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Piracy Ubuntu Your Rights Online

Wil Wheaton: BitTorrent Isn't Only For Piracy 354

Posted by samzenpus
from the not-just-for-evil-anymore dept.
itwbennett writes "Geek advocate Wil Wheaton has written a blog post on the (legal) usefulness of BitTorrent, saying that the speed of his recent download of Ubuntu 12.04 should serve as a reminder that BitTorrent fills an important niche. Wheaton compares blocking BitTorrent to closing freeways because bank robbers could get away."
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Wil Wheaton: BitTorrent Isn't Only For Piracy

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  • Not quite (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 16, 2012 @06:37PM (#40023129)

    Don't get me wrong, I think the actions of big media are way out of line and it angers me greatly to see the damage being done to law and society in general to protect a dying business model for a few more years..

    That said, the analogy used in the summary isn't quite right. Yes, bittorrent has a lot of great legitimate uses, but we are deluding outselves if we think legal bittorrent usage is the majority of bittorrent traffic, or even a large portion of it. I get that extreme statements like this are necessary to balance out the extreme statements made by the other side (that song you downloaded cost us 500 million, etc..) .. but I still don't like it :(

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 16, 2012 @06:38PM (#40023143)

    I'd imagine that the BitTorrent traffic due to sharing of works without the copyright holder's consent dwarfs the legal traffic. So blocking or throttling BitTorrent is more like controlling access to lock picks and drug paraphernalia (which also have legal uses).

    As a die-hard geek/maker it pains me to have access to tools restricted, but this is hardly an oddity of the digital age.

    It seems like network owners have the right to shape their traffic, and Will has a right to take his business to ISPs that don't do it.

  • by multiben (1916126) on Wednesday May 16, 2012 @06:39PM (#40023153)
    Drawing that sort of parallel actually harms the case for BitTorrent. It is so ridiculously extreme that no-one could take it seriously and it damages credibility. How often does a bank robber drive along a freeway? How often are illegal files downloaded on torrents? Is there really a valid comparrison here? It just gives the other side more ammunition.
  • Downloading Ubuntu (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 16, 2012 @06:40PM (#40023165)

    Can we collectively stop using Ubuntu/Linux downloads as an argument point to extoll the virtues of bittorrent? Lets use an example that people are familiar with. No one outside the tiny geek subculture downloads these things or knows what they are.

    Remember, you're trying to win them over, not preach to the converted.

  • by cheekyjohnson (1873388) on Wednesday May 16, 2012 @06:45PM (#40023215)

    It seems like network owners have the right to shape their traffic

    Unless that right is taken away, that is.

  • by drkstr1 (2072368) on Wednesday May 16, 2012 @06:46PM (#40023229)

    he didn't need bittorrent, all he had to do was go to a mirror site that didn't have bandwidth issues. Bittorrent can be usefull but speed is not one of the things it excels at.

    It depends on the peers in the swarm (local peer discovery), and how well your set up can handle multiple connections. Using automated block lists to prevent people from poisoning the protocol also makes a big difference.

    I rarely get speeds off BT that are less than 3 - 5 times the max I've ever pulled off a single HTTP pipe. It is significantly faster than any other transfer protocol I have used. It can also be turd slow given the right circumstances, but if you can connect to a hundred or so legit peers... whoooooweeeeeeiii it's fast.

  • by demonbug (309515) on Wednesday May 16, 2012 @06:58PM (#40023355) Journal

    Sadly it seems like places that would most benefit from Bittorrent are the least likely to use it. My favorite example was a big document that was fairly recently released publicly, I don't recall what it was on. But there was major press interest, major public interest, and you just knew that the Library of Congress website (or whatever agency it was that was hosting it) was just going to implode under the strain. Impressively the website didn't completely go down, it just sat there serving a 100+ MB pdf at about 100 bytes per second. With all that interest, all those people trying to download the same public document at the same time it would have been perfect for Bittorrent. Sadly I think it is too closely entangled with piracy in the minds of politicians, so it is very unlikely that it will ever be put to such a use.

