Audio Kudzu

In addition to fostering the exchange of audio files, peer-to-peer websites may be sharing the problems of increased legal liabilities and bandwidth drains for businesses which allow employees to access file-sharing sites from corporate networks.

This is the conclusion reached in a recent report from Internet consultant Websense. Peer-to-peer (P2P) computing was brought to the public's attention last year with the rise and fall of Napster and is generally defined as individuals' use of the Internet to share resources such as hard drives and processing cycles among their computers and other intelligent devices.

Websense says that the number of P2P file-sharing and file-transfer Wwebsites has spiked more than 535% in the last 12 months, now totaling nearly 38,000 web pages. But the company reports that while most P2P applications and MP3 files are free to users, corporations are paying the price for illegal employee song swapping.

One example: The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) recently announced that Arizona-based Integrated Information Systems, Inc. (IIS) agreed to pay the organization $1 million in lieu of a court trial. IIS admitted to running a dedicated server permitting employees to post and share thousands of MP3 files over their company computer network.

Lawyer Jennifer Kearns warns that companies are no longer in the position to turn a blind eye toward employees swapping songs using company resources. "Companies that look the other way may have copyright violations occurring in the workplace, and lawsuits are a potential outcome of such activity. Managing employee access to controversial technology and content—such as file-sharing applications—is one way to control legal risk."

According to Nielsen/NetRatings, workplace Web users take advantage of high-speed office connections to access MP3s more frequently than at home. And, at the height of the Napster craze, Napster music swapping software was reportedly found on 20% of the more than 15,000 workplace PCs examined, according to

Although Napster may have faded, Websense's Andy Meyer says, "New MP3 download sites have picked up the slack. Employees are eager to download these applications onto their corporate networks, taking advantage of high-speed Internet connections. Meanwhile, company IT professionals scramble to manage the network drain and support problems associated with unauthorized downloads."