I’ve written many articles touching on this subject, but I wanted to look at it with a little more detail as whilst we see a massive surge in Net traffic in regards to file sharing ; as is often the case, has the best tech “won”? Since the vast magority of file-sharing on a p2p network is infringing copyright, it seems relevant that this article covers this topic encompassing all file sharers, lawful or not.
I don’t want this article to be one of debating the rights and wrongs of copyright law, nor if “all data should be free” , I’ve made my stance on copyright infringement very clear and whilst I think there are massive flaws in copyright law (and the means in which its enforced) I cannot condone nor support infringing of copyright. If the law changes, great. If it doesn’t, people shouldn’t intentionally infringe on copyright just because they don’t happen to agree with the law that governs it. This article hopes to look at the tech from both sides of the argument.
Regardless of what you download though, I want to look at if the praise millions give to BitTorrent is actually deserved.
Before the days of the Internet when computers with 48k were deemed sufficient, I was one of a few who were accessing Micronet. Little did I know at the time (when I was downloading lawfully free software onto tape) was that I was taking the first steps into what would be a global phenomena and eventually something which would become so large, even the best of ISP’s could buckle under the demand to feed their end users hunger for data.
Whilst the web has become a multi-media experience and moved on from it’s “Ceefax” looking roots, this article is to focus more on some of the file-sharing technologies and ask the question; Is BitTorrent so great?
In the early days of BitTorrent, trackers were fewer in number and the technology was a rather unknown entity to anyone who didn’t have a computing hobby everything was going along very nicely……
Things changed though, when the average Joe got into the action and went quickly downhill from then on. Law firms such as ACS:Law can cast their proverbial nets out into a swarm, collecting the copyright infringing fish who really don’t have much of a clue as to the implications of their actions – too busy in a gorging frenzy of a media rich diet containing movies, music and games….
Happy times for those that seek to generate revenue from these infringing fish, bad news for everyone else whose connection strains under the weight and whose experience of most trackers is a mass copyright infringing files.
Whats great about BitTorrent?
I would suppose that the one “advantage” of BitTorrent is that there are no costs for “hosting” files or bandwidth, but this is does make you very reliant on there being seeders within the swarm. How often have you entered a swarm, only to have the seeders make an exit and leave everyone else with a partially completed file?
It’s often touted as a way to “speed up your downloads, make them fly!” which to me who has used the tech over a number of years and was one of the “first of the few” when it came to adopting it onto my desktop has never seen evidence of. I still regularly use Linuxtracker, but over all the years of using BitTorrent, Ive yet to see this blisteringly fast speed (or at least speeds which outdo anything that I get from Usenet or even DCC)
We have to also consider that BitTorrent provides a rather simple means (for those who download copyrighted works) for companies such as ACS:Law to make money. Would we have these cases at all if average Jo had stayed away from the tech? and if there is to be a clampdown with legislation on the technology itself, can we not blame the millions who use it download copyright infringing material?
So when taken like this, what is so great about BitTorrent? I think it comes down to simplicity of accessing /finding materials and it happens to be the tech that the mainstream has jumped on, since it is rather simple to understand.
But Private trackers are safe!
No they are not (in respect of private trackers and “warez”) For the most part “private” trackers are simply public trackers which require login and have a ratio. Are people really believing that the same companies who harvest IP’s on public trackers can’t join the private ones? after all, you have. One could even argue that private trackers are more “damning” as it would be simpler to build up a portfolio of evidence on an individual with often less peers in the swarm and more of a community in them. I won’t dwell on this point though, because my argument is that BitTorrent is not such a great tech as some like to promote.
Looking at Usenet/DCC
So now we look at alternatives to BitTorrent. Usenet, the home to many offers far greater speeds than anything I have achieved with the BitTorrent protocol. Recently I downloaded a collection of Amiga demo scene tracks which was approximately 250mb in size. Grabbing the file from Usenet binaries, I saw speeds of approximately 500k per second on my connection. Comparing it like for like on the identical file on a public BitTorrent tracker, I maxed out at around 130k per second – This wasn’t helped by the fact that there were only 2 seeders in the swarm, but even so, it highlights my point of the peer being dependent on the seeder (and other sharing peers) in order for the transfer to be effective. Usenet has no such issues – providing the file hasn’t dropped out of the retention period (and with most providers that’s around a couple of years) then I can guarantee a fast transfer.