  • by LordNimon (85072) on Wednesday May 16, 2012 @06:59PM (#40023357)

    Also, what is your suggestion for a proper analogy?

    Banning guns because they're used in so many crimes.

  • Re:Not quite (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 16, 2012 @07:34PM (#40023665)

    Don't get me wrong, I think the actions of big media are way out of line and it angers me greatly to see the damage being done to law and society in general to protect a dying business model for a few more years..

    That said, the analogy used in the summary isn't quite right. Yes, bittorrent has a lot of great legitimate uses, but we are deluding outselves if we think legal bittorrent usage is the majority of bittorrent traffic, or even a large portion of it. I get that extreme statements like this are necessary to balance out the extreme statements made by the other side (that song you downloaded cost us 500 million, etc..) .. but I still don't like it :(

    Exactly exactly exactly. While Wil has the best of geekly intentions, his analogy was sad. If bank robbers drove 19 out of 20 cars on the freeway, you bet your ASS they would be closed, closed in a heartbeat. That's just basic civic management. Come on.

  • Re:Not quite (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 16, 2012 @08:04PM (#40023889)

    Your example leaves out how the show should get revenue if they aren't selling ads in the time-slot. When you download the show it bypasses the ads leaving the show with pissed off advertisers.

    If the show were available for download 'legit' , they could throw a ad or two at the beginning and make $ that way. "Thanks for DLing this episode. Encoding/bandwidth/etc funding provided by: [insert commercial]"

  • Re:Not quite (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cheekyjohnson (1873388) on Wednesday May 16, 2012 @08:07PM (#40023907)

    Some must enjoy collective punishment, then. Those that don't care about freedom, probably.

    I don't care for the analogy, though. File sharing isn't anything like bank robbery. That wasn't the point being made, but it is something to consider.

  • Re:Not quite (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 16, 2012 @08:13PM (#40023963)

    Remember when they said the MP3 format was illegal, and a majority was for illegal copying?
    I do.

  • Re:Not quite (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) on Wednesday May 16, 2012 @08:24PM (#40024029)

    If I can watch, oh I don't know, Seinfeld reruns on TV over the air for free...

    Actually, you're not watching them for free. Your eyeballs earn them money in the form of advertising.

    A better example might be: "If I'm an HBO subscriber and I download the episode of Game of Thrones that I missed..."

    That said, I actually do agree with you, it's just the whole advertising thing is a big speed-bump in your argument.

  • Re:Not quite (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Br00se (211727) on Wednesday May 16, 2012 @09:32PM (#40024393)

    I agree the analogy does not quite fit. He should have compared blocking BitTorrent to closing freeways because people might exceed the posted speed limit.

    Sure a lot of people do it, but we only care about the ones that really abuse it.

  • Re:Not quite (Score:5, Insightful)

    by zill (1690130) on Wednesday May 16, 2012 @09:47PM (#40024459)

    When you download the show it bypasses the ads leaving the show with pissed off advertisers.

    By that logic TiVo is illegal. So is going to the bathroom during ads.

  • Re:Not quite (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Voyager529 (1363959) <voyager529 AT yahoo DOT com> on Wednesday May 16, 2012 @11:23PM (#40024945)

    Streaming != download. Try using Hulu at an airport with free Wi-Fi that the entire terminal is sharing and tell me how well that works out. Try using Netflix on a train where everyone else that train is also streaming Netflix and internet connection is sparse. Let me know how free those ABC.com shows are and you inadvertently go past your monthly data cap and pay $0.10/KByte for the second half of it.

    I'm glad that these services get us halfway there,but Hulu and Netflix inherently require a level of connection that DSL or cable can provide, but mobile internet cannot. I'd be perfectly on board with a method to even pick videos and cache them in a container I can't open myself when I'm somewhere with Wi-Fi. Sadly, even this compromise does not yet exist.

