Digital piracy occurs through several channels. Each of these channels offers trade-offs between likelihood of detection, convenience and content availability.
Direct File Sharing This most basic form of piracy involves friends simply transferring files directly to one another via an instant messaging program (e.g. AIM), e-mail or other similar means. Direct file sharing is difficult to detect, but content availability is limited to the files held within the peer group.
File Locker Sites This form of piracy occurs when an individual uploads content to one of the many file locker sites (e.g. Rapidshare) and shares the link, typically via a content-specific forum, with the general Internet population. Third parties then follow that link to a site where they download content. File locker piracy is relatively easy to detect, but is not an extremely convenient means of sharing files. Nor is content availability as high as in other channels (though this is changing fast).
Peer-to-peer piracy This form of piracy occurs when individuals use a peer-to-peer protocol (e.g. BitTorrent) to transfer files. The typical steps in this process involve using a search function to locate the desired content, and then running a software program that implements a given protocol to download the desired content. P2P piracy suffers from easy detection, but is extremely convenient and the content availability is breathtaking. Virtually any form of content published in the past 20 years is available via P2P networks.