Illegally downloading files involves obtaining copyrighted material such movies, games and songs without the permission of the copyright holder. Receiving copyright-infringing files by transferring, copying or sharing such files between computers over the Internet is defined as illegal downloading. As well as the legal consequences of breaching intellectual property laws, there are also other risks involved with downloading files illegally.
Legal and Monetary Consequences
Those who download or share files illegally risk prosecution, incarceration and substantial monetary penalties. Under U.S. federal law, the distribution of copyrighted materials is an offence, with those found guilty facing the possibility of up to five years in jail, fines of up to £97,500 per file as well as other civil damages which may be sought by the copyright holder.
Files downloaded illegally using peer-to-peer software such as Limewire, Gnutella, KaZaA, Ares, BitTorrent, Bearshare and FreeNet are more likely to contain viruses and malware than files obtained from legitimate sources. The risk with using P2P software is that the recipient does not know if the source that they are obtaining a file from is a credible one. Data loss, slow connection speeds and excessive pop-ups can all result from downloading infected files, even if the computer has antivirus software installed.
As well as viruses, illegally downloaded material, especially files transmitted via P2P networks, is more likely to contain spyware. This type of software covertly gathers information about the user that can be used to steal his identity. File-sharing networks are being increasingly utilised by criminals to steal personal information, particularly financial information. Workers illegally downloading on company computers have also led to the theft of sensitive information held by corporations, including personal information about employees and clients.
An online survey of parents conducted in 2010 by the UK website Netmums found that one in 10 children who illegally download have been exposed to pornographic and offensive material as a result. Research conducted by the British Recorded Music Industry found that people who illegally download often ended up with unwanted offensive material instead of the file they thought they were downloading. File-sharing networks also have online chat functions that could render children vulnerable to online bullying, abuse or grooming by paedophiles. Information for parents and teachers about the child safety aspects of illegal downloading and links to legal download sites are available on Childnet.