Monday, May 14, 2007

Final Project Interview #2: Ernesto of TorrentFreak.com

Here is the second interview that I conducted for my final project.

Created in November of 2005, TorrentFreak.com is a weblog that covers stories relating to all things BitTorrent: including protocol technologies, torrent search engines, and anything related to free culture. Ernesto, a resident of the Netherlands, is the sites founder.

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Allen: Your site blogs dozens of stories on a weekly basis. In your opinion, what was the most interesting or important story Torrentfreak has covered in the past 12 months?

Ernesto: The coverage on the Pirate Bay raid and its aftermath was very interesting and fun to do. This event had a huge impact on Swedish politics lead[ing] to the rise of pirate parties all around the world.

The BitTorrent protocol encryption that was implemented in BitTorrent clients last year resulted in another interesting series of post[s]. The developers of uTorrent and Azureus added support for encrypted transfers to their clients to bypass ISPs that started to throttle BitTorrent traffic to save bandwidth, that's where the cat-and-mouse game started. We had a discussion on TorrentFreak whether traffic shaping is good or bad, and both BitTorrent users and ISPs had some good arguments.

Apparently BitTorrent encryption is pretty effective. Last month the Canadian ISP Rogers decided to limit all encrypted transfers which affects a wide range of customers, not only the ones using BitTorrent. Sad but true.

Allen: People tend to have some polarized opinions regarding the morality (and legality) of p2p networks here in the U.S. How do people in the Netherlands feel about intellectual property rights and the idea of downloading?

Ernesto: Let me start off by making clear that filesharing and copyright infringement are not the same thing.

For example, the Dutch government is subsidizing a project that will use BitTorrent to distribute TV-shows from the Dutch public broadcasting channels, and the BBC already uses a similar service based on the BitTorrent protocol. This is a great example of how (legal) P2P services may contribute to the viewing pleasure of the public, while it saves broadcasting channels bandwidth (money).

In general I think the attitudes towards copyright infringement are less polarized in The Netherlands, mainly because the anti-piracy lobby is not as big (rich) as in the U.S. Most people will probably agree that the artists / producers need to make some money in the end. Unfortunately policy makers don't always recognize that the Internet and "digitalization" in general demand an update of the intellectual property rights. It should be more easy for individuals or small business to acquire licenses to download / distribute content online for example. People should be able to play a song from the latest Arctic Monkeys album on their netcast if they want to, this is pretty much impossible to do at the moment.

I don't think that piracy is a problem, it's more like a signal. The music and movie industry has product that their consumers want. High quality, and DRM free, just like all those pirated copies.
On a sidenote, downloading copyrighted movies and movies is legal here. However, sharing (uploading) copyrighted content isn't, and this is something you can't escape if you're using BitTorrent.

Allen: This seems like an extremely pertinent question for someone like you: what trends have you noticed in BitTorrents since you created TorrentFreak? Do you have any predictions for the future of torrents or p2p in general?

Ernesto: BitTorrent became extremely popular over the past two years. Five BitTorrent sites are currently listed in the Alexa top 500 of the most visited websites on the Internet, and a dozen other sites in the top 2000.

BitTorrent is becoming mainstream now. Hardware manufacturers ... create devices that directly download .torrent files, Apple has plans to distribute updates and software via BitTorrent, BitTorrent Inc opened its media store and TV and Movie producers are interested in the technology to distribute their products.

BitTorrent or variations of applications and services that use similar P2P technologies will probably continue to grow in the future. The technology itself will become less visible, and it will be implemented and all kinds of user friendly services and application. So, most people will use P2P services in the future without even noticing. Piracy on the other hand will become less and less popular as soon as high quality legal alternatives become available. Personally I think that piracy is at its greatest height right now, that is, if the music and movie industry are willing to change.

Allen: How do you go about collecting the data for the weekly "Most Popular DVDrips on BitTorrent" posts?

Ernesto: I collect data on all the popular movie torrents that are tagged as a DVDrips on several BitTorrent trackers. The titles with the most seeds and peers (all the people that download and / or upload that title) end up in the list. The list is very sensitive for new releases because these tend to be very popular the first days after they are uploaded.

The method we use is not perfect, but I'm pretty sure we are more accurate than services like BigChampagne and Infofilter who claim that they provide accurate charts.

Allen: My friends and I have followed the entire Sealand story with thePiratebay pretty closely. What do you think of that entire saga?

Ernesto: The Pirate Bay knows how to cause a media stir. People who believed that they were actually going to start a new nation are a little naive to say the least. The Pirate Bay is a publicity machine, and (besides being the biggest BitTorrent tracker) they do very well at making the news. I've talked to Brokep, one of the admins of the Pirate Bay and he told me that they have their eye on an Island that they will try to buy in the near future. They are certainly not keeping the money for themselves. It just takes a while to find a cheap island. Sealand was just too expensive

Allen: Your site has a pretty clear stance with regard to DRM. What would you say to someone in the film or music industry who thinks they can protect their content with a DRM wrapper?

Ernesto: It only takes 1 person to crack the DRM and put a DRM-less copy online, that makes it pretty useless. I really can't see the benefits of DRM, it's only hurting the honest consumers. I buy all my music online (unlike most people might expect) but the first thing I do when I've bought a track or album is remove the DRM. Not because I'm sharing it on P2P-networks, but because I want to listen to the music whenever and wherever I want.

Allen: Which torrent search engines do you regard as the best? Why are they the best? Do you have any personal favorites?

Ernesto: I like torrentz.com and mininova.org, both sites are clean and reliable.

Allen: What would you like to see done (steps, events, etc.) towards the promotion of free culture around the globe?

Ernesto: First we need to get rid of DRM ;). Secondly, copyright laws need to be adapted the digital age, and a flexible licensing model that suits the Internet needs to be developed. The less restrictions the better.

1 comments:

Boycott said...

Just so people know, Rogers is shaping P2P traffic not because of its corporate morality, but because of their aging network. 20 percent of their users who used bittorrent took 90% of their bandwidth. Instead of capping upload and downloads though, they decided that nobody would cause a stink if they just stopped their clients from using bittorrent.

We manage a boycott site centered on helping Canadians cancel or pledge to cancel their Rogers account: www.boycottrogers.com