BitTorrent to open online store for digital media

BitTorrent has rolled out a paid service in the US

BitTorrent rolled out a paid music and movie download service on Monday, leveraging its fast distribution system infamous for the massive piracy it facilitated when it debuted in 2001.

The BitTorrent Entertainment Network -- launched with movies such as "Superman Returns," TV shows including "24" and PC games -- will be a new entrant challenging other download services such as Apple's iTunes Store and Amazon.com Inc.'s Unbox. BitTorrent's service is stocked with 5,000 movies, TV shows, PC games and music.

BitTorrent, based in San Francisco, has reached agreements with more than 35 entertainment companies including 20th Century Fox, Viacom's MTV Networks and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios to offer their content using its P-to-P (peer-to-peer) technology.

The technology uses information files called "torrents" that allows users with compatible client software to download files from other users' computers, reducing the infrastructure needed by a company to run a download service.

Although widely used for illegal file sharing, companies have struggled to employ P-to-P for viable commercial businesses while also protecting digital content from piracy.

BitTorrent will use digital rights management (DRM) technology from Microsoft that will prevent protected content from being redistributed on the Internet or played on a different PC, according to The New York Times. Content will play through Windows Media Player 11, Microsoft's multimedia application. Some content, however, will not have DRM, BitTorrent said.

DRM is loathed by some users, but music and movie companies insist it's integral to protecting their content from illegal file trading.

TV shows on BitTorrent are purchased for ownership, but movies will expire after either 30 days or 24 hours after a user starts watching. TV downloads will cost US$1.99, while movie rentals will range from US$2.99 to US$3.99.

By comparison, TV shows cost US$1.99 on Unbox, and movies -- that can be owned and played on two PCs and two portable music players -- cost up to US$14.99.

Similarly, the iTunes Store sells to own, with TV episodes priced at US$1.99 and movies ranging from US$9.99 to US$14.99.

The download service puts BitTorrent, founded as a company in 2004, in good standing after music and movie industry trade groups sought to cripple it. Under pressure, in November 2005 BitTorrent removed links to torrents from its search engine that pointed to copyright content. However, illegal file sharing still flourishes using BitTorrent's technology.

The company's co-founder, Bram Cohen, open sourced BitTorrent's software, and it has been incorporated into numerous different download clients. Also, search engines designed to find torrents linking to copyright material continue to operate despite efforts to shut them.

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