File Sharing and the History of Computing: Or, Why File Sharing is Called "File Sharing"

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Attempts by the state and the entertainment industry to impose the term "piracy" on practices of digital file sharing have been challenged by academics and activists alike. The notion of "file sharing," however, seems to have escaped our attention. By placing that term in the context of the history of computing, where sharing of different kinds has always been a central feature, and by drawing on a nuanced understanding of the many meanings of "sharing," this article shows that "file sharing," unlike "piracy," is a bottom-up term that has emerged from the field itself. The article shows that those who oppose the term "file sharing" certainly have good strategic reason to do so: sharing is by definition a positive social value and bestows a warm glow upon that which it touches. It is argued, though, that we should not allow the "war on piracy" metaphor to gain the ascendancy-not only because "piracy" is a such a negative term, and not only for strategic reasons, but also, and mainly, because when we call file sharing "file sharing" we are issuing a critical challenge to the current copyright regime.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)198-211
Number of pages14
JournalCritical Studies in Media Communication
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2014


  • File sharing
  • History of computing
  • Internet
  • Piracy
  • Sharing


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