Usenet is also different to BitTorrent in that you are not sharing anything. Regardless of if the file infringes copyright or not, you are merely downloading from your Usenet provider. Ever seen a file sharing civil action that involves someone merely downloading? – I wouldn’t think so. ACS:Law et al cannot operate within this environment. There are plenty of .NZB trackers out there (and you can see NZB creeping into some of the more “traditional” BitTorrent indexers) – I would argue with anyone that says Usenet is not as simple as Bittorrent providing you are using the right client.
Luckily, average Jo either hasn’t yet discovered or can’t comprehend Usenet. As I’ve said before in previous articles, I think that will change and the blame will lie squarely on the shoulders of companies like ACS:Law who have been involved with pursuing allegations. If companies had realized ways to work with this emerging technology then they may not have been having such an issue today. If users migrate to Usenet (or even jiffy bag trading), the game is completely over.
I think the level of legal aggression being shown by some who seek to stop (or more importantly) generate revenue from copyright infringing file transfers will force users to look for alternative means to share these files. In the days of the Amiga it was done by post, hooking up with a contact and then sending numerous disks in exchange. Arguably for most people the 2 day delivery of the postal service and the amount of material you can stuff into a jiffy bag, makes the postal service a far more efficient (and speedier) option if people sat down and thought about it. 20 x DVDr or 94.2 gig….2 days to arrive to target. How long would it take you to transfer 94 gigabytes of data via BitTorrent?
So now we turn to IRC and in particular DCC. For many this was the defacto way to get files. People who liked to think they belonged to the “scene” would loiter in the relevant channels waiting for an announce to display a file they wanted. DCC offers a direct connection to the sharer, so there are no swarms and the downloader does not even go through the IRC server they are connected to when they handshake. Whilst in theory this is great, the problem encountered is that once a sharer hit’s their maximum, you will be queued. This could mean a long wait. DCC has been made more “userfriendly” by having “trackers” of sorts which index the channel & user serving material.
Issues of IRC aside, just like Usenet, there is no sharing issue for the downloader, there is no public swarm and except for the person sharing the file, there’s nothing that a law firm could harvest. IRC for “warez” has mainly been left alone, firstly because of it’s relatively small user base and secondly because if anyone is sharing copyrighted material, they are clever enough to hide their identity through a proxy or other means. The same cannot be said for BitTorrent when the average user is sharing the latest movie whilst broadcasting their IP to anyone who enters the swarm.
Regardless if your file sharing need allegedly infringes copyright or not, I don’t believe there is any compelling evidence to show BitTorrent being either the be all and end all or the “best” method. Sure, Usenet will see you probably having to pay a subscription fee to a provider and DCC will probably see you queued for a period of time whilst you await your file, but with the speeds one can expect from Usenet and usually decent speeds achieved with DCC, is BitTorrent so much better or even better at all?
The only advantage that I see is the ability to distribute a file without having to worry about hosting costs and with the way BitTorrent has won the hearts and mind of the average Jo, it would not surprise me if tougher legislation directed at the tech is not in the near future.
Speaking as someone who spends much time following the topic of “piracy” and fascinated with the justifications on both sides to support their views, I can say that my experience over recent times supports my opinions. Over the last year, I’ve seen a rise in .nzb trackers. In newsgroups which traditionally had copyright free or freeware material I am seeing a rise in the infringing material being published and certain newsgroups having tb’s of the latest movies/games/music are being talked about in more mainstream forums.
I’ll let you decide on the best tech, but maybe at least consider my point. BitTorrent is hardly the second coming of file sharing mechanisms. I would like to hear from a person that can argue otherwise. Lets remember how long Usenet has been with us and how many p2p services it’s seen come and go during its life.
Goblin – firstname.lastname@example.org
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