  • Re:Not quite (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tnk1 (899206) on Wednesday May 16, 2012 @11:36PM (#40025009)

    Bittorrent is a protocol for moving data. It's really good at moving files, particularly large ones. This is a good thing.

    The problem is, most files of that size happen to be media files like games or DVD rips or applications, which are particular targets for being distributed illegally.

    Having said that, you can probably take just about anything that is legal and find some way to put it to a use that can abet some sort of illegal or prohibited activity. Possibly illegal use is not really an argument, by itself, for prohibiting something. There would have to be very compelling special circumstances to make that palatable.

    What's more is that, because it is an open-ended protocol and not a specialty tool for "piracy", if you outlaw it or block it, someone will just come up with something that resembles it... and that will then be used for downloading content too. The cat is out of the bag. Trying to stop downloading at that level is simply attacking the utility of the network for users without really addressing the source of the problem. Bulk download protocols are needed, even if their legal use is dwarfed somewhat by their illegal use. Eventually, as data sizes increase in general, more and more legally sourced files will be large enough to need distribution.

  • by corychristison (951993) on Thursday May 17, 2012 @12:02AM (#40025111)

    I am aware this is a discussion of the current legal uses of Bittorrent, I offer an off perspective to the idea of embracing the free P2P distribution channels.

    We need more legal digital distribution avenues. Period.

    The huge media corporations are screaming bloody murder but they refuse to back down on things like DRM and content regions. If they were to embrace the "free bandwidth" that Bittorrent provides they would not be crying about record breaking profits in years.

    What if there were a service for those of us falling through the cracks who _honestly_ want to pay for the things they download "illegally." A service where I could purchase a license to obtain a specific media by any avenue I choose to pursue (aka. Bittorrent, Gnutella network, In the back alley, etc).
    If a company (or media conglomerate) were to open up shop online. Its role would be to sell customers a license to view the content and provide you with a bill of sale (that I would hope would hold up in Court if the situation were to arise), thereby authorizing you to obtain the media via P2P. Overhead for the business would be _very_ minimal, as your customers are also the content distributors and could probably sell licenses at insanely low prices. For example: $5 full CD album, $5-10 full length movie and profit themselves $1-$2.50 after transaction costs, etc. With over 500 Million people in North America, I am sure even capturing less than 1% could make it a worth while business model.

    I would be interested in such a service if it existed. As all other options seems to be out of reach for me. I am sure there are others out there who feel the same.

    I _want_ to pay for the media I download, but it has to be reasonable and not encumbered with DRM. Not everyones situation is the same but my situation is so: No movie rental stores in town (since Blockbuster Canada went under, as well Rogers Video closed many of its locations). Purchasing a movie is usually fruitless endeavour as you are still bombarded with ads you can't skip and lets face it, optical media is going the way of the do do bird. Living in Canada, I don't have access to Hulu and Netflix is very limited (I also don't have the right hardware or software configuration to use it, but that's just me). Amazon Instant Video doesn't exist in Canada.

    Regarding the business model and potential profits... 528,000,000 million people in North America. Lets say 0.05% (around 264,000 people) of that market were to participate in such a service. If those 264,000 people are willing to spend $15-$20/month on media (like I am), they could potentially gross $3,960,000+ to $5,280,000+ per month. In perspective it is not a lot of money considering how much media companies make, but why not at least attempt to collect my money? Instead of calling me a pirate, embrace the free distribution channel of P2P.

    The ability to to "buy a license, download wherever" at very reasonable cost (remember distribution cost is literally nothing, the "pirates" are doing the work for you) in lieu of living in fear of being sued into oblivion I really think such a system could flourish.

    Any thoughts by the more enlightened? I am not a lawyer, just a man who is frustrated with his current options to consume media.

  • Re:Not quite (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) on Thursday May 17, 2012 @12:23AM (#40025199)

    I remove the ads from it automagically before watching. Still illegal?

