THE DIGITAL FLOODGATES

Bit-Torrent

BitTorrent.com became notorious over the years as the place to go to for downloading massive files quickly. It has made it easy to download illegal copies of movies, songs and other programs, though they don’t condone that.

The web site is not only still there, it accounts for 21.6 percent of all Internet downstream traffic, compared to the only slightly higher 22 percent for Netflix. Between the two of them they account for almost half of all Internet bandwidth use.

BitTorrent software is free and now in version 8. When you go to the site, the emphasis is on the fast upload and download of legitimate video files like lectures and demonstrations. What makes it fast is that files are broken into chunks and distributed among several computers and then transmitted to the requesting site and reassembled by the BitTorrent software. Another popular program is UTorrent, from UTorrent.com. Speed is dependent on the number of computers involved; senders are typically called “seeders,” and receivers are known as “leeches.”

There is no question that illegal downloads take place. For instance: We used to go to a Blockbuster video store to rent movies. The place was cavernous, and had so few customers you could have fired a machine gun and not hit a soul.

Bob started chatting with one of the clerks about this lack of traffic and he said they had one customer who came in every week, always on the same day, and rented 10 movies at a time. The really odd thing was he rented them in alphabetical order! He didn’t care what the titles were! For all we knew, he did this in several video stores, and it seems likely.

Now, if you were a reporter with a suspicious turn of mind, and Bob certainly is that, you might speculate that the only reason someone would rent a bunch of movies in alphabetical order was to transmit them to a location where buyers and sellers don’t care about copyrights and copyright protection is difficult to enforce. We consulted someone we know in Thailand about this issue and where he lives “anything goes.”

Several readers have asked us how they can copy a movie, like it’s the most normal activity in the world. We answer that it’s illegal. And yet, it’s done.

The latest software from BitTorrent.com is in a beta version and makes it easy for the user to find legal video from sites like the TED Conference, Khan Academy, Make Magazine and Bamm TV. Use the search box to find other “torrents,” large files that come into your computer like lightning. But be careful what you search for.

Searching for a hit movie like “The King’s Speech” turned up some copies all ready to send, but we canceled the transmission. The downloading of movies and television shows that may have had their copy protection broken is just one of the problems that come with using a “Torrent” type of transmission. The massive amount of information being transmitted may cause your Internet service provider to cancel your account. We have been told this has happened to some people, and it makes sense.

An additional risk is the possibility of viruses and other so-called malware being transmitted to your computer along with the movie or video. Our heavy user contact said he only got a virus once and it was removed by the free AVG Anti-Virus program. A BitTorrent spokesperson said their software includes some protection against malware, but we all think it’s a good idea to have your own anti-virus software installed.

The new BitTorrent software lets you create a “private” channel, where you can upload and share your own high definition movies. Start by clicking on an arrow in the upper right of the screen to create the channel. If it gets confusing, take a look at an instructive video from CNET. We’ve shortened the address to tinyurl.com/howtobit.

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