A five-minute primer on an issue making headlines Rarely does Hong Kong cause a stir in cyberspace. But in the past week internet chat rooms, forums and blogs in all corners of the globe were abuzz with the news that Chan Nai-ming, 38, (pictured) who used the moniker Big Crook, had become the first person to be convicted for using BitTorrent technology to distribute films. What's that all about? BitTorrent is a form of peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing technology that allows computers to exchange files over the internet. The files are not stored on a centralised database, but on individual PCs. P2P refers to the fact that information is shared between two or more computers connected to the internet. The technology has legal uses, but also allows people to illegally trade copyrighted materials - hence its rise in popularity. What kind of copyrighted material are we talking about? Everything from Hollywood films, to computer software, pornography, music and even comic books are being traded around the world. Chan was caught uploading the 'seeds' for three movies, Daredevil, Miss Congeniality, and Red Planet. Upload? Seeds? In English, please! In cyber-speak, a seed is person who is connected to the computer network with a complete copy of a piece of information. Upload refers to initiating a transfer from the source to another computer. The complementary term, download, refers to the other computer who receives the transfer. BitTorrent shares files by concurrently uploading bits of a file it has already downloaded from a source to other computers in the network - an improvement over previous P2P networks, making transfers faster. Also, a seed can be copied and further distributed across the internet for easy access by other users. So what's the big deal? Initially, illicit file-sharing was considered a copyright grey area, which is why it became so popular. Some people were not aware they could be breaking the law. Previously, governments or the courts have shut companies behind such P2P services - such as Napster in 2001. However, because the BitTorrent community is made up of a loose collection of individual internet users sharing information over a decentralised network rather than a central database operated by a corporate entity, enforcement has become a challenge for officials worldwide. Chan's case was the world's first criminal conviction of a BitTorrent user and it may have opened the door to further convictions of internet users who trade copyrighted material over the Web. So what? I do not upload 'seeds'. Yes, but users who do upload seeds could be next to be targeted and there is also talk that people who only download could be targeted in the near future, since by definition they upload at the same time. But it does not sound too serious a crime. What is the penalty? In Hong Kong, the maximum penalty is 3 years' jail.