The passing into law of the controversial Digital Economy Act 2010 in the dying days of the last Labour Government focussed plenty of attention on peer-to-peer software (P2P), such as Ktorrent, which is built for the Linux KDE desktop. Indeed as torrent software can be used to download material that infringes copyright (such as illegal copies of music and films), some people may have assumed that P2P packages are used solely for illicit purposes. This assumption is wrong – and there are plenty of legitimate uses for P2P.
For instance, how do I get copies of Linux distributions? With a torrent client of course! It involves a quick visit to LinuxTracker to find what’s available, select the desired torrent and download away we go! Of course, distributing Linux distros for free is perfectly in order as it’s all covered by the GNU General Public License (GPL) and other ‘copyleft’ licences under which free/open source software is distributed.
In the past P2P software has also been used to distribute data in scientific projects, of which the most famous is the Human Genome Project (HGP), which began in 1990 and is amazingly still going on.
However, coming right up to date, yesterday saw HM Government, hardly the most radical of organisations, releasing the COINS (Combined Online Information System) database of UK Government expenditure provided by government departments. This data is used to produce reports for Parliament and the public including expenditure data in the Budget and Pre-Budget reports, Supply Estimates; Public Expenditure Statistical Analyses (PESA) and the monthly Public Sector Finance Releases. It is also used by the ONS for statistical purposes. And before I forget to mention it, the data has been released as a torrent file for distribution via P2P; details can be found here.