Is BitTorrent About to Sell Out?

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In a move that might scare pirates, BitTorrent now says it plans to buddy up with the entertainment industry to get into the legal side of streaming video, BitTorrent executive director of marketing Matt Mason told Bits Blog's Jenna Wortham. No longer looking to represent only the underbelly of Internet movie-watching, BitTorrent wants to push aside illegal and free downloads and invite major media companies to use its technology to generate sales. And in order to work with movie and music studios and start competing with Hulu and Spotify, it sounds like BitTorrent will have to get rid of its association with illegal downloads. "We’ve been trying to groom the entertainment industry to think about BitTorrent as a partner," said Mason. "It’s a constant challenge. People don’t even know we’re a company. They think we’re two teenagers in a basement in Sweden." And what do teenagers in basements do? They pirate movies.

Not all torrenting — the term for downloading and uploading things via the BitTorrent technology — is illegal. File-sharing itself doesn't break the law; sharing a not-yet-released copy of The Hurt Locker, however, does. Torrents of big Blockbuster movies have gotten multiple thousands of people arrested as recent as June 2011. It's just that certain sites that use the technology don't care about legality, like the Pirate Bay, for example. BitTorrent Inc. doesn't operate like that, however, offering only copyright filtered content.

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Even so, the company has had a hard time convincing media companies that its technology can help an industry scared of the Internet make money. But BitTorrent has seen some promise in turning their downloads into transactions down the line. Free downloads of extras from a Tim Ferris cook book increased sales of the actual book on Amazon, Mason claims. Another possibility is getting companies to use BitTorrent software in hardware, which sounds more awesome to us. Working with set-top box makers, the BitTorrent technology would allow people to download and stream stuff from their TVs. Or BitTorrent could turn itself into a streaming service like Spotify, a subscription service like Rhapsody, or an a la carte situation like iTunes, as Engadget's Brad Hill theorized the other day.

Still, BitTorrent would rather act as the technology behind the revolution than have anything to do with the messy content part. "The way to solve the content delivery problem is to get out of the way of the content. No one wants to just be the pipes," Mason said. "We’re already the pipes and we’re good at it." 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.