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August 16, 2011 / gavinlaw

Bit-Torrent and Open Networks, Powered by the Community

by Tony Guo

TorrentFreak claims that around 200,000 BitTorrent users are in some stage of lawsuit for illegal downloading. Most infringers are expected to settle for around 2,500 dollars and not risk the 100,000-200,000 dollars fine.

From the TorrentFreak statistics it appears users downloading music are much more likely to be caught than users downloading movies or television episodes. There are a few explanations for this. Music is easier to download (fewer megabytes) and is downloaded more frequently than other forms of entertainment.

Supporters of BitTorrent labeled-infringers claim the person downloading the illegal file is often not the person being taken to court. The most common way this occurs is over an open network. A neighbor or complete stranger logs into an open network without a password and begins downloading. The internet address is traced back to the person paying for the internet service. At this stage the rights’ holder sends a letter to the corresponding address.

While it is unfair to hold innocent users accountable, if the burden of proof shifts to the rights’ holder, the rights’ holder faces the impossible task of proving exactly who downloaded what.

Open networks are the most common defense for labeled-infringers who choose not to settle. They present a difficult issue of proof and have strong community implications.

If everyone used open networks in good faith, then open networks are a great idea to increase community productivity. But in this scenario even one infringer can ruin it for everyone.

The future of Bit-Torrent is connected with the future of open networks. If open networks become popular than the defense “someone was downloading over my internet connection” is stronger. On the other hand, in the extreme case that there are no open networks (or that a reasonable person would not install an open network), the defense becomes obsolete.

Bit-Torrent’s heydays are over; however its popularity may depend on the popularity of open networks. Without open networks, the childlike excuse “I didn’t do it, someone else must have done it but I do not know who” loses validity.

The other option for Bit-Torrent is to evolve into something else. Rights’ owners have largely been turned off by the idea of using Bit-Torrent as a means of reaching an audience. The idea has been explored and rejected numerous times.

The future of Bit-Torrent is linked to the future of open networks and both are dependent on the behavior of individual members of the community.

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