an example of the usefulness of bittorrent for entirely legal purposes

I frequently find myself in an unpopular position in the entertainment industry: I believe in network neutrality, I don't believe that piracy is the end of the world as we know it (I particularly don't believe that a download or file shared automatically equals a lost sale*) and I don't believe in crippling the Internet to protect a business model that desperately needs to change.

One of the things that drives me crazy is the belief in Hollywood that bittorrent exists solely for stealing things. Efforts to explain that this is not necessarily true are often met with hands clamped tightly over ears, accompanied by "I CAN'T HEAR YOU LA LA LA."

As an example of the usefulness of bittorrent for entirely legal purposes, I present the following comparitive images:

Screen Shot 2012-05-13 at 10.39.50 AM
Screen Shot 2012-05-13 at 10.39.56 AM

So yesterday, I decided that I'd download Ubuntu and put it in a Virtualbox on my iMac, just to see how the distro is doing these days. As you can see from the images above, if I'd downloaded the iso straight from their server, it was going to take the better part of an hour, so I decided to grab the torrent instead. Turns out it was a good choice, because it was finished in about six minutes.

I was so happy with the speed and performance, I seeded it until I got to a ratio of 3.0, to give back, you know?

Some ISPs are blocking all bittorrent traffic, because bittorrent can be used to share files in a piratical way. Hollywood lobbying groups are trying to pass laws wich would force ISPs to block or degrade bittorrent traffic, too. Personally, I think this is like closing down freeways because a bank robber could use them to get away, which I know is an imperfect comparison, but is the best I can do after a night of not-especially-good sleep.

Anyway, my point with this post is to illustrate that the bittorrent protocol is useful for more than just infringement, so when you hear industry lobbying groups making a lot of noise about piracy, you'll remember that they aren't giving you all the facts.


*Longtime readers may recall that I did not always believe this, but I've, uh … evolved … on the issue.

72 thoughts on “an example of the usefulness of bittorrent for entirely legal purposes”

  1. It’d be nice if you could touch on the fact that “downloading” isn’t the illegal part, and that all RIAA/MPAA cases have been built solely upon the “uploading” fact than downloading. The media is supersaturated with stories proclaiming the illegality of music and movie downloads, while the legal system is loaded with, specifically, cases against uploaders only.
    I find it also a curious case to consider that it is practically impossible to determine whether having a 3.0 ratio means you’ve shared the complete data of the torrent 3x times.. but rather, very well could have shared the first third of the data 9x times — all incomplete copies (which would probably render an ISO unusuable) but merely total up to 3.0 in bytes transferred.. and calling it the “first third” itself is drastically oversimplified, since the torrent is broken up into eensy, random chunks from random sources and assembled like a jigsaw puzzle. If I were to get penalized by being a sharer for something, I’d prefer the penalty be fractionally representative of the specific fraction of the property I supposedly shared.. which begs the question, how much of a fraction of something indicates it was part of the whole? What if the file I distributed was a renamed joke torrent, uploaded by someone as “Grey’s Anatomy s01e01″ but the data itself was actually a Slovak sitcom that I had no idea I was sharing until it had completed? These kinds of issues never seem to make it into RIAA/MPAA cases.

  2. I agree that BT can be used for perfectly legit purposes, but does anyone really doubt that the ratio of pirated copies to legit downloads is about 95/5 in favor of illegal downloads?
    I’m not saying BT’s purpose is for this but in practical use, how many Torrents are really used legitimately?

  3. There is an unfortunate paucity of honesty in perspective on both sides of the argument here. There is no question the torrents can be and are used for legitimate purposes, but the highway/bank-robber analogy is surely flawed unless we imagine that the roads were built for and primarily used for bank-robbery. This doesn’t change the fact that simply to block the protocol would be to throw the baby out with the bath-water, but I believe that glossing over or sidelining such illegitimate use in order to make this argument will only add to the belligerence of the anti-piracy lobbies, every bit as much as their dismissal of the legitimate uses angers their opponents.
    Similarly, there is a tendency to treat the question of whether or not piracy translates directly to lost sales as binary. The RIAA and MPAA would seemingly have it that every single copy of some copyrighted work downloaded illegally has effectively cost them the full asking price, and this is ridiculous. But I’m afraid I simply don’t believe most people who defend piracy by claiming that they would simply go without if illegal copies were not available. I’m quite sure many of them genuinely believe this to be the truth, but in my experience, willpower breaks long before desire. Historically, console games – which are generally harder to pirate than PC versions – have sold at a higher ticket price than their PC equivalents. Why? Because they can. Faced with the option of buying a title or not getting to play it at all, sales seem to remain healthy. Similarly with 3-D movies.
    It’s my opinion that it’s this tendency for each side to bunker down behind black & white arguments, unwilling to budge an inch, that’s preventing this debate from getting anywhere. Until the loudest voices are willing to be honest with themselves and each other, piracy will continue to run riot, and content owners will continue to punish their legitimate customers in a futile attempt to fight it.

