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Download Tool Maker, Studios in Deal

BitTorrent, a program often used by pirates, might now be used to distribute films legally.

November 23, 2005|Julie Tamaki | Times Staff Writer

The creator of software frequently used to copy pirated movies vowed Tuesday to help thwart access to Internet bootlegs, potentially clearing the way for Hollywood studios to experiment with new forms of online distribution.

In a deal with the Motion Picture Assn. of America, BitTorrent developer Bram Cohen agreed to speed up removal of links to allegedly unauthorized copies of movies from his website.

The 30-year-old Cohen has long opposed the use of his software to trade pirated goods, so Tuesday's pact is unlikely to make much of a dent in the illicit traffic of movies and music.

What it does, analysts say, is give BitTorrent the entertainment industry's stamp of approval, making it more likely that studios would consider using the software to distribute movies.

Hollywood is taking "an interest in a very powerful, incredibly important distribution network," said Eric Garland, chief executive of BigChampagne Online Media Measurement, a research firm in Beverly Hills.

BitTorrent software speeds the transfer of large files over the Internet by allowing users to download small chunks from multiple computers at the same time. The software is used by an estimated 45 million people.

Although BitTorrent agreed to remove links to unauthorized copies of films from its website, bittorrent.com, the move does nothing to stop users from swapping pirated goods on their own. Some files, for instance, can be found using search engines such as Google or Yahoo.

Cohen is eager to court studio executives trying to find new distribution models in the online era. His San Francisco-based company announced in September that it had raised $8.75 million in venture funding.

Cohen said he was in talks with some of the motion picture association's seven member studios to provide content over BitTorrent's website.

"We will have distribution announcements in the future," he said at a news conference with association Chief Executive Dan Glickman.

Glickman portrayed the partnership as a step toward combating piracy.

"This is a system which an awful lot of people use and an awful lot of people use it illegally," Glickman said. He said separately that the studios "want to make as many movies commercially available online as possible."

The partnership with BitTorrent follows a talk Glickman gave last week to students at UCLA, where his message was met with skepticism from some students.

Despite the association's efforts, Garland predicted that Tuesday's announcement would do little to stop piracy.

"This announcement, while an exciting one for BitTorrent, doesn't seem to have a direct bearing on the piracy problem, because the piracy problem was never a Bram Cohen problem," he said. "Unfortunately, as many people as were swapping movies yesterday will likely be swapping them tomorrow."

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