Boris Mann

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BitTorrent Whack-a-Mole: Give us legal video downloads!

By now, many will have read the news about BitTorrent:

According to British Web analysis firm CacheLogic, BitTorrent accounts for an astounding 35 percent of all the traffic on the Internet -- more than all other peer-to-peer programs combined -- and dwarfs mainstream traffic like Web pages.

What is BitTorrent? It's a P2P program that is optimized for sharing really big files in a bandwidth efficient manner.

This sounds like a path we've been down before. Napster was the first high-profile P2P program, used to distribute (at that time) large music files. Now broadband is more wide-spread, and the files are bigger.

What kind of really big files? Video content is probably the most widely shared -- from TV shows that are 300 - 500 megabytes in size to DVD copies that can run to several gigabytes. And the reaction of copyright holders? Just like with Napster, handing out lawsuits seems to be the preferred method of the MPAA of dealing with the problem. Well, that and anti-piracy advertising in movie theatres and on TV.

Have the movie studios learned nothing from the situation with music?! There are a handful of successful online music stores today, making good money. If you easily get legal cotent into the hands of consumers...they will welcome it (and pay for it)! It's again a matter of it being easier to get illegal content.

In writing about the iPod Photo, I mused about the possibility that Steve Jobs was going to do another first: enable legal video content downloads. Offering legal content will control the problem faster (and be more profitable) than playing whack-a-mole with different sharing programs.

And the whack-a-mole game is starting. Here in Vancouver, Shaw has begun throttling BitTorrent traffic. And users are already looking at a new program, Rodi. Will ISPs ultimately be successful in filtering or blocking? Here's a comment from the designers of Roti:

ISPs are getting smarter. I am wondering what they are going to do with HTTP based filesharing network ? And if the HTTP packet is encrypted ?

Let me translate that: P2P content that masquerades as secure web traffic will be completely unstoppable.

(hat tip: Greg, Phil)