  4. Way to go, Wil !
    You were my hero in Star Trek, now you’re my hero in real life.
    Not a very constructive comment, I guess, but I just wanted to say hi from Belgium, Europe.

  5. I agree with you Wil on Bit Torrent. I have used it to download OpenSuSE a number of times and not only is there a speed improvement and giving back to the community but also the error checking that just isn’t there with an FTP download. Hollywood, the record companies, and some software publishers all think we are crooks. Well we are not ALL crooks! I have all legal stuff and proud of it. Now if these companies would just lower the cost of their wares as a reward for me being a good guy and not pirating their stuff (i.e. punish the crooks not the good guys) – Like that is going to happen…
    Great job of Star Trek TNG and likewise on Eureka. You did a great job with offering to play a game with Fargo. It was unexpected for the character but a great and touching job. Eureka is one of those shows that is all around GOOD.

  6. Even when people pirate your work, you can come out ahead–When a friend of mine’s book was pirated and torrented days after its release, I left a comment to a torrent of it letting everyone know that by agreement with his publisher, he was offering it as a “pay what you think it’s worth” download from his site. He reported that sales picked up significantly, as many of those who had initially torrented it ended up buying it, and told him up front that they’d initially torrented the pirated version. In some cases, they voluntarily paid more for the ebook than the hardcover price. Many people, if given the “try before you buy” option, will buy products they would not have otherwise, if offered a fair price. Certainly, some people got, read, and enjoyed his book without paying for it, but he still came out further ahead than he would have otherwise.

  7. Nice! I was reading about you on TF it’s always cool to see that not all famous people buy in to the propaganda.
    I’ve always complained about the same thing. We see research with numbers that look more like something pulled out of a hat.
    Even if they took the numbers from every person downloading “that could not afford to buy a product” There are still plenty of ways they can contribute to it.
    Talking about it is always a good way.
    Do they have a blog? A great question to ask.
    Did they talk about it and link it on a pay site like Amazon?
    If so it would seem if one person that would have never bought it did buy it because of them they just broke even with the system.
    I also point out we all share! It could be simple as sharing a screwdriver.
    If I was denied I would have been forced to go drive to Wal-Mart and buy one.
    I’ve loaned out plenty of tools,dvds,video games, and much more. In doing so I’ve probably prevented a few sales or more likely a few projects from not being started at all.
    I’m normal AKA living week to week sometimes day to day lol. I use to go to the movies A LOT even when it was not in my budget I would find a way to make it be. I loved getting out of the house with some friends to catch a flick. Sadly since the whole “Mega” mess I stopped in fears that I would be supporting people that have no regard for freedom and privacy.
    Anywho awesome job of sticking it to the man especially when you have to work for them lol. There needs to be more people like you!

  8. Needless to say I torrent the hell out of “distros.” In fact, I think I have about 6TB of “distros.” I prefer my “distros” with DTS-MA, and in some cases want them to be “hi10p.”
    Those are the best “distros.”

  9. I’ve occasionally used torrents for legitimate purposes.
    Ultimately the current holywood business model won’t work. Google and Facebook have both managed to make billions without charging a cent. I’m willing to bet that Iorn Man made more from the cheeseburger then from my $15 ticket. That effect is completely independent of how legitimate my copy is. A smart marketer could get paid based on how many copies watched, and then just give the stuff away.
    Now I want a cheeseburger. Curses on the breakfast menu.

  10. If you get the time, do a blog post on what you think of the new Ubuntu. I just switched from 10.04 to 12.04. There were a few hiccups, but everything is running really well. So give it a whirl and post your thoughts.

  11. the cape (of good hope), and I had a fez when i was little, lost it, google imaged it, and came accross mr sweaterz. internet averages 3.06 Mbps (a gross overestimate, methinxmorelike 50 – 120 kbps) vs usa at 12.55 Mbps

  12. Seeding past 1.0 takes bits out of the cloud just like not seeding to 1.0 does. If you’ve uploaded the file three times, that means two other people won’t be able to seed back to 1.0. Higher ratios aren’t inherently better. A ratio of 1.0 is optimal, everything else makes the network function less efficiently.

