Kazaa. LimeWire. Napster. There are hardly any widely used filesharing sites that didn't try to "go legit" at some point after being dinged for facilitating piracy. It doesn’t usually work. Napster, for example, no longer exists; it was nearly bought by a porn company before it was acquired by Roxio and then sold to Best Buy, which de-branded it and merged it with the paid service Rhapsody. So could BitTorrent, the current king of peer-to-peer filesharing, succeed where the first generation failed?
BitTorrent, Inc., which invented BitTorrent and owns the most popular client, is releasing a version of the torrent file called the BitTorrent Bundle. The Bundle format allows creators to require an action before users can download. That means creators can require a payment, a pay-what-you-want fee, or email registration, for example. It’s part of BitTorrent’s effort to disassociate itself from piracy and become a service content creators can use to their advantage.
Bundles allow creators to require an action before users can download
Because the content is behind a wall within the actual file, Bundles can travel freely around the web and the BitTorrent Ecosystem. However, there is a walled garden within the file format itself. "What if you could code a checkout counter into each media file published by an artist?" the company said today. "It’s a flyer. It’s a direct-to-fan social object."
The new file format is being announced with a release from electronic dance music DJ Kaskade, who is offering exclusive material in exchange for fans’ email addresses. Download the file and you’ll be asked for your email address. Once you respond to a verification email, you will have access to a high resolution trailer, a 10-minute exclusive of extra footage from a Kaskade show, a remix by Swedish house duo Dada Life, and more.
"The torrent is a piece of code that hasn’t been touched for ten years."
The BitTorrent protocol was created by Bram Cohen in 2001 as a way to let users share files amongst themselves instead of having to rely on a central source. The torrent file format caught on quickly, especially among those seeking pirated material. That association gave BitTorrent and Cohen’s company, BitTorrent, Inc., a bit of a bad name. BitTorrent now accounts for 3.35 percent of worldwide bandwidth, according to research from the network security firm Palo Alto Networks. "The torrent is a piece of code that hasn’t been touched for 10 years," BitTorrent vice president of marketing Matt Mason told The Verge.
BitTorrent has been experimenting with having creators release new material for free, but this new file format makes a BitTorrent release a lot more enticing. For now, creators will have to negotiate directly with BitTorrent in order to do a release this way. Eventually, the tools to create a BitTorrent Bundle will be released publicly so that anyone can do one of these "gated" releases. The tools will most likely be made available via a new website, the company said.
The BitTorrent Bundle could be used to release a Star Wars box set, for example, and include goodies like CAD designs for toys and props, Mason said. The name has been in use for the past year or so as part of various pilots and experiments at BitTorrent, but this is the first time gating has been incorporated into the file format.
BitTorrent has been experimenting with Bundles since December 2011
BitTorrent has been experimenting with Bundles since December 2011, when the producer Pretty Lights released a bundle of media which was downloaded six million times in three months. Since then, BitTorrent has done about 20 of these experiments, including a promotional bundle for productivity guru Tim Ferriss’ book The 4-Hour Chef. "They were a success, so now we are developing a full product," said director of communications Christian Averill. "Everything we’ve learned from those experiments has led us to this point. This will be the first ever gated torrent. This is a major step forward for direct-to-fan distribution and marketing of digital content."
Facebook has a similar offering as part of its Pages product for brands. "Fan-gating" or "like-gating" requires users to like a page in order to get access to a discount or free content, although Facebook is moving away from that strategy in favor of sponsored pages.
"The better consumer experience we provide, the less people will feel the need to rely on piracy," Cohen told TorrentFreak in 2007. With 170 million users, BitTorrent is in a good position to cater to artists who want to release material directly to fans. The company is also building up the BitTorrent Ecosystem, its browsable collection of legal files. With content creators on its side, BitTorrent has a lot more flexibility with its business model — and much less of a chance of being dragged to court.