November 22, 2005 11:53 pm

Hollywood strikes blow against web piracy

The US movie industry won an important symbolic breakthrough in its fight against online piracy on Tuesday as it announced an accord with the creator of a technology that is widely used for copying movies and TV shows illegally over the internet.

However, the deal between the Motion Picture Association of America and Bram Cohen, the software developer behind BitTorrent, will do little directly to block much of the movie piracy that currently takes place online, observers said.

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Allen Weiner, research analyst at Gartner, said “there is nothing you can do to shut off the illegal usage” of all the online networks that have been set up based on BitTorrent’s technology. He added that deals like that announced on Tuesday with Mr Cohen could instead usher in legitimate online networks with the official backing of the movie industry. That could lead to the creation of easy-to-use commercial alternatives to the illegal movie-sharing networks, in much the same way that Apple’s iTunes music service had become a legal alternative to the early “peer to peer” music sites.

Mr Cohen’s freely-available software has become the basis for a web of online networks, known as “trackers”, that help users find movies and TV.

By creating a quicker way to download data-intensive video files, BitTorrent’s technology has become the basis for the first widespread internet distribution of movies and TV shows. According to Mr Cohen, around a third of all the data that passes over the internet is connected with BitTorrent sites. When downloading a movie, the technology draws parts of the file from different sources simultaneously, reducing the bottlenecks that slow other networks.

Under Tuesday’s agreement, the search engine on Mr Cohen’s own website, BitTorrent.com, will remove links to any pirated material. By acting to block piracy, Mr Cohen and his company “are leading the way for other companies by their example”, said Dan Glickman, chairman of the MPAA.

The agreement could also lead to the eventual adoption of BitTorrent’s technology by the movie studios for new, legal services, said Mr Weiner. Mr Cohen, who has spoken out publicly again online piracy, recently raised $8.5bn from a venture capital firm to try to build a legal service based on the technology.

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