Monday, March 22, 2010


Most college students have probably used BitTorrent at one point in their life, whether it is for keeping up with the newest TV shows and movies, illegally downloading otherwise expensive software, or as a quick and easy way to share files with their others. What is BitTorrent? Background and history: BitTorrent is a peer-to-peer protocol that is used for sharing large files on the Internet. It is fast, easy and virtually free to use. It was designed by Bram Cohen in 2001, intended originally for geeks to share Linux software online cheaply and inexpensively, but now is mostly used to download TV shows, movies, software and music. According to “The BitTorrent Effect”, an article published in WIRED in 2005, BitTorrent traffic accounts for more than one-third of all data sent across the Internet. I’d suspect that BitTorrent may have lost a little bit of its steam when TV companies started streaming their latest seasons online for free with limited commercials. Quick Fact: This is Bram Cohen, he's a pretty geeky guy. Two interesting facts about Bram Cohen is one that he has Asbergers syndrome, and two has never downloaded a single pirated filed using BitTorrent. He attributes his straight-laced behavior to his suspicion that the MPAA would probably love to make a legal example out of him if he ever downloaded a pirated file. How does it work? First there needs to be the source file. This file is called a swarm. It spreads around pieces of the file so that everyone has some part of it to share with other BitTorrent users. Then those pieces are then uploaded so that all the users in the swarm can access it. Every downloader also has to upload, so the more people download, the faster everything gets uploaded. Users download and upload at the same time, as soon as a piece of the file is received, the computer can then share that piece to others. The more files you share, the fast torrents get downloaded onto your computer.Before long, the swarm has shared all the pieces of the file, and everyone has their own source that they can share to others. This is a visual representation of the BitTorrent protocol: Terminology: Seeders: people who have already downloaded the file and are uploading them. The more seeders, the faster the download. Leechers: people who are sharing what they have and are downloading what others have. BitTorrent client: A computer program that manages downlaods and uploads using the BitTorrent protocol. Some popular BitTorrent clients include: Vuze, Transmission, uTorrent. How is this different from traditional peer to peer file sharing like Morpheus, Kazaa, and Napster? Those sites suffer from supply bottlenecks. Many users on the same network can only swap with one uploader and downloader at a time. So because uploading takes much longer than downloading, files may even take hours to download. Implementation? Changing the face of movie, tv, and software distribution: Some organizations have used BitTorrent to distribute licensed materials, but most of the activity is to distribute pirated movies, tv shows, and software. BitTorrent is a fast, inexpensive, and effective way to distribute information. "Ink", an indie movie released on BitTorrent received over 400,000 hits and reached top 20 moves on iMDb. Before the movie was pirated, it was a lowly 12,991 on iMDb. This movie received a lot of attention on the pirate community, but how much of these downloads actually translate into read world sales. Kiowa Winas, one of the creators of Ink said that sales have definitely gone up. Many Ink downloaders actually suggested that there should be a donate button on the movie's website, and money came pouring through that avenue.
"Kiowa broadly puts BitTorrent users into two camps – those who want media in an instant and those who want it for free. “I think a reasonably-priced instant download the moment the movie becomes available would largely cure the piracy issue so we will see how it all shakes out over the next several years."
Issues with BitTorrent: Piracy/legal issues: There is a lot of controversy over whether BitTorrent trackers are legal or not. Although BitTorrent metafiles themselves do not store copyrighted data, whether the publishers of the files violate copyrights is controversial. In the beginning there was less success, some courts even argued that a file sharing technoglogy cannot be banned if it has "subtantial noninfringing uses". Torrents are bad for the movie industry because unlike tv shows that get revenue from advertising, movies don't.The Pirate Bay, which has now been shut down has early gutsy responses to the issue: In fall 2005, The Pirate Bay from Sweden posted a torrent for Shrek2. When Dreamworks sent a cease and desist letter that the site remove it, the owners replied “As you may or may not be aware, Sweden is not a state in the USA. Sweden is a country in northern Europe and US law does not apply here”. Shrek stayed up. However, now, torrent sites don't have so much control. They're being shut down from left and right. They're being sued for massive copyright infrindgement. HBO sent many cease and desist letters to Internet Service Providers of BitTorrent users, and some users received threats that their internet would be cut off. In 2005, HBO began providing bad chunks of data to clients of their show Rome. More recently, The Phonographic Industry has taken over the reigns of combatting piracy on BitTorrent sites. Privacy: BitTorrent can expose almost any kind of data on your computer to thousands of outsiders that you may accidently invited into your computer to browse around. Although users can designate which folders to share on the network, this is not foolproof security: Wrong folders can be included, malware may reconfigure folder access, documents may be mistakenly filed.
"According to a 2006 report from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on some of the unsavory features included in peer-to-peer file-sharing applications, if a downloaded file is moved out of the shared folder, that file can give file-sharing applications access to all the data in the new folder, too. If the new folder happens to contain a tax return or corporate information in addition to your MP3s and MP4s, all of your peers have access to that, too."
Internet into the world's largest TiVo? In the past, people had to wait by the TV at a particular time each night to tune into their favorite show. Now with BitTorrent, people can just click, download, and watch, almost instantly. Instead of gradually building buzz for a show, shows can become insanely popular overnight. BitTorrent has changed the nature of the medium. Quick Fact: What's the most popular tv show on BitTorrent? Lost. The future of BitTorrent: Private trackers and magnet links Private Trackers: Most of the large public torrent trackers are dead. The Pirate Bay, TorrentSpy, MiniNova, Supernova are all dead. Now people are turning to private BitTorrent tracker sites that are by invitation only. Some of the most exclusive sites somewhere on the web probably have high quality formats of every single ever released and can be downloaded at insanely fast speeds. Public trackers are full of viruses and fake files. Private sites only have trusted users. If a virus is uploaded by you or someone you invite you are both immediately kicked off the site. There is also a minimum amount of data that a member must seed at a given time. Magnet Links: At the end of 2009, The Pirate Bay confirmed it would shut down its tracker permanently, instead encouraging the use of DHT, PEX, and magnet links. Torrents have a tracker associated with it, a magnet link does not. Trackers are the reason why so many trackers were getting sued. For more information visit this site: Sources:

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