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BitTorrent May Prove Too Good to Quash

"There are good and bad uses for this technology," said David Green, the MPAA's vice president for technology and new media. The association is instead focusing on the people who have gone out of their way to help others download movies -- "the people who are bringing together the people who want infringing material," as he put it.

This represents a shift from previous practices, in which the MPAA, the Recording Industry Association of America and other groups have tried to have entire products -- for example, the first Diamond Rio MP3 player or the networked ReplayTV video recorder -- taken off the market.

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One reason for this change of heart may be that in BitTorrent, unlike many other file-sharing programs, legitimate use doesn't amount to a token minority. It's central to this program's existence.

Developers of versions of the Linux operating system were some of the first to jump on BitTorrent as a way to ship out vast amounts of data. A Linux distribution can easily span four CD-ROMs; instead, companies such as Red Hat offer BitTorrent downloads of their work.

Independent musicians can also use BitTorrent to provide free samples. The Web site of the South by Southwest music festival (2005.sxsw.com/
geekout/sxsw4pod/) uses BitTorrent to offer a 2.6-gigabyte compilation of songs by artists playing at this Austin event. (In an unplanned demonstration of how BitTorrent doesn't always function at top speed, that torrent was more of a glacier Tuesday night, with too few users to serve up bits of the file.)

BitTorrent hasn't been the most approachable program ever, but the 4.0 version released Tuesday offers a far cleaner interface: Simple play/pause buttons start and stop downloads, while a slider control regulates your uploading bandwidth.

Rough edges still lurk behind that front end, though. The Windows installer doesn't ask where you want the program parked on your system, and the dialogue box to select a download directory suffers from an awkward, multi-pane perspective of your file system. (A Linux version is also provided, with an earlier version available for Mac OS X.)

Since BitTorrent is open-source, you can also use other programs that incorporate its code to perform the same task -- or entirely different functions. For example, a Mac program with the unlikely name of Goombah (www.goombah.com) uses torrent file-transfers to analyze your iTunes music library, then recommend other songs.

The MPAA may be able to drive BitTorrent movie downloads into what Green called "the dark corners of the Internet," but this program isn't going to go away. It might, however, be just what movie studios and record labels need to market and distribute their own content efficiently on the Web.

Living with technology, or trying to? E-mail Rob Pegoraro at rob@twp.com.


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