*** HONORABLE MENTION ***
I hate to disappoint you, but the vast majority of the stuff found on Kazaa is going to fall into the catagory of being illegal somehow, and/or the catagory of being a virus in disguise of a file you're looking for.
Furthermore, Kazaa is NOTORIOUS for being pre-loaded with spyware! Your best bet would be to remove it entirely and sweep the computer for spyware after you've uninstalled it.
If you MUST delve into the realm of Kazza, Google "Kazaa Lite." It's pretty much the same program, only without the spyware.
As for telling what's LEGAL and what's not - there's NO easy way to tell.
There's no flag for "public domain" or otherwise shareable files. You would have to do a bit of research on the file to see if the author(s) are allowing it to be shared, or if it's someone's bootleg. You'll have to visit the author/artist's website to see if they've given permission to share the file. SOME artists have, some have not. If you're looking for say, Metallica
- the answer is 100% positive that the file is NOT legal to download.
Fortunately, it's easier to tell if a file is SAFE. If it looks to be WAY too small - like 25 - 50 KB, it's probably a bogus file - complete with a virus. Your typical MP3 file will be at least a couple of MB in size. An AVI file will be typically 500 MB or larger. An MPG file, likewise, will be at least 500 MB.
A note about media files... The MPAA and the RIAA have been posting and sharing bogus files. These files wind up being passed on to others. There's an awful LOT of garbage available on Kazaa. For instance, let's say you're willing to do something <ahem> less than legal (NOT endorsing doing this!) and you're looking for a copy of a recently released movie and you happen to find someone on Kazaa who claims to have it. You might be surprised to find that the file you've downloaded may contain the first 5 minutes of the movie followed by 2 hours worth of black, empty video. The file size looks about right, but the content is not there.
For what it's worth, Kazaa is more trouble than it's worth.
Submitted by: Pete Z.
Hiya Gretchen, the answer to your question is either very easy, or very hard to implement, at least as far as legality goes.
If it is a commercial item, whether song, video, software or book, it's illegal. You didn't pay for it, you can't use it. At least, that is the current argument being made in court by the RIAA, MPAA and other media organizations.
[*1] So yes, all those songs you find, movies, books and programs are off-limits if you want to stay within the bounds of the law. You can use it to download anything that is freeware, shareware or in the public domain. There are songs from commercial artists that are 'given away' on websites and etc, but I am not sure how that would be viewed legally.
To be as safe as possible (there is no way to be 'safe' in any kind of absolute sense) scan everything you download with at least one virus-scanner that is kept absolutely up-to-date. You really only need to scan software and a couple of other file types, but unless you know what you are doing tech-wise, and keep up with all the latest methods of virus-transmission, scan 'em all. I remember when it was safe to open any word document, and along came the macro virus.
Word to the wise...
Get yourself a good spyware scanner. Or two. Or MORE! (Personally, I run Spybot Search & Destroy, Ad-Aware, MS AntiSpyware Beta, and Spyware Sweeper. I almost always have at least 3 of them find something even when I run them one after another).
Another related security concern you may not have have considered is that Kazaa (and many other file-sharing clients) come bloated with spyware and adware and infect your computer as soon as you install them. My suggestion would be to get a file-sharing program that does not bundle spyware and adware. K++ is Kazaa without the 'ware, but reportedly the people that make Kazaa (Sherman) are doing everything they can to destroy its usefulness because they are losing revenue for everyone who uses it.
CNET's Download.com has recently made a commitment to allow NO software that bundles adware to be listed on their site (something that deserves *tremendous* appreciation from the user-community - the editorial on the home page should be required reading), so you might do a search there for p2p or file sharing or just go to http://www.download.com/2001-20_4-0.html?tag=hd.ts then click INTERNET then FILE SHARING for the full list. I like to sort the lists by the CNET Rating (done by clicking on the 'CNET Rating' column header [which really should be marked in some way, e.g. in blue and underlined]). Then I look within the top CNET rated files for the top User rated files and check those out.
To check my own advice I performed the course of action outlined in the previous paragraph and the searches produced a small selection, while of course going to the category produces a long list, but sorted it works. I would not choose Grouper or any of the BitTorrent clients as I don't think they will fit your needs.
I did notice K Lite (a version of Kazaa) when I searched 'file sharing' which is adwared. Ah, I see this is K Lite GOLD and says "K-Lite Gold is not affiliated with Kazaa or Kazaa Lite." Though judging by the one review, it seems to at least have underhanded tactics and misrepresentation in common with Kazaa/K Lite.
While my quick answer quickly grew, I think the more info you have the better (to a point!)
[*1] I moved this down here so it didn't get in the way of the actual answer.
(I'll ignore right now that the media empires that are fighting file sharing with the argument that you have to pay for the rights to use their product (listen to their music, watch their video, etc) have nothing for those of us who have already paid 'for the right to use' a book or CD and then lost the physical media... they want you to go ahead and pay again, which kind of shows that they don't believe their own arguments.)
Submitted by: Chris P.
The short answer is no. There is no way for you to know which is legal or illegal software. When I was using P2P software about two years ago, you could find EVERYTHING from music to software to ebooks to whatever. And you can still do it.