  13. 1,200kbs is avg but I do feel your pain till I moved to town I was stuck on my trusty dialup with my uber speeds of 1.3-2.6kbs just to put how bad that was into context lol. It took me just over 3 weeks to download warcraft 3 via irc. So after it finished and I configured it to connect to bnetd I learned I did not like wc3 at all.
    Now that I’m in town I bought the best I could get 😛 50mbps “not that much considering the UK will have 300mbs access soon” but I can hit well over the 5,000 kbs on a good download. Sadly my upload speed sucks :( 400-800kbs
    I did end up getting wireless in my area that was pretty decent for me at the time. 500-600kbs but I end up getting throttled badly after a different company bought them out.
    I also bought direct way having no clue about the lag. I was 17 I sat down with some gg download speeds till their FAP “no not that kind of fap lol” kicked in. So I logged onto subspace and looked at my ping that happened to be 1250ms vs the 220-300ms on dialup.
    Oh well thank god them days are behind me 😛

  14. One thing that companies don’t realize is that often people pirate stuff they would never buy so it is not any “lost sales”. Also this way can promote word-of-mouth advertising if people like what they gt and spread it or it can convince them to buy it.

  15. I’ve downloaded stuff from bit-torrent and have gone on to buy a retail copy of the movie or software. I sort of look at it like being able to try something out to see if it is worth the money or not.
    The folks who complain about loosing money are not the creative minds behind the products…. It costs pennies to produce a CD/DVD for retail sale. The actors, writers, and other creative minds are paid pennies. The bloating that is most of the price goes to pay for production company’s executives (paying off their mistresses, getting their daughter’s a boob job, and silencing the sexual harassment suits).
    We have high prices because of pirates. We pirate because of the high prices…. It’s a viscous cycle with no end because of an outdated financial model. Remember when they said that the VCR was going to kill television?
    If something is a quality product I will go and buy it. But when something is $50 a pop and it ends up sucking you’re out the money with no recourse. If a movie is good from a download it makes me want to get the DVD even more check out the special features.
    While I am not trying to defend piracy there may be times when you do it…. Case in point might be an older movie or tv show that you can’t really get on DVD.
    Open Source Software (Libre Office, Ubuntu, et al) doesn’t have to pay out the butt for distribution. It’s one of the best ways to get such software.

  16. And that’s just it…. There will always be pirates (same with shop lifters). If someone gets a hold of a program, book, or any other IP and they like it odds are when it comes time to upgrade they will shell out a few bucks for it. Or am I putting too much morality in the hearts of the general public?
    Nothing is worse than getting a new CPU and going to install an old favorite and finding you no longer have the key for it. That’s happened to me a few times in the past 10 years :(.

  17. I just watched a YouTube of Neil Gaiman giving a commencement speech to an Arts college…and he mentioned the changing landscape of distribution at the end. So cool.
    I also wanted to say that Wil, your blog attracts some of the most articulate people…and the comments are almost as interesting as the original post…as well as intelligent and educational.

  18. I am currently seeding Kubuntu 12.04 (64 bit) not that much difference. I tried to just upgrade using apt-get but X choked on the NVidia drivers after the upgrade.
    If it wasn’t for Bittorrent I wouldn’t have bought nearly as many DVDs and BluRays over the last few years. I used it to catch up on Eureka (and then bought the DVDs) and The Guild. I also have The Big Bang Theory on disk because I was able to sample it from a torrent.
    If it wasn’t for torrents I would never have seen the AD&D episode of Community and I wouldn’t have purchased both seasons ( and the third one as soon as it comes out) on disc. The Walking Dead, and Game of Thrones are also purchased.
    Also a metric buttload of movies.
    But here is a use that was never intended: I needed to go to rehab for alcohol. But that was two days before the season finale to Season 4 of Doctor Who was to air. I almost didn’t go until a friend told me about torrents. So I downloaded it via torrents, watched it with my girlfriend ROT13 Spoiler: naq jr obgu pevrq jura Qbaan unq ure zrzbel renfrq, and then I went into rehab and changed my life.
    I was going to use Doctor Who as an excuse to keep drinking. Bittorrent took away my excuse.
    Now while I may not be a standard case of a bitorrent user, it’s made more money for the MAFIAA from me than if I didn’t have it. Probably by about a thousand dollars.

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