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Legal Torrents and the BitTorrent Downloader
July 10, 2008
Thomas Mennecke
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BitTorrent websites of all shapes and sizes have found their way into households around the world. There never seems to be any short supply of trackers and indexers, and with networks distributed globally, their longevity appears to be ensured. Three years after the raids on The Pirate Bay, their network is still intact, with over 10 million users sharing information at any given moment. But that’s only one segment of the BitTorrent community. With Creative Commons work becoming more prominent thanks to the distribution potential of the BitTorrent protocol, “legal” trackers are beginning to make their mark on the file-sharing community.

The legal issue surrounding BitTorrent indexing, or any type of indexing, remains a contentious and unresolved issue. Is The Pirate Bay guilty of copyright infringement? Were LokiTorrents or EliteTorrents found guilty of linking to copyrighted material? The administrator of LokiTorrents settled out of court, as did 2 of the 3 administrators of EliteTorrents. The Department of Justice and the MPAA scored a legal victory over one EliteTorrent administrator, who was found guilty of criminal copyright infringement last month. But he was only found guilty of uploading Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith – not linking to copyrighted material.

Casting aside the issue of copyright infringement, the BitTorrent community also benefits from the large collection of Creative Commons work. Creative Commons licenses maintain the artist’s rights, however, they are much more user-friendly towards the consumer. Releasing work under Creative Commons allows end users to download and freely distribute the material, however artists may specify that distributing their work for profit isn’t permitted. This policy is an agreement that most file-sharers are happy to accommodate.

Artists releasing content with Creative Commons licenses have many avenues to distribute their work., as its name implies, only tracks work released under Creative Commons, or otherwise has the permission of the artist. LegalTorrents may not be a new site, as it was launched in 2003, however, their re-launch is a complete overhaul from the ground up. Now resembling a bona fide tracker/indexer, LegalTorrents has redesigned their site to combine social networking and BitTorrent in an effort to expose a new audience to the Creative Commons scene.

“The purpose for rebuilding it was to add social features to bring together a community of people interested in finding and sharing open content, and enabling Content Creators to accept Sponsorship, in other words payment, from our membership and site visitors,” Jonathan Dugan of LegalTorrents told Part of that social integration is the development of a Facebook Bittorrent application, allowing end users to share and index torrents. Most importantly, it shares Creative Commons material among friends in one of the largest social networking sites online.

“LegalTorrents was the first site to combine RSS feeds with Bittorrent. We continued that trend when we rebuilt the site, offering user-customizable feeds to follow specific Content Creators so one can be notified by RSS or email when those creators release new content. We also recently had another first: we launched a Facebook app – the first Bittorrent index application on Facebook.”

Anticipating a growing interest in legal BitTorrent sharing, LegalTorrents has invested considerably in their network infrastructure. Jonathan told us what separates LegalTorrents from most other sites is that he and the large number of volunteers upload and seed the site’s content, assuring quick download speeds and rapid distribution. Jonathan explained to Slyck the hardware and software LegalTorrents operates, and the work necessary to accommodate a growing audience.

“We’re using Ruby on Rails with Mongrels, Nginx, Ultrasphinx, Memcached, and also a little Java, Python, and rtorrent. We’ve done a ton of work designing and planning the system for long-term scalability. So far we’ve withstood a Slashdotting without slowing down.”

“In terms of hardware, we are using Joyent Accelerators and we’ve had great success working with them. We run almost everything on Solaris, which we feel is superior to Linux in terms of resource management and scalability under heavy load. As each computer we’re using is a cloud machine, we don’t have to worry about the details of the CPU, etc: it is just managed utility computing. For development we use Macs, several different Linux flavors, and one Windows machine.”

“In terms of scaling we’re building out the infrastructure in modular pieces so that we can scale the two front ends - the main LegalTorrents site and our Facebook app - and the database separately. We’ve also separated the content upload and management system into a separate application, running on separate hardware. This way the content and the Bittorrent seeds can be scaled separately.

The growing curiosity surrounding Creative Commons or copylefted work isn’t contained to just music and movies, as the open source software movement continues to gain tremendous momentum. BitTorrent itself is free and open source, and remains a testament to the potential this genre has. Other big software titles, such as Open Office and Ubuntu, are also becoming increasingly mainstream, thanks to computer manufacturers such as Acer keeping costs low by using open and free software. It hasn’t helped the entertainment industry’s effort to dissuade file sharing by imposing monetary demands on their customers, or by imposing encumbering DRM (Digital Rights Management) on their products. Most individuals are willing to fairly compensate artists, contrary to the media hype, and LegalTorrents give the end user the tools they need to contribute to the artists they like.

“Demand for Creative Commons works is growing dramatically, both among the general public and from Content Creators. There is a general awareness seeping into the public about what has happened to copyright law over the last century, and why. Many people realize those changes are not really in their interest. Once people figure that out, Creative Commons licenses start to make a lot of sense.”

“In addition, empowerment from increased connectivity and communication: those factors driving what many call “Web-2.0” coupled with increased availability of high quality consumer electronics make it possible for more people and smaller groups than ever before to produce professional quality media. There has also been unprecedented success in the black markets that redistribute copyrighted works, in response to the draconian legal maneuvers by large businesses that own significant amounts of copyrighted material. This success in the black market has helped create the legitimate market for file sharing that we’re building.”

Now in public Beta, LegalTorrents is gaining attention and so is the philosophy they represent. Although LegalTorrents is not the only or the first legal BitTorrent site, the growth of this scene should be a sign of encouragement to the file-sharing faithful. What it means to the established entertainment industry may be something entirely different.

This story is filed in these Slyck News categories
BitTorrent :: Trackers/Indexers

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