Hollywood's efforts to combat the illegal online distribution of protected video content got a shot in the arm with this week's decision by file-sharing software provider BitTorrent to cooperate on antipiracy efforts.
The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) said BitTorrent has agreed to remove certain links in its popular search engine. These links point users to copies of pirated content owned by MPAA companies.
The pact represents not only a victory for the film industry, which is determined to protect its property, but also one of the first major steps toward collaborating with technology providers on fighting film piracy.
Sending a Message
"This is an important agreement given the number of people using BitTorrent technology to illegally swap movies online," said MPAA spokesperson Gayle Osterberg. "It sends a message to a broad audience that [BitTorrent supports] our position on piracy."
BitTorrent founder and CEO Bram Cohen created the organization's open-source protocol for making large content files available on the Web. That technology has been widely adopted by other file-sharing groups to distribute movies and television shows.
"BitTorrent is an extremely efficient publishing tool and search engine that allows creators and rights holders to make their content available on the Internet securely," said Cohen in a statement. "BitTorrent discourages the use of its technology for distributing films without a license to do so."
Billions at Stake
The MPAA's aggressive approach to piracy has included lawsuits filed against several Web sites and services that use the BitTorrent protocol for illegally distributing movies, Osterberg said. In response, 90 of the sites sued have shut down, she added.
The organization estimates that the film industry lost some $3.5 billion to movie piracy in 2004, excluding losses from illegal online file swapping. According to a Smith Barney study, said Osterberg, that number is expected to jump to $5.4 billion in 2005.
Such losses ultimately limit choices at the box office, said Osterberg, by making it even more difficult to recoup the large investments made in new films.
The music and film industries have had some recent success in court. In June, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that file-sharing service Grokster and StreamCast Networks, which operates the Morpheus service, are responsible for their users' actions.
In addition to its moves on the legal front, the MPAA also has made software freely available to help crack down on illegal file sharing. Called Digital File Check, the software was developed by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) to identify file-sharing applications and remove copyright-protected music or video files from any computer.
Despite the legal victories, Illegal content exchanges are a problem, with most attempted fixes thus far having little impact on the amount of pirated content online. A recent Yankee Group survey indicates an installed base in the U.S. of some 40 to 50 million users of file-sharing networks.