Monday, October 03, 2005

COPYRIGHT: New threat or opportunity? 'BitTorrent' Gives Hollywood a Headache

'BitTorrent' Gives Hollywood a Headache

Sat Dec 11, 9:48 AM ET Technology - AP

By ALEX VEIGA, AP Business Writer

LOS ANGELES - Bram Cohen didn't set out to upset Hollywood movie studios.
But his innovative online file-sharing software, BitTorrent, has grown
into a piracy problem the film industry is struggling to handle.

As its name suggests, the software lets computer users share large chunks
of data. But unlike other popular file-sharing programs, the more people
swap data on BitTorrent, the quicker it flows — and that includes such
large files as feature films and computer games.

Because of its speed and effectiveness, BitTorrent steadily gained in
popularity after the recording industry began cracking down last year on
users of Kazaa, Morpheus, Grokster and other established file-sharing

The program now accounts for as much as half of all online file-sharing
activity, says Andrew Parker, chief technology officer of Britain-based
CacheLogic, which monitors such traffic.

"BitTorrent is more of a threat because it is probably the latest and best
technological tool for transferring large files like movies," said John
Malcolm, senior vice president of anti-piracy operations for the Motion
Picture Association of America. "It is unusual, perhaps unique, in that
the moment you start downloading you are also uploading," he added. "It's
what makes it so efficient."

Cohen created BitTorrent in 2001 as a hobby after the dot-com crash left
him unemployed. He says the aim was to enable computer users to easily
distribute content online — not specifically copyrighted content.

"It seems pretty clear that a lot of people are actively interested in
engaging in wanton piracy," said Cohen, 29, of Bellevue, Wash. "As far as
I'm concerned, they're just pushing around bits, and what bits it is
they're pushing around is not really a concern of mine. There's not much I
can do about it."

BitTorrent has proven to be resistant to some of the countermeasures the
entertainment industry has taken to sabotage file-sharing, including a
process known as file-spoofing in which incomplete or decoy versions of
songs or other material are uploaded to discourage piracy.

"Spoofing is very difficult on BitTorrent, if at all possible," said Mark
Ishikawa, chief executive of online tracking firm BayTSP Inc. "There's no
defense for this one."

Programs such as Kazaa and Morpheus allow users to link their PCs to
computer networks and then query a search engine for the file or title
they're seeking. The software then churns out a list of other computers
sharing the file.

The process is simple and straightforward, which makes it relatively easy
to corrupt with spoofed files.

With BitTorrent, however, users don't find whole files. The program seeks
out torrent files, also known as seed files, that are hosted by a number
of Web sites.

The files on the Web sites are not songs or movies but serve as markers
that point the way to other users sharing a given file. BitTorrent then
assembles complete files from multiple chunks of data obtained from
everyone who is sharing the file.

Attempts to upload bogus files to corrupt the process fail because the
BitTorrent program follows a blueprint of the original file when piecing
it together.

"It's very difficult for an interdiction company to get in the middle of
that system," said Ishikawa, whose company combs file-sharing networks on
behalf of Hollywood studios and alerts clients when their movies turn up
on the Internet.

Some of the BitTorrent host sites, like, generate a daily
list of new seed files added by users. The site recently had listings for
movies such as "Van Helsing" and "Wimbledon (news - web sites)," which is
not scheduled for release on DVD for another three weeks.

Some sites offer digitized broadcasts of "The Daily Show With Jon
Stewart," computer games like "Star Trek: Klingon Academy" and "Half Life
2," e-books on the physics behind an atomic bomb, even footage of kidnap
victims in the Middle East.

"A bunch of the different beheadings are online," Ishikawa said.

Downhill Battle, a Worcester, Mass.-based independent music group that has
developed its own BitTorrent-based software called Blog Torrent, says the
technology is much more than a tool for swapping copyright movies and
software (a blog is a Web journal).

"What we're excited about as far as BitTorrent goes is the possibility for
people to blog video and blog their own home movies (and) independent
films and have a way to distribute them online without having to have a
big budget for Web-hosting," said Nicholas Reville, one of the group's

"Bandwidth has been a big barrier," he said. "BitTorrent solved that."

While some of the BitTorrent sites that host seed files have been forced
to shut down, many others escape scrutiny because they're only hosting
marker files, not copyrighted material.

Malcolm of the MPAA says his organization is not focusing any more or less
on BitTorrent than other file-sharing system. He declined to say whether
the trade group intends to sue Cohen and wouldn't name any BitTorrent
users who may have been included in the entertainment industry's latest
wave of lawsuits.

"Anyone who uses BitTorrent and is under the illusion that they are
anonymous are sorely mistaken," Malcolm said. "There is no reason why
those lawsuits wouldn't include BitTorrent" users.

So far, Cohen said, he has not become a target of the entertainment
industry, which has aggressively pursued litigation against other
file-sharing software distributors, with mixed success. On Friday, the
U.S. Supreme Court (news - web sites) agreed to hear an appeal by movie
studios and music labels of a ruling that found Grokster Ltd. and
StreamCast Networks Inc., the firm behind the Morpheus software, to not be
responsible for their customers' online swapping of copyright songs and

For his part, Cohen said he has received just one legal warning, over a
computer game that was being distributed using BitTorrent.

"Someone else was doing something with BitTorrent that I had no knowledge
of," Cohen said. "It's not being done on any machines I have any control
over ... what do you want me to do?"


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