|Synonyms:||torrenting, bit torrent, peer-to-peer, P2P|
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File sharing is the act of providing and receiving digital files over a computer network. File sharing can be accomplished using a variety of tools, but in the 21st century peer-to-peer (P2P) networks and file-hosting sites are very popular. Before P2P, Usenet was often used for file sharing. Like many internet users, fans use file sharing to gain access to television shows, films, music, and other media canon source. However, fans also use file sharing to distribute fanworks such as vids and podfic.
In P2P sharing, files are stored on and then served by the personal computers of the network's users. Most users both provide (upload) files and receive (download) files. In the past, peer-to-peer sharing primarily meant using proprietary software such as the famous Napster client; much of the current use of the term refers to the process commonly known to as "torrenting," referring to the swarming technology of the popular BitTorrent protocol. Before the advent of web-based tools like Youtube, Sendspace or bittorrents fans sometimes used their own computers as download sites for FTP transfers of the files. For example the Puppy Shelter in popslash fandom was an important resource in the early growth of the fandom.
Although file sharing in all forms, especially BitTorrent, is under attack by governments, corporations, and agencies who claim it violates copyright (and that it is piracy), the actual legality of and copyright protections afforded to various file sharing methods vary widely by country. In many regions, file sharing methods largely lie in an as-yet-untested legal grey area. However, many torrent and sharing sites have been shut down in an effort to crack down on copyright violations, although frequently such sites simply migrate to new addresses in other countries.
Fans often rely on torrenting to be able to watch shows from other countries they might never see on networks in their own countries, or to watch them sooner than they might be able to otherwise. Lag times of a network from one country licensing a series from another country can vary from weeks to years — in animanga fandoms, licensing times of 2 to 4 years or more between original Japanese release and domestic release of a given title are commonplace — while discussions about an episode happen immediately after an episode is shown; there is not much more than a window of perhaps a few days for fans who want to participate in a fandom with open canon without getting spoiled.
For example, 24 was the most downloaded show in the UK in 2005 before the UK network changed its programming and started to air the episodes close to the air date in the US. Now, for the first time ever, the seventh season of the show airs simultaneously in the US and Germany too. Another example is Doctor Who, which has at times aired days, weeks, and even months earlier in the UK than it has in the US. Occasionally US shows are shown earlier in Canada or Britain than they are in the US (especially for series airing on the Sci Fi channel). In these situations US fans have to rely on international methods to participate in a fandom for an American show.
International fans may also prefer downloading instead of waiting for a domestic version due to quality reasons. If they watch the domestic version aired on local television, it may be dubbed into the domestic language rather than the original one; many fans don't like to watch a dubbed version because they feel it takes away from the quality of the show. Also, when UK shows are shown in the US, they are often heavily edited, with multiple scenes shortened or deleted in order to make room for commercials. The fifth season of Doctor Who was edited in this fashion when shown on BBC America, to many fans' dismay.
Precursors to File Sharing
Two paper zines that were precursors to file sharing are APA-VCR and I Finally Found It. They contained information and the addresses of fans who had video tapes of shows to trade with other fans. There was also The Video Co-op Library for tape trading.
Trading tapes was helpful to fans who could only watch a show at the whims of erratic syndication, if at all. These traded video tapes (and sometimes sound tapes) were the only way to see (or hear) an episode of a show that was as close to the original as possible. Just after the show went off the air in 1979, the Starsky and Hutch letterzine S and H was rife with complaints from fans who hardly recognized the episodes they were shown by their local television stations. Entire scenes were gone, endings were cut, and the show sometimes started a scene or two into the broadcast. From issue #5 about one episode, "We expected the scenes of Hutch getting the nasty needle to be cut, but 'they' didn't stop at that. The episode jumped from the alley scene directly to the one at Huggy's when H&H are playing checkers. Everything else in between was gone!" Fans begged other fans for tapes of the show, fearing other such canon massacres.
Future of File Sharing?
In some areas of fandom, P2P seems to be on its way out. Though distribution methods such as BitTorrent and IRC are still widely popular in anime and manga fandoms, the non-US part of Western media fandom now more often than not relies on other file sharing methods such as direct download links (DDLs) and locked archive video communities to get access to shows airing in other countries.
- UK net users leading TV downloads, 19 February 2005. (Accessed 14 January 2009)
- Echtzeitserie “24″: Start der neuen Staffel am 12. Januar parallel zum USA-Start bei Premiere, 12 January 2009. (Accessed 14 January 2009)
- MusicCityUSA, BBC America Discussion Boards: Thread: Doctor Who marathon on BBCA Nov 13. I hadn't seen the edited version of Eleventh Hour before and yikes, I can understand why people have been complaining about the editing. The necessities to follow the plot were there, but they had to cut out a whole bunch of really cool bits to fit it into an hour. Posted November 23, 2010. Last accessed November 23, 2010.
- Anei, Is tonight's new PBS 'Sherlock' one of the best Sherlock Holmes ever? I've been appalled at how BBCA has edited down episodes of Doctor Who, cutting critical scenes and leaving some of that series's best episodes barely recognizable. Posted October 10, 2010. Last accessed November 23, 2010.
- Of Otakus and Fansubs: A Brief History Accessed Nov. 18, 2012. (Please note that many of the references in the paper are inactive links.)
- Re: Early days of fansubbing post series: Reply #2 "Distro was mostly done through irc bots. [...] Many groups had private FTP dumps with all their own stuff and other stuff too, access to the dump was a privilage of people in the group and sometimes their close friends and/or high-bandwidth distros on their public channel." ~Sindobook, posted Aug. 16, 2006. Accessed Nov. 19, 2012. See Fansub Distribution for more details.
- P2P Blog, posted by: Janko Roettgers. P2P traffic still in decline, one-click hosters are benefiting, 01 April 2010. (Accessed 27 November 2010)