Sunday, December 2, 2007

"Everything You Wanted to Know About BitTorrent but Were Afraid to Ask"

from techworldnews.com - By Andrew D. Smith Dallas Morning News

BitTorrent is a file-sharing protocol that can be used to find, download and enjoy just about any song, movie, TV show or software program under the sun, and all for free. Using BitTorrent is getting easier thanks to more clients and search sites popping up all the time. How ethical it is depends on what you're downloading, and it's a question everyone has to answer for themselves.

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As the ongoing writers' strike starts sending many television shows into repeats, entertainment-starved people should walk over to their computers and take a look at BitTorrent.

Yes, the name sounds technical. Frankly, BitTorrent was pretty technical when it debuted a few years back.

However, BitTorrent enthusiasts have since created a very simple system for file-sharing, one that connects you to nearly any movie, television show, song, photograph or video game you can imagine.

If it can be stored on a computer, you can find it, download it and enjoy it.

The Whole 'Stealing' Thing

The only real difficulties associated with BitTorrent are moral and legal. Much of the best free content defies copyright law, but that's changing, too.

BitTorrent users can now find far more legal content than they could a couple years ago, and the offerings expand daily.

"BitTorrent transfers, by some estimates, already account for more than half of all the traffic on the Internet, and total traffic is growing steadily," said Eric Klinker, chief technology officer at BitTorrent.

"I think that's a pretty strong testament to the power and usefulness of this technology," he said.

Seeding the Net

Imagine that several thousand people want to download a movie over the Internet at roughly the same time.

A huge movie company would probably own enough computers and bandwidth to serve them all, but an average Joe with a laptop computer and a cable modem would be overwhelmed.

It would take weeks or months to fulfill all those requests -- assuming they didn't just keep crashing his computer.

However, if the first person to download the movie could send along small pieces of the movie as soon as they arrived, the movie would spread quickly without overloading any one person's computer.

Plus, once a fair number of "seeders" started offering the movie, it would forever be easily available.

This second example describes, in highly simplified terms, how BitTorrent uses peer-to-peer networks to make enormous amounts of content available to anyone.

The people who get content through BitTorrent are also the people who supply the content.

Getting Started

To start using BitTorrent, viewers need to download small programs called "BitTorrent clients."

Dozens of these free programs exist for every operating system. Reviewers generally praise uTorrent for Windows, Transmissions for Mac and KTorrent for Linux-based computers.

After downloading a client, open your Web browser and surf to one of the many sites that track BitTorrent content.

In addition to BitTorrent.com, other good sites with strictly legal content include Azureus.com, and Vudu.com.

The biggest sites with a mix of content, none of it labeled to tell you what's legal, include btjunkie, isoHunt, MiniNova and the Pirate Bay.

You can also search for the name of a particular program or song by typing the title and the word torrent into one of the major search engines.

After using the search boxes to find something interesting, click on the download link. If a pop-up box asks, tell it to open the file by using the BitTorrent client you downloaded earlier.

The downloading process should begin immediately. If a tiny file appears on your desktop but no lengthy download ensues, try dragging the small file's icon onto the icon of your BitTorrent client.

Transfer speeds vary with the number of seeders, who are sending the file out, and "leechers," who are downloading the file. The more seeders and the lower the ratio of leechers to seeders, the faster the file arrives.

The torrent tracking sites mentioned above help users maximize download speeds by gauging the "health" of various torrents and listing the number of seeders and leechers.

Pay close attention to these ratings. A healthy torrent can transmit an entire movie in a few hours; a sickly one takes days to transfer all the information.

What You Do When Nobody's Looking

As users begin exploring the possibilities of BitTorrent, they quickly realize that the only limitations are those they put on themselves.

Want to see a movie that's still in theaters? No problem. Want to watch every episode of "The Sopranos?" It's there.

Such files generally fall short of DVD quality, but they're generally good and sometimes perfect.

Yes, there's a possibility of jail or fines, but prosecutions have been rare.

The big constraint on your behavior is your ethics.

The real problem, for many folks who are neither entertainment professionals nor anti-copyright activists, lies in deciding where they stand on the ethics.

The entertainment professionals say unauthorized file-sharing is morally indistinguishable from stealing DVDs from the video store.

"The worldwide motion picture industry loses an estimated (US)$18 billion annually as a result of piracy -- over $7 billion of which is attributed to Internet piracy," said John Malcolm, director of worldwide antipiracy operations for the Motion Picture Association of America.

"The film industry generated more than 1.3 million American jobs, over $30 billion in wages to American workers, and $10 billion in state and federal taxes.

"Motion picture piracy triggers a harmful domino effect that results in lost jobs and wages for American workers both inside and outside the industry -- and lost tax revenue for all levels of government."

Moral Debates

Still, entertainment executives struggle to explain the moral differences between BitTorrent and the sort of behavior that nearly everyone supports.

If people should go to jail or pay fines for downloading commercial-free television programs, shouldn't we punish people who skip commercials with DVRs?

If it's theft to download the content of a CD or a book, why is it OK to get that same stuff free at a public library?

Committed pirates, the folks who see file-sharing as civil disobedience against an unjust patent system, use language that's every bit as moralistic and sweeping as that used by the entertainment industry.

They argue that people in a free society completely own whatever they buy and that sellers have no right to put restrictions on how people use their property.

A movie studio, by this logic, has no more right to stop you from hurting its sales by copying your DVDs than a car company has to stop you from hurting its sales by giving people rides in your car.

However, the committed pirates struggle to answer questions, too, like how entertainers can support themselves without laws that forbid file-sharing.

Supply and Demand

Another group of torrent fans argues that people will pay -- if content producers offer what people want at a reasonable price.

"The rise in illegal downloading is a signal that customers want something that is not available through other channels. It's more about availability than the fact that it's free," said the founder of the blog TorrentFreak, a man who goes only by the name Ernesto and says that excessive prices also contribute to piracy.

"The Internet and file-sharing technologies make it possible to make [disc manufacturing] and distribution costs disappear, still the prices don't change."

© 2007 McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. All rights reserved.
© 2007 ECT News Network. All rights reserved.


1 comment:

Spyder said...

Tried it once ages ago and it seemed a bit non-user friendly and disauded me. The fad/appeal of file-sharing/P2P really ended for me when Napster (it's orginal incarnation), followed by the even better Audiogalaxy, which was not only P2P, but the precursor for today's popular social networking sites.

Will consider trying the BitTorrent again when I need something.

Thanks for resourceful post.