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Windows XP Hacks

File Sharing Without the Fear

by Preston Gralla, author of Windows XP Hacks

These days, the simple act of sharing music files with like-minded others can make you feel like a hunted criminal, never sure when the virtual bloodhounds of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) may track you down and drag you into court, demanding hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. After all, it's happened to grandparents, 14-year-olds, college students, and just plain folks. Why can't it happen to you?

You may or may not agree with what the law says about sharing copyrighted files -- in essence, that it's illegal to share them with, or download them from, others. And I'm certainly not advocating that anyone should go out and break the law. But if you do decide to continue sharing files despite the potential legal problems, there are some things you can do to make it unlikely that the RIAA will target you. In this article, we'll look at ways you can continue to share music and other files using file-sharing software, without fear.

In order to avoid getting onto the RIAA's radar, you first need to know how the RIAA tracks file sharers, and how the organization has decided in the past who it should take to court. In early September, the RIAA sued 261 people who it claims illegally shared music files over the Internet. The RIAA warned at the time that that action could be the "first wave of what could ultimately be thousands of civil lawsuits."

But 261 people out of approximately 60 million users of peer-to-peer software is not even a drop in the bucket -- it's barely a drop in the ocean. So how did the RIAA decide who would be the unlucky ones to be sued? And are there ways you can protect yourself from future lawsuits? Read on to find out.

Size Matters

When it comes to file sharing, size matters. The RIAA sued only people who shared at least 1,000 songs. That may change in the future, but for now, the RIAA is going after only those with the largest song collections. This means that if you keep your music collection relatively small, you're less likely to be targeted by the music industry enforcers. So cull your collection to only what you really want to keep, or move the files to a non-shared folder.

The RIAA sued only those who made their own files available to others, not those who only downloaded them. So, for example, if someone downloaded files, but didn't allow others to download from their collection, the RIAA left them alone. This means that you're safer if you don't share files on your system with other file sharers. In Kazaa, you can turn file sharing off by unchecking the "Share Files in My Shared Folder" box on the Sharing tab. If you use Kazaa Lite, a far superior program, available from www.kazaalite.tk, choose Options->Kazaa Lite K++ Options->Traffic, and check the box next to "Disable sharing of files with other users," as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. How to disable sharing your files with others in Kazaa Lite.

More Options

Another solution: after you download music, move the files out of the folder you designated as your shared music folder. If that folder is empty, you won't appear to be sharing files.

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This leads to a philosophical conundrum, though. If everyone stops sharing their files, file sharing will die. And the whole point of file sharing is the community atmosphere that it creates. So another option is to run file-sharing software only when you're downloading files, and not leave it running all the time. This way, your shared folder and music will only be available a small portion of the day, and you'll be less likely a target.

As part of its investigations, the RIAA (in essence) took a snapshot of all of the files in people's shared music folders, and used that information to help decide whether to prosecute. If you want to prevent that from happening to you, you can prevent anyone, including the RIAA, from seeing all of the files in your folder. If you have Kazaa Lite, choose Options->Kazaa Lite K++ Options->K++ Options, and check the box next to "Users can't get a list of all your shared files." In Kazaa, on the Sharing tab, choose Add/Manage Other Folders and then uncheck the check box next to your shared folder, and it won't be shared.

Who Is a Likely RIAA Target?

According to CNet's News.com, the RIAA, in doing investigations for its round of lawsuits, used automated tools that scanned file sharers' folders for a short list of music files, and when it found one of those files, it targeted that user for further investigation. The entire list of music files has not been made available, but according to CNet, the following files were cited in some of the lawsuits:

  • Bobby McFerrin, "Don't Worry, Be Happy"
  • Thompson Twins, "Hold Me Now"
  • Eagles, "Hotel California"
  • George Michael, "Kissing A Fool"
  • Paula Abdul, "Knocked Out"
  • Green Day, "Minority"
  • UB40, "Red, Red Wine"
  • Ludacris "Area Codes"
  • Marvin Gaye, "Sexual Healing"
  • Avril Lavigne, "Complicated"

So if you share popular music, you're more likely to be a target. If, on the other hand, you share digital music such as the songs of Brahms and Liszt sung by the baritone Thomas Quasthoff, you're not likely to become a target.

Finally, Kazaa Lite offers a feature for protecting your privacy as well. This feature blocks the RIAA and those who work for it from being able to connect to your PC. If they can't connect, they can't see your files, and you won't be targeted. To enable this feature in Kazaa Lite, choose Options->Kazaa Lite K++ Options->K++ Options, and check the box next to "Block bad IP ranges," as shown in Figure 2. This will block addresses known to be working for the RIAA from connecting to your PC. The list is updated regularly, but be forewarned that it isn't foolproof.

Figure 2: You can block IP addresses known to be associated with the RIAA from connecting to your PC.


If you're a music hound like me, this article should help you continue sharing music files while also flying under the RIAA radar. Keep in mind, though, that things can change, so these steps do not guarantee the RIAA won't come calling someday. But in the meantime, you can still enjoy listening to your downloaded digital music.

If you want more advice on ripping and burning digital music, check out two hacks in my book Windows XP Hacks: Hack #87, "Problem-Free CD Burning," and Hack #88, "Save Streaming Music to Your PC." And, of course, if you're looking for other ways to get more out of XP, you'll find that help in there as well.

Preston Gralla is the author of Windows Vista in a Nutshell, the Windows Vista Pocket Reference, and is the editor of WindowsDevCenter.com. He is also the author of Internet Annoyances, PC Pest Control, Windows XP Power Hound, and Windows XP Hacks, Second Edition, and co-author of Windows XP Cookbook. He has written more than 30 other books.

O'Reilly & Associates recently released (September 2003) Windows XP Hacks.

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