a musing

BitTorrent Will Save Us All

The BBC Program Newsnight was apparently deluged with email when they suggested that using BitTorrent implies theft. Producer Adam Livingstone responded with an apology, and then sought to elaborate on what the segment was trying to say.

Of interest to me is that, in response to ISPs' use of traffic shaping to throttle BitTorrent transfer (30% of all internet traffic yadda yadda yadda), BT clients now use an encrypted channel, effectively eliminating the kind of analysis required for traffic shaping. The capital-F Fear is that with all that encrypted data flying around, it is now even easier for bad guys to hide their evil plottings.

Hah. I have at least five things to say in response.

First of all, bravo to BT client authors for finally protecting our privacy. It's about time those streams were encrypted, I always assumed they were.

Second, if you're spying on people, watching internet traffic is a horrible way to try to do it. Internet packets are forgeable, reroutable, and ephemeral. Any judge who would allow a felony conviction based on internet packet capture needs an education in how this stuff really works.

Third, BitTorrent may make up 30% of all internet traffic, but BT is designed to move content through the edges of the network rather than from a single point in the center. BT clients are constantly optimizing the download so that packets are sent across the fewest hops possible.

The 30% number is likely bogus, but even if you took it at face value, the right way to phrase it is that 30% of all internet traffic is now being efficiently served from peers rather than being forced through the internet backbone. ISPs should be encouraging this kind of use!

Fourth, the network is much more robust than we think it is. There are millions of miles of dark fiber (in America, at least). There are extremely competent people running the show behind the CEOs backs. TCP/IP can cope with massive demand, even at version 4.

Fifth, and finally, do we really live in an age when, five years after a content distribution technology as nearly perfect as BitTorrent is introduced, the major content producers in our society still haven't figured out that they could be using it to their advantage? Is the management at Disney, Viacom, News Corp, et al really this brain dead? And if so, why does their stock still trade?

It's not that difficult. I should charge your media company hundreds of thousands of dollars for this advice, but I'm a softie and you guys are just pathetic, so here it is for free:

Release your own BitTorrents. In stereo HD. With advertisements. For free, without DRM. Publish the torrent files on your show's website.

It will cost you nothing. It will put an end to pirated versions. You will know how many people downloaded based on click. You can tell advertisers that their ads will be on the harddrives of hundreds of millions of viewers around the world.

Most of all, your audience will think that you actually appreciate and respect them.

Or you can bitch about illegal downloading and piracy (arrrr!) and how BitTorrent is going to crash teh internets, and watch as people desert your shows in droves.

By Chris Snyder on March 1, 2006 at 3:28pm

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