BitTorrent deal amounts to very little

by Mathew on November 29, 2006 · 8 comments

Like most press releases, the one about the deal between the Hollywood movie studios and BitTorrent is full of bombast and hype about this historic arrangement and how it will stop piracy, etc. etc. Hosannas and high-fives all round. Like the earlier announcement about BitTorrent’s deal with Warner Brothers, however, there is a lot left unsaid in the release, since to say it would remove a lot of the thunder.

The press release goes into lots of detail about how BitTorrent, which started up in 2001, has become “the most efficient means of distributing large, high-quality files on the Internet” and “accounts for as much as 40 percent of all worldwide Internet traffic.” Then it says that BitTorrent “continues to work with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to remove copyright infringing content.”

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In the New York Times story, it says that “BitTorrent’s partners will upload authorized versions of their TV shows and films onto the network.” Sounds great, doesn’t it? Except for the fact that there is no BitTorrent “network.” The agreement to remove copyright-infringing content from search results applied only to bittorrent.com, which no one who uses BitTorrent ever goes to. It has nothing to do with all the other BitTorrent sites and “networks” out there that account for all that traffic.

The confusion is between the company — which autistic programmer Bram Cohen founded, although Om reports that he is to be replaced as part of a rumoured financing deal — and the BitTorrent protocol, which is the technology. The technology Bram developed is open source, which is why there are dozens of BitTorrent download programs available, with more appearing every day.

Functionally speaking, there is no BitTorrent “network” — it is a fully distributed peer-to-peer system in which “trackers” broadcast the details about a file, and “seeders” distribute pieces of it. Bram Cohen can’t do anything about any of those files, even if he wanted to. The movie studios can use it to distribute their films, which will undoubtedly be all clogged up with DRM, but if they want to compete with piracy it’s going to take a bit more than a press release. Tony Hung over at Deep Jive Interests says the news could actually be good for pirates.

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