    No, but it's worth mentioning that I never said that it was.

    Is it any less moral than downloading a copy via bit torrent or Usenet with the ads already removed?

    I don't know. But I'll put this in another perspective: If your favorite ad-supported website goes off-line, would you feel bad if you had Ad-Block on?

    It's a balance. On the one hand, these content providers need to respond to supply and demand. On the other hand, there's no free lunch. They need to be reasonable and you still need to pay. To me the word 'moral' has nothing to do with this conversation.

  • block /protocol/ ! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by smash (1351) on Thursday May 17, 2012 @01:00AM (#40025313) Homepage Journal
    Email, IRC, HTTP, HTTPS, NNTP and DNS all need to be banned, as they can be used to distribute illegal content!
  • by master_p (608214) on Thursday May 17, 2012 @04:25AM (#40025837)

    The amount of illegal traffic does not change the nature of the medium: bittorrent is there to share data. That does not make it illegal, and even if 99% of the transferred data are illegally transferred, it still does not make bittorrent illegal.

    A human can easily learn the notes of a song. The person can then be used to 'transfer' the notes to another destination. Is the human's abilitity to transfer information illegal? it is not.

    Your computer's motherboard is also a network of electrical signals, where pirated material flows through. Does that make electronics illegal?

    Saying that a transfer medium or protocol is illegal because the data moved through it are illegal is extremely stupid, and that is what Wheaton is saying.

  • Re:Not quite (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 17, 2012 @04:56AM (#40025957)
    mmmmmmmmmm.....forbidden donut.....
  • Re:Not quite (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TheRaven64 (641858) on Thursday May 17, 2012 @05:25AM (#40026057) Journal
    The issue with most of these studies is selection bias. I have seen several things attempting to analyse the percentage piracy in BitTorrent, and they all work by examining the traffic on a particular tracker. To give an HTTP analogy, this would be like analysing all of the traffic on a warez site and concluding that all of the traffic sent over HTTP was piracy, or examining all of the traffic from news.bbc.co.uk and concluding that it was all non-infringing. Most legitimate bittorrent traffic comes from people running their own tracker to distribute their stuff, and finding all of these is difficult.
  • Re:Not quite (Score:4, Insightful)

    by root_42 (103434) on Thursday May 17, 2012 @05:37AM (#40026091) Homepage

    And the Web is 90% porn (ok, maybe exaggerated) and Email traffic is 30-90% Spam (http://www.mailarmory.com/resources/stats/). But still we use both. Maybe 90% of torrents are currently illegal, but it does not mean that the service should be blocked or banned. Otherwise I would say: Bye bye to Email and Web as well. (At least Porn and illegal torrents serve a certain purpose, Spam on the other hand...)

  • Re:Not quite (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MBGMorden (803437) on Thursday May 17, 2012 @08:25AM (#40027057)

    That - or rather, the difficulty in "going legit" - is the real issue here.

    People tend to take the path of least resistance. In the past, I've bought some TV shows off of iTunes. Also bought a few on Xbox 360 Marketplace, and a few off of Amazon's service.

    You know what? The iTunes ones don't really work anymore as I decided I no longer wanted to use iTunes. The Amazon ones don't work either after I switched away from Windows. The Xbox360 purchases technically still work, but only on the Xbox which sits in my bedroom, when almost all my TV watching is done in the living room.

    The bottom line is that PURCHASED media is limited, crippled, and aggravating crap.

    Compare to the piracy route: go to Bittorrent, search. Click on the little magnet. Wait for a bit, and a regular media file shows up. Whatever quality I want. I can copy it to my Android tablet. I can stream it over to my AppleTV running XBMC. I can play it on any of my computers in the house. It just works.

    Essentially, but people who actually PAY get an inferior product.

    Compare to music now: I buy virtually ALL of my music, because music is generally not copy protected anymore, and the legit sources are easy to use and priced right.

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