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BitTorrent Movies: 'My Daily Downloads Are Illegal -- For Now'


  First Posted: 01/20/12 04:00 PM ET Updated: 01/20/12 04:50 PM ET

Pirating on Principle

In spite of copyright laws, hundreds of thousands of people use BitTorrent every day. I am one of those people. It’s a convenient and free way to get the movies and music I want and, I think, it’s good politics.

I believe corporations shouldn’t be able to profit from someone else’s creativity. In my ideal world, there would be no corporate copyrights and these materials would be free in the first place. Art would not be a way of making money; its only “point” would be to allow people to experience another person’s perspective and use it to grow. Every song in existence would be available to everyone legally via the Internet, and money would be out of the equation.

But in the real world, it’s not that simple. BitTorrent threatens profits and raises legal questions about ownership. And it has ignited passions among both consumers and producers of entertainment.

Some artists and filmmakers have embraced the technology. Like me, they like the ideal of free art for everyone, and relish bypassing the corporate middlemen—record labels and movie studios. Even so, they haven’t figured out how they can make money this way.

For example, in 2007, the band Radiohead opted to put up their new album, "In Rainbows," on their website with a price tag users can set themselves. Thom Yorke, the frontman for Radiohead, told Time magazine, “I like the people at our record company, but the time is at hand when you have to ask why anyone needs one. And, yes, it probably would give us some perverse pleasure to say ‘F-ck you’ to this decaying business model.”

Even though Radiohead was widely applauded by anti-copyright activists for this endeavor, most people chose to pay nothing to download the album. Similarly, Nine Inch Nails put some content directly onto BitTorrent, calling it “a revolutionary digital distribution method, and we believe in finding ways to utilize new technologies instead of fighting them.”

Arrgh, Ye Be Sued

Meanwhile, big movie studios and record labels are fighting hard to take down BitTorrent sites and users. In one case that made headlines in 2009, a Minnesota woman was fined $1.9 million for downloading 24 songs. The recording industry has initiated a lot of huge trials like this in the hope that making an example of a few people will discourage the masses from pirating copyrighted content.

The entertainment industry also tries to take down the torrent tracker websites, where users go to find material to download. The biggest and most famous torrent tracker is The Pirate Bay, a Swedish website.’s four founders were found guilty of breaking copyright law in 2009 and sentenced to jail and fined $3.6 million. The founders are appealing their sentences; none of them have gone to prison yet.

Meanwhile, an anti-piracy group intent on shutting down The Pirate Bay is taking a different tack: They're suing individual ISPs (Internet Service Providers), saying that the ISPs must block The Pirate Bay website, so Pirate Bay users simply can't access the bit-torrent service. That lawsuit is also ongoing.

The Pirate Bay is still online, though many other torrent tracker sites have been shut down after being threatened or sued.