89% of BitTorrent is illegal: study

University of Ballarat study analysed trackers on the Torrentz

The University of Ballarat has published a research paper claiming 89 percent of BitTorrent files it studied during a certain period were confirmed to infringe copyright, a result immediately hailed by the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft as a victory in its war against file sharing.

In the report -- available in full online from AFACT's web site (PDF) -- researchers from the university's Internet Commerce Security Laboratory analysed the most popular BitTorrent trackers on the Torrentz website on April 21st, 2010 and scraped the information from them.

Torrentz is a search engine which combines results from many different BitTorrent search engines, so the BitTorrent servers traced by the University of Ballarat consisted of sites as diverse as Demonoid, MightyNova, TorrentBay, BitReactor and so on.

It appears that more than a million individual torrent files were tracked from the servers. But in the end, the university found that just 4 percent of torrents -- more than 15,000 -- were responsible for 90 percent of seeders. In the BitTorrent system, a seeder is a BitTorrent use who has downloaded all of one file and is now hosting it rather than simultaneously downloading chunks.

"In summary, our results indicate that 89 percent of all torrents from our sample are confirmed to be infringing copyright, both by the number of files and total number of current seeders," wrote the university in its paper. "Of the torrents in the top three categories (movies, music and TV shows), there were no legal torrents in the sample."

According to Paul Watters, director of the laboratory, a total of 117 million downloads had been completed across more than one million torrent files.

AFACT -- which represents a number of content providers such as film and television studios, including Village Roadshow, which assisted the university with its work, immediately jumped on the paper, stating it showed that legitimate use of the BitTorrent software was minor.

“All it takes is an internet connection and the BitTorrent software to efficiently distributing large files amongst users," said Neil Gane, executive director of AFACT. "It may be a legitimate software but, as we have always maintained, it is the preferred software for sharing unauthorised copyright content. The research found that movies and TV shows made up 72% of all torrent traffic yet not one copy was legitimate.”

And actor Roy Billing -- who has had roles in Underbelly, for example, said file sharing was having "a detremental effect on the movie and TV industry", with "no returns" going back to content creators.

iiNet ramps up

The news comes as iiNet -- which has been enmeshed in an ongoing court case with AFACT over claims its customers infringed copyright through BitTorrent -- this week stepped up a war of words with the organisation.

Yesterday iiNet chief executive Michael Malone posted a link (PDF) to a letter iiNet chief regulatory officer Steve Dalby had written in reaction to an article involving AFACT in industry newsletter Communications Day yesterday. In the article, AFACT said it wanted to see ISPs collaborate with content providers on an industry code to tackle copyright infringement.

Malone described the letter as Dalby responding to "AFACT bullshit".

"AFACT's poor attempts to present itself as the voice of reason are belied by their ongoing negative and unproductive behaviour," wrote Dalby. "This disconnection from reality is not difficult to spot."

"AFACT have made it very clear -- their idea of cooperation is for ISPs to disconnect their customers when they demand it. If we don't do their bidding they'll tie ISPs up in the courts. That's not cooperation, that's an attempt at coercion and is, therefore, a poor model for a commercial relationship or an industry code of conduct."

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