After years of news coverage about the now-defunct Napster and its battles with the record labels and recording artists, it would seem unlikely that your clients’ workers wouldn’t understand the potential for abuse posed by peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing applications. But file-sharing programs, which can be used to download video, music, and movies, are often found on workers’ PCs. Any network administrator will tell you that it’s also common to find large music and video files on a user’s share of the corporate network.

Despite the drain on network resources, the most significant problem can occur when employees unknowingly (or otherwise) download copyrighted material onto their local machines or company network. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has been the most outspoken against companies that allow employees to download copyrighted material. In March, the RIAA sent letters to employers that warn of damages against employers and threaten to try to confiscate computers used by workers. (The RIAA claims that each month, about 2.6 billion copyrighted works are downloaded.)

As a result of such widely publicized threats, many organizations have banned file-sharing applications to head off any liability or use content-filtering tools to prevent workers from using P2P applications. In other instances, organizations will allow the use of file-sharing programs on a case-by-case basis, as with CNET, which states in its Electronic Services Policy that “file-sharing programs such as Gnutella and KaZaA have caused serious network disruption and accordingly may not be used from the Company’s network without permission.”

Whatever you decide to do—ban the use of file-sharing programs or offer conditional usage—you should have a policy on the books that makes it clear what employees are allowed to do. To help you determine the best course for your organization, we’ve put together a policy to help you and your clients make a decision. As with most downloads available on TechRepublic, you can modify it to suit your needs.

Since file sharing is just one online activity that you oversee, you can add this policy to your existing documentation and circulate it so that employees will be aware of its restrictions. Other employers have new hires sign their usage policies as part of their orientation process.

If you have a file-sharing policy that you think would help other TechRepublic members address questions regarding these applications, send it to us. We’ll publish them in later versions of this download.