Wednesday, June 08, 2005

bittorrent and the wacky

So a common way of sharing files online (such as current movies, music, hacked software, etc) is bittorrent. Bittorrent works like this: users who want a particular file (say the new Star Wars) find and download a small file called a torrent. A special program on the downloader's computer (called a client) then uses this file to find other computers on the intarweb which have the file or want the file.

The bittorrent programs figure out who has which portions of the files and then coordinate the distribution of the files. If computer A has, say, the first 50 megs of the movie, that computer will send those 50 megs to computer B, which has, say, the middle 50 megs of the movie. Computer B simultaneously sends those middle 50 megs back to computer A.

Take this small example and multiply it by many dozens of computers and you have a way of distributing large files to many people without creating bottlenecks around any one computer. If only one person has, for example, a 4 gigabyte copy of Revenge of the Sith, and 3000 people want that same file, the computer only needs to send (or "seed" in the parlance of bittorrent) one copy of that file to the collective of 3000 (called a "swarm"). The swarm will then make sure that the copy gets distributed amongst all the happy Star Wars fans.

One of the advantages to this system is that there is no central server which has the files, just lots of ad hoc networks. Unlike Napster, the RIAA or MPAA can't just shut one system down and kill the whole swapping enterprise, they have to go after individuals with the file. Bittorrent is spoken of as being decentralized, and it is one of its strengths.

There are, however, elements of bittorrent that are centralized. There are single systems called "trackers" which act as traffic cops between the various computers. There are also sites which index torrent files. Examples of these sites include,, (exclusively porn torrents), and A user visits these sites, searches for and downloads the desired torrent file which in turn allows the user to download the movie, game, cd, etc from the swarm. These index sites have turned out to be attractive targets for the MPAA, who have managed to kill several index site, including the first site to provide a torrent for Revenge of the Sith.

It's important to note that none of these sites provide any bootlegged or pirated content (an aside - pirates were violent folk who stole things from other people, so that those people lost the thing which was stolen. Nobody steals anything when they take part in this type of file sharing - Revenge of the Sith is still out there in movie theaters despite the thousands of copies floating around the net. Thievery, stealing, piracy - all terms which are incorrectly applied to file sharing. And as for violence, well, I can violently devour a plate of cheese fries, and I think I'm pretty much par for the pasty-faced course). These sites merely provide a file which will allow a computer to find other computers with the file. In America, where legislation is written by the big companies who despise file sharing, this is a legally unimportant distinction. In other countries, however, this is not the case. Countries like, say, Sweden. is located in Sweden. They index all sorts of torrents. You can find Revenge of the Sith, Madagascar, Faster Pussycat Kill Kill, and Kingdom of Heaven there, and they've just updated their front page to reflect the release of Grand Theft Auto San Andreas for the PC, the torrent for which you can now download from thepiratebay. The guys who run the site are cheeky monkeys. They receive many legal threats, to which they respond flippantly and with more than infrequent suggestions for the corresponding lawyers to engage in auto-sodomy with a "retractable baton".

They also post much of their correspondence on the following page:

It's fun reading, but I'd like to single out the correspondence between pirate bay and a group calling itself Web Sheriff which tried to get pirate bay to remove some White Stripes torrents. Web Sheriff threatened to sue pirate bay in American court. The pirate bay replied that they were so afraid of this possibility that they crapped their pants. The pirate bay then promptly sent a mock invoice for the cleaning costs associated with the dirty drawers.

Of interest to the law faction is that, in the middle of the shenanigans, in the email on the pages at

, the wacky funsters at pirate bay cite asahi metal to support their claim that they have no minimum contacts with the US and therefore US courts lack jurisdiction. They also cite Swedish copyright law, but we don't study that.

Nonetheless, fun reading is to be had on that page.

1 comment:

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