Peer-to-Peer Software and Indecent Images

Written 26th March 2024 by Ruth Peters

Navigating Peer-to-Peer Software and the Law: Understanding Indecent Images in the UK

In today’s digital age, Peer-to-Peer (P2P) file sharing software has become both a blessing and a concern. While these platforms offer convenient ways to share files among users, they also raise legal questions, particularly when it comes to the possession, making and distribution of indecent images.

Laws governing the possession, making and distribution of indecent images are stringent, and understanding the same is crucial for responsible online behaviour.

What is Peer-to-Peer (PTP) Software?

PTP file sharing stands for Peer-To-Peer file sharing. It’s a decentralised method of distributing digital media and other types of files among users over the internet. In a PTP file sharing network, users directly connect with each other to share files, rather than relying on a central server.

P2P software allows users to share files directly with each other, bypassing traditional centralized servers.

How does Peer-to-Peer Software work?

Users in a PTP network connect directly to each other’s computers, forming a network where each user can act both as a client and a server. Users utilize specialized software (like BitTorrent, eMule, or LimeWire) to facilitate the sharing of files. These programs help users locate files they want to download and enable them to share their own files with others.

Unlike traditional file sharing methods where files are hosted on centralized servers, PTP networks distribute files across the network, with each user contributing a portion of their bandwidth and storage to the sharing process. One of the most popular methods of PTP file sharing is through torrents. Torrents are small files that contain metadata about the files being shared and the locations of other users who are sharing those files. Users download these torrent files and use them to connect to others in the network to download the desired content.

Challenges of Peer-to-Peer Software and sharing of indecent images

PTP file sharing offers several advantages, including faster download speeds (as users can download from multiple sources simultaneously), increased availability of rare or hard-to-find content, and resilience against server failures or takedowns. However, it also presents challenges, especially regarding the legality of shared content.

Common types of P2P software include BitTorrent clients, eDonkey/eMule, Gnutella clients, and Direct Connect clients. These platforms facilitate the sharing of various files, including music, movies, software, and unfortunately also indecent images.

Peer-to-Peer software allows individuals to share a wide variety of files including illegal materials such as indecent images.  However, PTP software is used by a variety of individuals to download what they may perceive to be legal material for example, films, and legal adult pornography.  Very often files are not labelled by a file name which obviously indicates that it contains illegal material, for example, indecent images and therefore the material may appear innocent prior to downloading. 

We are frequently contacted by individuals who inadvertently download such material as a result of being mislabelled by the original sharer of such material.  Often individuals download a huge volume of material as a result of a search over PTP software and this could result in having files on your computer containing such material which you may never in fact open.

A consequence of this could be that other users of such PTP software may then access such illegal material due to the nature of peer to peer software itself.  This could lead to a suggestion of distributing indecent images, not only downloading such material.

Understanding the law in relation to indecent images

In the UK, possession, distribution, and ‘making’ indecent images of children are criminal offences. The Protection of Children Act 1978 and the Criminal Justice Act 1988, as amended by the Sexual Offences Act 2003, outline the legal framework surrounding indecent images:

‘Making’ indecent images

Section 1(1) (a) of the Protection of Children Act 1978 includes “to take, or permit to be taken [or to make], any indecent photograph [or pseudo-photograph] of a child”.

The court’s interpretation of ‘making’ indecent images is broad and the following can amount to making indecent images;

  • opening an email attachment
  • downloading an indecent image
  • storing an image
  • accessing a website where an indecent image “pops up”

Possession of indecent images

It is illegal to possess, download, or store indecent images of children on any device, including computers, smartphones, and tablets under s.160 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.

Possession of indecent images means that the image(s) must be in the control or custody of the individual so that they are capable of accessing or in in a position to retrieve the images(s).

In addition, the individual must know that they possess the image or group of images on the relevant device(s). However, knowledge of the content of these image(s) is not required.

The following are important considerations specifically in relation to deleted images:

  • Where the photos are stored on the device
  • The means by which they could be retrieved in the sense set out above
  • Whether the suspect has the wherewithal to retrieve them i.e. the technical knowledge/software/equipment required to do so.

Distribution Offences

Section 1 of the Protection of Children Act 1978 makes it a criminal offence for a person to:

  • distribute or show indecent photographs or pseudo-photographs; or
  • to have in his possession indecent photographs or pseudo-photographs, with a view to their being distributed or shown by himself or others; or
  • publish or cause to be published any advertisement likely to be understood as conveying that the advertiser distributes or shows such indecent photographs or pseudo-photographs, or intends to do so.
  • Sharing, uploading, or distributing indecent images, whether through P2P networks, social media, or other means, constitutes a criminal offence.

Defences to indecent image offences in relation to Peer-to-Peer Software

At Olliers we are frequently contacted by individuals who indicate that they have used PTP software with a view to downloading adult pornography (i.e. not indecent images) or indeed non pornographic material such as films.

A lack of knowledge is the main defence available in relation to ‘making’ indecent images. A suspect accused of ‘making’ an indecent image must have the knowledge that the image is/is likely to be an indecent image or pseudo image of a child. Therefore, if the prosecution cannot satisfy the court that the suspect did not have such knowledge then the suspect cannot be found guilty.

If you are concerned in relation to a lack of knowledge we would suggest you contact us to discuss  your individual case in more detail.

Article written by Ruth Peters

Peer-to-Peer file sharing software offers convenience and efficiency but also poses risks, especially concerning the distribution of indecent images.  The law in relation to indecent images is complex and benefits from representation by a specialist solicitor. At Olliers we have significant experience of dealing with indecent images cases involved Peer-to-Peer (PTP) software.

If you require advice in relation to an indecent images investigation please contact our new enquiry team either by email to, or by telephone on 020 3883 6790 (London) or 0161 834 1515 (Manchester) or by completing the form below.

Ruth Peters

Ruth Peters

Business Development Director


Head Office


Satellite Office

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