99% of BitTorrent Content Illegal?

A new survey suggests that about 99 percent of available BitTorrent content violates copyright laws, says Sauhard Sahi, a Princeton University student who conducted the analysis.

Some question the methodology, pointing out that the study only looks at content that is available, not content transferred. That might not be such a big distinction, though. Copyright holders are growing more insistent that Internet service providers actively block delivery or sending of such illegal material.

That, in turn, raises lots of issues. BitTorrent can be used in legal ways, so blocking all torrents clearly violates Federal Communications Commission guidelines about use of legal applications on the Internet. That said, the fact that the overwhelming majority of BitTorrent files consist of copyrighted material raises huge potential issues for ISPs that might be asked to act as policemen.

The study does not claim to make judgments about how much copyrighted content actually is downloaded. But it stands to reason that if such an overwhelming percentage of material is copyrighted, that most uploads and downloads will be of infringing content.

The study classified a file as likely non-infringing if it appeared to be in the public domain, freely available through legitimate channels, or  user-generated content.

By this definition, all of the 476 movies or TV shows in the sample were found to be likely infringing.

The study also found seven of the 148 files in the games and software category to be likely non-infringing—including two Linux distributions, free plug-in packs for games, as well as free and beta software.

In the pornography category, one of the 145 files claimed to be an amateur video, and we gave it the benefit of the doubt as likely non-infringing.

All of the 98 music torrents were likely infringing. Two of the fifteen files in the books/guides category seemed to be likely non-infringing.

"Overall, we classified ten of the 1021 files, or approximately one percent, as likely non-infringing," Sahi says.

"This result should be interpreted with caution, as we may have missed some non-infringing files, and our sample is of files available, not files actually downloaded," Sahi says. "Still, the result suggests strongly that copyright infringement is widespread among BitTorrent users."
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