IS HOLLYWOOD READY FOR ONLINE DISTRIBUTION?

By Removing Pirated Movies, BitTorrent Opens Door for Studios

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LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- Web surfers are already downloading pirated copies of movies by the hundreds of thousands a day, and may continue to do so, but they’ll no longer be doing it through BitTorrent.com, one of the most popular file-swapping technologies on the Internet.

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The founders of BitTorrent said yesterday they will remove all links from their heavily trafficked site that direct Web surfers to pirated content. The company, founded by tech guru Bram Cohen, has been in discussions with the Motion Picture Association of America for a number of months. MPAA CEO Dan Glickman said the company is “leading the way for other companies by their example.”

“We want BitTorrent to be a distribution channel for licensed content,” said Ashwin Navin, co-founder and chief operating officer of BitTorrent.

Legitimate business
The move, while showing that Hollywood may now be open to file-sharing, also sets up BitTorrent as a potential partner to the studios in creating a legitimate business with peer-to-peer technology.

Mr. Navin sees an application for the advertising and branded entertainment business, and said the company is in talks with marketers to post versions of their creative work online. “Advertisers could make use of these tools for viral campaigns,” he said. “And for branded entertainment, the model could be like the BMW films series.”

Earlier this year, BitTorrent created a search engine that’s a compendium of content available through its download technology. Web surfers could go to BitTorrent.com and search for movies and other entertainment content available on the Web. Much of the content that would pop up is original and licensed -- including movies, video games and music -- while some is not.

Used for illegal file-sharing
Though the technology has been widely used for illegal file-sharing of films, software and music, BitTorrent.com has not built a network to connect users in the same way that sites like Kazaa have done.

As part of the agreement, the MPAA will supply BitTorrent with a list of the content its members own. If there are unlicensed versions available through any BitTorrent sites, the company will take down that content and replace it with licensed versions.

The MPAA estimates that there are some 600,000 movies downloaded every day, with a significant portion of that being downloaded with BitTorrent technology.

It’s unknown how much of a bite the move could take out of piracy online, though it’s suspected to be minimal because Web surfers have any number of sources where they can go to download unlicensed entertainment.

Over the past year, the MPAA has sued several Web sites that have used BitTorrent technology for illegal distribution of movies. Some 90% of those have shut down, and Mr. Navin predicted that the remaining 10% would close soon as well.

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