Since you are sharing files from someone else's hard drive vs. a central server like the old file sharing systems (remember audiogalaxy?), there is no central computer for any company to regulate. Therefore anybody can share anything. I had times where I thought I was downloading something and it turned out to be something else. The file name did not match what I received. Thankfully I never got a virus doing this. When you use P2P software, you open a port on your machine so that others can share from your share folder. Some programs allow you to turn this off, but that is frowned upon within these networks since that defeats the whole purpose of P2P. If everyone did that, there would be nothing to share. If you are on one of these networks, and you see a song by a signed artist or software, that you would otherwise have to pay to get somewhere else, chances are it's technically illegal to get it. If it's freeware, you can share it over the network, but there's probably another way to get it that doesn't compromise the security of your machine. If you write software or your own music and want the world to be able to download it and listen to it on their machine, that's legal. Put it in your shared folder and see who takes it. And vice versa. There are ways to email or chat with other members of these networks, so I suppose you could ask if the software/music is copyright protected. No guarantee you'll get a truthful answer.
My suggestion is just to avoid them. There are plenty of truly legitimate sites to get music cheap and software cheap, that file sharing has lost it's appeal. And with ISPs turning in members who have downloaded music from these sites, it's not worth the risk to me.
Hope this helps in your decision. If you do choose a file sharing program, I would use Shareaza (if it still exists). It's free of spyware. Kazaa always had spyware associated with it and there was no way to remove that without disabling the program.
Submitted by: Daniel K.
There is no way to determine if the file is safe and virus free before you download it. There is also no way to determine if, say for the sake of discussion, the file containing Bob Dylan actually contains Bob Dylan. It could be another artist or garble. The same is true with peer-to-peer software, movies, documents, etc.
While most of the people in the file sharing community are well intentioned, there will always be a few who upload malicious or fictitious data.
Now the legal side. There are many legitimate and legal uses for file sharing, such as using it to self-publish your own creative works.
But, let's assume you are speaking of the most common use of the technology, sharing music. Most of the files that you will find on a peer-to-peer network, like Kazaa, are not legal. They violate copyright laws. It is only legal if the artist, or copyright holder, has given whom ever is distributing the songs the right to do so.
How do you find legal files? Well, you have a couple of options.
1. You can use a fee-based music service, like Rhapsody or iTunes.
2. You can go straight to a band's website and see if they offer files.
3. You can check out the myriad of free mp3 sites. The songs are submitted by the artist or record labels themselves as promotional tools. Amazon.com has a large selection of free downloads, also mp3.com, and cnet's own music.download.com.
Some of these sites don't allow you to burn the songs onto CDs, but they are legal. You won't need to worry about the Recording Industry Association of America suing you or the FBI seizing your hard drive and arresting you.
You don't want to tell to the murderer that you are sharing a cell with that you are in for downloading Bob Dylan, do you?
Submitted by: Adrienne C. of Tallahassee, FL
Thanks to all of you who contributed to this past week's Q&A topic.
Gretchen, I hope this week's members' advice give you some direction to your concerns. Whatever your decisions may be, please take extreme cautions when downloading programs, we really don't want you to return and have to submit another question on how to get rid virus or spyware contracted using a file sharing program. So good luck!
Members, if you have more questions, or additional advice for Gretchen and other members wanting to use a file sharing network, by all means feel free to post them in this thread below. It?s all up to you as a community to contribute and learn from one another. So keep on posting.
Thanks everyone and have a great weekend!
I'm a new user of Kazaa and am looking for some guidance. Is there any reasonable way to know when I'm downloading a file that it's legal and safe for me to download? I'd love to get some good peer-to-peer stuff, but I don't want to break the law or accidentally download any viruses. Thanks.
Submitted by: Gretchen G.
Since your question really has two parts: legality and security, I will answer them separately.
Simply put, there is no easy way to know for sure that what you are downloading is legal. You would need some way to determine the owner of the copyright and confirm that they have made it available for download. However, you can determine with reasonable certainty a good portion of that which is illegal to download:
1. Virtually all major software (this excludes open-source software such as Linux). With software, you can check the product homepage to find their licensing conditions. Anything by Adobe, Microsoft, Macromedia, and the other big makers is almost certainly not legal.
2. Motion picture releases. Essentially any motion picture backed by a major film studio is the property of the studio, and they're not likely to let it go on a peer to peer network.
3. Music by "known" artists: This is the area with the most uncertainty.
Known artists generally don't want their music on peer to peer networks.
Unknown artists may actually be trying to use the peer to peer network to gain publicity, so it is POSSIBLE that their music is legal, but I would still be wary. If you'd like to download music legally and free, check out Amazon.com's free downloads:
As far as the security of your downloads go, the most important things are the normal mechanisms for securing a computer:
1. Run a well-known anti-virus product and keep its definitions up to date at all times. Scan all files you download immediately.
2. Don't run programs of unknown status.
3. Use a firewall: Windows XP has one built in, and there are a number of other good ones out there.
4. Be careful of what you download and think if it seems reasonable: there are few software programs out there under 100 kilobytes, but plenty of viruses and worms fit the category.
Good luck with your downloads!
Submitted by: David T.