Unlike the music industry, which sat slack-jawed while a massive consumer free-for-all led by Napster forced a reinvention of its business fundamentals, the television and movie industries are kicking ass and taking names.
You can tell by the message the Motion Picture Association of America posted on LokiTorrent.com after gaining control of it in a lawsuit settlement two weeks ago: "You can click, but you can't hide."
LokiTorrent.com used to be a popular BitTorrent hub where file-traders seeking software, music, movies, television shows and other content could find, share and exchange "torrent" links. According to a recent for-sale ad posted to Sedo.com (a website and domain name marketplace), the site had 680,000 registered active members. The full list, including inactive members, probably has around 2 million names on it.
As part of his settlement with the MPAA, LokiTorrent.com owner Edward Webber agreed to provide the MPAA with copies of all logs and server data related to his "illegal BitTorrent activities, which will provide a roadmap to others who have used LokiTorrent to engage in illegal activities," the MPAA said in a statement.
If you were a registered user, expect some unfriendly e-mail from the MPAA sometime soon. Whether it will be anything more than that remains to be seen. While the MPAA has been militant in shutting down BitTorrent server operators - it cooperated with Interpol and Finnish police on a raid of a popular Finnish site - it has yet to target individual users.
So what's the big deal with BitTorrent?
BitTorrent ( www.bitconjurer.org/BitTorrent/) was created by late-20s computer programmer Bram Cohen when he thought he could build a better file-swapping system. He was right about that, but the effects of what he's built are only starting to become known.
Unlike Napster, which allowed users to share entire files, BitTorrent breaks a file into fragments that get distributed individually, not necessarily in order, and then reassembled on a downloader's computer.
This system has proven particularly proficient in trading large files such as high-quality videos (i.e., copied DVDs or recorded television shows) and software source code (i.e. Linux distributions).
In traditional downloading, high consumer demand leads to bandwidth bottlenecks on host servers. With BitTorrent, high demand can actually speed through-put, as more bandwidth and fragments of the completed file become available.
My friend Susan doesn't care what the macroscopic global implications of this new technology may be. Her only thought is of how absolutely cool it is that she can get episodes of Desperate Housewives and Arrested Development online whenever she misses them. And she laughed when I invited her to see the movie Sideways with me a few weeks ago. She'd already seen it via a torrent.
Every day, within hours of their broadcast, TV shows are made available as torrents. Sometimes this occurs after their East Coast broadcast and before they air on the West Coast. There are HD and RD versions, and they're easy to find. So easy, in fact, that audiences in the UK and Australia, who normally receive North American shows months after they're broadcast here, are in the habit of getting them online.
Many shows posted as torrents are recorded without commercials, and when the ads are left in, they wind up showing in front of the wrong demographic.
Why would someone advertising a national Canadian brand on CTV care about having the commercial seen in Sydney, Australia?
When the show is finally aired in Sydney, viewership will be down because many Aussies will already have seen it. With smaller audiences, the networks have lower ratings and are forced to lower their advertising rates, which leaves them less money to invest in original programming, which reduces the quality of the content, which in turn further reduces demand, thus shrinking audience size.
The MPAA is scared to death of BitTorrents. It successfully lobbied the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to order all new consumer electronics equipment capable of receiving over-the-air digital signals - from digital televisions to computers equipped with TV tuner cards - to include technology that recognizes a broadcast flag, essentially a DRM (digital rights management) system for television signals. Expect to hear lots of howling about this from south of the border, as the tentative start date for this is July 1.
The MPAA has posted a pointed message to LokiTorrent.com: "Stealing movies leaves a trail. The only way not to get caught is to stop."
BitTorrent was never designed to provide anonymity to its users. It will leave a trail. If you want to walk with a lighter footprint, check out the Free Network Project ( http://freenet. sourceforge.net ).