Friday, February 24, 2006

Torrent Sharers: Beware

Macworld posted an article today about the latest string of MPAA lawsuits.

Now the Motion Picture Association of America is targeting BitTorrent search engines. These sites provide users with the location of meta-data files known as Torrents that instruct a client program (such as uTorrent) on where to find data on a peer-to-peer network.

BitTorrent has until now managed to avoid lawsuits, despite its popularity in sharing movies, music, and other copyrighted material. But the MPAA is filing lawsuits against a number of the most popular Torrent search engines, including TorrentSpy, IsoHunt, and others.

The BitTorrent method of filesharing is quite ingenious. Users gather in a "swarm" around a file. A meta-data text file known as a "torrent" instructs members of the swarm on where pieces of the target data file (such as a software program, movie, music, etc) exist. Consequently, people who are downloading the file can simultaneously upload pieces they already have--these people are known as "peers." Swarm members who are uploading the entire data file are known as "seeds." A server known as a "tracker" keeps track of the swarm members.

BitTorrent users can expect to download things much faster than other P2P users, as long as they contribute to the network by keeping their downloaded:uploaded ratio high; otherwise, BitTorrent throttles their download.

It should be noted that BitTorrent, like all P2P networks, has legitimate uses. In fact, BitTorrent is perhaps the most legitimently used network. Many large files or PDF documents are often just hosted as torrents to keep server bandwidth down and file download time lower.

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