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What charges can be brought involving peer-to-peer networks?

With the holiday season underway, many St. Louis residents already have begun their gift shopping for family and friends. Often this shopping will involve the purchase of technological products, such as computers, smartphones and other devices. While this technology can bring a great deal of joy to St. Louis residents, individuals also can run into trouble when it comes to using various types of technology.

For example, the federal government often targets the use of peer-to-peer systems on the Internet, which can lead to criminal charges if illegal activity is alleged to have occurred using the system. Through use of peer-to-peer networks, individuals can connect with other computer users to share files and information. Typically, these networks are installed through free or paid software on a person's computer, which allow the user to then search and download files that are located on other individuals' computers.

While plenty of legal materials can be shared and downloaded using peer-to-peer networks, law enforcement can also bring charges when illegal activity is alleged to have occurred. This can include copyright infringement violations, such as when individuals are alleged to have distributed copyrighted music, movies or other information without authorization. These charges are akin to theft, in that the person does not have authorization to distribute the protected materials.

Other allegations involving peer-to-peer networks may revolve around child pornography offenses. For instance, child pornography may be distributed through these networks, with authorities having the ability to monitor and track an individual's illegal downloads of this type of material.

Ultimately, no matter what the specific allegations may be, the bottom line is that serious charges can be brought based upon the use of peer-to-peer networks and other computer software. In these situations, individuals should have a good understanding of the computer program at issue and how it works and does not work. Through this understanding, individuals can begin developing a strong criminal defense to any criminal charges that they may be facing.

Source: FBI, "Risks of peer-to-peer systems," accessed on Nov. 29, 2014

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