June 25, 2018

MPAA Sues BitTorrent Trackers

The MPAA has announced lawsuits against the operators of P2P index servers, such as BitTorrent trackers, according to a Wired News story by Xeni Jardin.

A BitTorrent tracker keeps track of who is downloading and/or uploading a particular file, and makes this information available to others who want to find the file. The suits will presumably allege that the person running the tracker knew that the people downloading the file were infringing, and knew that the tracker was facilitating those illegal downloads, and yet the person ran the tracker anyway.

Previously, copyright owners had considered suing the operators of Kazaa supernodes, which also provide index information. As I wrote previously, suing supernode operators would have been a bad idea, because ordinary user machines silently volunteer to be supernodes, often without their owner’s knowledge. It’s one thing to sue somebody for setting up an index for a given file; it’s another thing entirely to sue somebody who didn’t even know that his machine was providing index information.

The good news is that we seem to be avoiding the worst-case scenario, which is a blanket lawsuit trying to shut down BitTorrent entirely. Such a suit would be unwarranted, as there is nothing about BitTorrent’s design that seems aimed to facilitate infringement. BitTorrent is designed to allow efficient distribution of large files. If that by itself were enough to get somebody sued, then things would be pretty bad.

Of course, it’s hard to see how one could sue BitTorrent. How do you sue a communications protocol? You can sue the person who designed the protocol, but the protocol itself can’t be undesigned. Nor can the technical community unlearn the lessons it has learned.

Comments

  1. John Anderson says:

    I note that the MPAA (and RIAA) arguments have not changed since BetaMax except that newer technology is both cheaper and more widespread.

    Yes I am against making the latest Britney freely available. But I admit I have been downloading stuff like MP3’s of Paul Whiteman from the Thirties, and videos like Muppet Show with SeƱor Wences, and the 1932 RKO movie “Penguin Pool Murder”. As Jack V said during BetaMax, I may think it illegal but I do it and do not want to lose it.

    Not that I do not buy stuff: Just this month I bought all four “Belles of St. Trinians” movies – not easy as most are the video equivalent of out-of-print. Recent purchases include the entire Dianna Rigg “Avengers” episode list, Henry Mancini conducting The Boston Pops in Souza compositions, and all six seasons of “Xena”. And a friend has asked me to try to find a copy of a training video from the Los Angeles Coroner (Noguchi?) about how to perform an autopsy. Not exactly the type of music or video on the shelves at K-Mart…

  2. A BitTorrent tracker serves as the nerve center of the nodes downloading a particular torrent. It’s not actually serving any of the allegedly infringing data itself, but it’s clearly facilitating others who do so. If you’re looking for someplace to point your lawyers, the tracker is one obvious place to look. The other obvious place would be the “seeds”, which are essentially normal nodes that promise to serve up data to anybody, much like a web server.

    As we all know, a web server by itself is perfectly legal but the content you put on it may or may not cause you problems. By analogy, a BitTorrent tracker and seed node(s) could still be seen as the “publisher” of the data, much like a web server. The only difference is that BitTorrent lets nodes help each other to get the published data much faster than you could have gotten it from the central server.

    I haven’t looked any closer at the lawsuits, so I certainly can’t say that everything they’re doing is kosher, but from a 1000-foot distance, this seems like the correct approach to stopping piracy without attacking BitTorrent itself.

  3. Perhaps it would be fruitful to call for a user-wide ban on illegally copied content being downloaded with BitTorrent. If one wishes to avoid attack, one should not provoke. I want very much to download so many CDs I don’t have money for, or movies I want to see and can’t find anywhere. I could, and I’d enjoy it, but I won’t. Principle is important.

  4. I’ve been looking for a solution to the problem of a moving tracker in a fully distributed BitTorrent implementation for some time now and something in this post made a solution click in my brain. Thank you!

  5. If anyone that knows much about programming, could you tell me if this is possible.

    Develop a P2P Virus that goes through a persons computer and offers up all of their media. At the same time, it will download onto your computer media from other peoples computers. All completely out of the users control. This would circumvent the possibility of lawsuits as the process itself would be unavoidable by users, and completely unintentional.

    Over this add the ability to search for specific files which would be downloaded the same way as the unwanted media, making any peering eyes unable to verify if the file was downloaded intentionaly or not.

  6. BitTorret and the MPAA

    Ed Felten at Freedom to
    Tinker has a couple of interesting
    articles and links
    regarding BitTorrent
    and the MPAA’s recent lawsuits.

  7. It looks like the MPAA is more interested in shutting down BitTorrent index sites like suprnova.org. This is much more akin to going after P2P services with central indexes (like the old Napster and Kazaa) rather than attacking the protocol itself.

    Search is the weak point of BitTorrent. Unlike most other P2P protocols, BitTorrent does not provide a way to search or find particular content; you have to know the tracker a priori to download a file (usually embedded in a .torrent file found somewhere on the web). This makes it more difficult to take down the system via legal action, but it also means there is no good default method of finding content.

    Sites like suprnova sprang up to bridge this gap; they are a searchable “meta-index” of content offered by various trackers. Without these sites wide-scale piracy via BitTorrent would be impossible. I believe shutting them down will have a tangible effect.

    Of course, there are lots of ways to keep “rogue” websites going, e.g. hosting in a foreign nation or shifting hosts frequently. But this does make the process of piracy more difficult.

    (sadly though suprnova.org and sites like it provided far more than just pirated movies. e.g. it was an important source of anime shows not otherwise available in the US)

  8. A big thing that would help curb the download of warez would be to go back to where companys would make demos of programs free for trials and an actual return policy-98% of software and games have none, and at $50+ per title it’s a bit pricey for trial and error.

    As for films, if Hollywood would kindly stop trying to make a billion dollars a month with a deluge of inferior films to fill multi-plexes(remember the good days, a single screen theatre made for comfort and a nice evening out). I refuse to go to theatres anymore after my last visit to a “national” chain theatre, 10 minutes of commercials, not trailers of upcoming films but of pepsi, cars, and other junk you see on t.v., I didn’t pay $10 to watch advertisements.

    Music tends to have the same problems as film, an overabundance of product without enough customers. When you can go to your local store and select 10 songs no matter the artist and the cd will be created at that time for $10, I will be buying cd’s but at the moment to pay $15 for a cd from someone who has one song that is good, I will not buy

  9. And what, precisely, does this comment about war have to do with evil DRM, DVD price fixing, and so on?

    Please keep comments on topic.