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The Video Bay would threaten Hulu and YouTube if it had a chance of actually working

The new video-sharing site from the guys behind The Pirate Bay could be much more threatening to the TV and movie industries than BitTorrent, but is it really legally or technically feasible?

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Computing | by Samuel Axon | Mon Jun 29, 2009 3:02PM | 0 comments

The Pirate Bay is the largest web venue in the world of sharing files via the BitTorrent protocol, and as you could probably guess if you didn't know already, the files shared include copyrighted material. A Swedish court made that determination and hit its founders with one year of jail time and a fine of over $3 million. The Pirate Bay's attempts to appeal the decision haven't gone well.

They seem unphased by this, though. They've just launched a very early test version of The Video Bay, a streaming video site that could let you watch copyrighted material ad-free without hassling with actually downloading the files on BitTorrent. Even if you don't have any qualms about giving the current (admittedly troubled) intellectual property laws the finger, don't get excited. We're not convinced The Video Bay is going to make it.

The Pirate Bay first announced that a web video site was in the works about two years ago, and despite that development time, the site is only barely functional. Its official release is still a ways off, as evidenced by the fact that it uses HTML5, a new version of the web scripting language that does not have widespread support from released browsers yet.

Acknowledging all this, the guys were quoted by TechCrunch Europe saying that the site won't be ready for mass public consumption for "like, a year or five."

But the distant release is the smaller problem. Believe it or not, the $3 million fine and year of jail time thrown at The Pirate Bay's founders were a fraction of what they could have been, because there's a big legal difference between deliberately hosting copyrighted material yourself, and aiding others in distributing it. The Pirate Bay's founders were found guilty of the latter, but it would seem that a streaming video site would have to do some version of the former to be reliable and useful.

When you download a video on BitTorrent and there aren't enough people sharing the file, it sometimes comes to you at a crawl — only a few kilobytes at a time. That's fine if you're not trying to watch it live; just be patient and watch it when it finishes downloading in 24 hours. But web video users have the expectation that a video will immediately begin to play when they hit "Play." Imagine that! The BitTorrent model can't guarantee that, so if The Video Bay is either going to be barely functional, or it will adopt a traditional server-peer model like YouTube or Hulu.

Any model like that would be legally indefensible and very expensive. Very few streaming video sites manage to be profitable because the bandwidth costs too much money. Video ads aren't significantly more valuable than banner ads in most cases, so it's rarely cost-effective to run a video streaming site. We're not sure how The Video Bay's crew is going to keep the ship afloat.

And even even if they do find a way to pay for it, their sole legal defense won't apply. If they're hosting the files, they won't have any loopholes to save them, and they'll get the maximum crackdown. We're sure they're aware of this, so it seems more likely that the site will have to use some kind of peer-to-peer or BitTorrent-like model. But the quality of the experience probably won't be there.

We don't know about you, but we're fine with a couple minutes of ads if it means the video is of watchable quality and stutter-free.

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Related company news:
YouTube, Hulu, Google
Related glossary terms:
Streaming video, piracy, BitTorrent, P2P, HTML, web browser, Kilobyte
Related devices and services:
The Pirate Bay, The Video Bay, YouTube, Hulu

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