Saturday 27 August 2005

The Two Faces Of BitTorrent

BitTorrent is fast becoming the next “killer app” for the internet. Created by Bram Cohen, it is now receiving mainstream media attention to the level that rivals that of Napster of yesteryear. Recently, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) had both taken notice of BitTorrent’s potential to further privacy of copyrighted media such as music and movies. As with Napster, BitTorrent has gained mainstream acceptance because of its ease of use, large user base, and vast sources of free content. While BitTorrent has been used to distribute legal materials online, it has also become the tool of choice for pirates to distribute copyrighted materials illegally. Opponents of BitTorrent are quick to point to the unethical use of this technology as the reason why BitTorrent should be banned. Yet, such argument is self-defeating and ignores legal precedents set by past technological innovations that it is the user of the medium and not the medium itself which violates the law. The most cited example is Sony’s Betamax VCR in which the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of Sony against University City Studios in 1984.

There should be no doubt that any piece of technology, including BitTorrent, can be used for both good and evil. As a legal BitTorrent user, I believe that denial of such technoology only serves to limit the spirit of innovation that drives our progress. Instead, the solution should lie in striking a balance in the use of this novel tool for the betterment of society.

By Philip Jong • At 12:10 PM • Under Column • Under Tech
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