personal purposes, said Websense.

A vast majority of file-swapping occurs during normal corporate business hours, says Websense, and in many cases, companies have no system in place to control this activity and the potential threat it poses to corporate networks.

According to Websense, the number of peer-to-peer file sharing Web pages has increased by more than 300 percent in the last 12 months. Websense also reported that there are more than 130 peer-to-peer applications currently available online, among them KaZaa and Grokster.

“Many corporate users may not be aware, or are completely ignorant, of the IT resource consumption associated with listening to online music or watching streaming media from their desktops,” said Brian Burke, an analyst for analyst group IDC.

IDC has reported that 30-40 percent of Internet use in the workplace is not related to business.

The dangers are numerous, says Websense, which develops software that blocks employee access to peer-to-peer Websites. Peer-to-peer applications can communicate directly with a user’s computer and can often bypass a company’s firewall without being scanned for viruses or malicious code.

According to the Yankee Group, an estimated 5 billion music files were downloaded from peer-to-peer networks in 2002. That number was closely rivaled by 5 million downloads of video games.

On KaZaa alone, there are an estimated 3 million downloads of television show content each day.

“While this [file-swapping] may be free to end users, it comes at a huge cost to corporations in the form of wasted bandwidth, gaping security holes and serious emerging legal issues,” said Harold Kester, chief technology officer for Websense.

To make matters even more challenging for companies, now that the RIAA and the MPAA are pushing for legislation that would enable them to pursue individual file swappers, many companies are now facing an entirely new set of liability issues.

Earlier this week a U.S. district court Tuesday ruled that Verizon must comply with a subpoena by the RIAA requesting the name of a subscriber who allegedly made available more than 600 copyrighted music files over the Internet.

The widespread ramifications of the U.S. district court’s decision are still not known, or how pervasively organizations like MPAA and RIAA will pursue users who file-swap copyrighted material illegally, but companies beware, says Websense.

“Companies must be aware that they might be held responsible for employees who illegally swap materials, including everything from movies to video games, using company resources,” said Jennifer Kearns of San Francisco-based Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison LLP.

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