Peer to Peer Software, LimeWire, and the Threat of Criminal Prosecution

The threat of criminal prosecution is very real in North Carolina, particularly if people use peer-to-peer based file sharing software and either intentionally or even inadvertently download pornography that includes child pornography. While few Raleigh criminal lawyers are familiar with the way this software works, it is important that any lawyer you hire be familiar with the way computer networks operate so as to build a viable defense.

In North Carolina, the crime of possessing or distributing child pornography is the Sexual Exploitation of a Minor either in the first or second degree. In addition, the federal government often takes a strong stand against the distribution of illegal pornography, and federal sentencing guidelines establish very low thresholds – as few as 600 images – before the person is subject to maximum penalties. Penalties can range up to 40 years in prison.

In addition to those penalties, a person convicted of crimes either at the state or federal level will be required to register as a sex offender for at least 10 years, and must petition to be removed from the list after the decade is up. That petition must be granted by a judge in order to be removed from the sex offender registry.

The problem from a technological perspective is that it can be difficult to know whether someone intentionally or inadvertently downloaded illegal materials. That’s because most of this activity occurs on peer-to-peer sharing networks that utilize client software to interact with the network.

These networks include Gnutella and BitTorrent and clients can include LimeWire, BearShare, or GigaTribe. The sharing networks and software can create inadvertent dangers for people seeking legitimate software, or even legal pornography. In my experience from interviewing clients charged with such crimes, they may have been searching for legal pornography, and have selected a large batch of files to download.

Over a series of months in repeatedly selecting large batches of thousands of pornographic images, they may have perfectly innocently and inadvertently downloaded child pornography because they have failed to inspect the filenames of each and every file downloaded.

By default, those downloaded files may sit in a person’s Download file, where they are subject to re-sharing by the default settings of the software. In a legal sense, the person has now become an unwitting possessor and also distributor of child pornography.

The government takes these issues so seriously that even defense lawyers are not allowed to knowingly possess hard drives of clients that contain child pornography, and given that rule, defense lawyers are frequently required to review offending images by visiting secure facilities maintained by law enforcement.

People accused of possession child pornography should immediately contact a Raleigh criminal lawyer familiar with these technologies.

Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.