24 January 2011
A study conducted by the Carlos III University of Madrid (UC3M) pinpoints and paints a profile of those users who post content on the most popular on-line P2P piracy networks, and goes on to explain the incentives underpinning their work.
(Article translated into English from the original version in Spanish)
The study examines the behavior of users responsible for publishing over 55,000 files on two of the most popular portals (Mininova and The Pirate Bay) utilizing BitTorrent, the P2P (peer-to-peer) application for sharing the most popular files to be found on the Internet. Certain users use these portals to post content that is then exchanged with tens of thousands of other users. The growing popularity of this tool is largely due to the availability of enormously appealing content, such as the latest cinema releases or episodes of numerous different television series.
Users that post content on BitTorrent channel a great deal of time and money into their work (bandwidth, storage capacity) and assume the inherent risks associated with posting copyright-protected content, but are we dealing with altruistic behavior or is there some kind of underlying economic incentive? “BitTorrent’s success can be put down to the fact that a handful of users make a huge amount of content available in exchange for economic gain”, explain the authors of the study conducted by the Telematic Engineering Department of the UC3M, namely professors Rubén Cuevas, Carmen Guerrero and Ángel Cuevas. Their analysis reveals that a small collective of users of these applications (roughly 100) accounts for 66% of all content posted and 75% of total downloads. In other words, the huge success of a massively popular application such as BitTorrent essentially rests in the hands of a few users.
The study conducted by the researchers of the Madrid-based public university in collaboration with scientists from Institute IMDEA Networks, the University of Oregon (USA) and Technische Universität Darmstadt (Germany), identifies these users and explains the incentives behind this mass posting of content. We essentially have two different profiles. On the one hand, we have the so-called “fake publishers”, anti-piracy bodies and malicious users that post a huge volume of false files to protect copyrights and spread malicious software, respectively. On the other hand, we have a small group of users (coined “top publishers”), who mass publish content through BitTorrent in exchange for economic gain, which stems primarily from on-line advertising and, to a lesser extent, from VIP subscriptions from users wishing to speed up their downloads. “If these users lose interest or are otherwise ejected from the system, BitTorrent traffic will be drastically reduced”, warn the authors of the study.
To help them carry out their research, the scientists developed a tool enabling them to compile relevant information on thousands of files shared through the BitTorrent application. This system allows them to find out the name of the user who posted the content, his or her IP address (which in turn identifies the city, country and ISP – Internet service provider – in question), and also the IP address of those users who subsequently download the content via the BitTorrent application. “In order to protect their anonymity”, explains professor Rubén Cuevas, “many of them rent servers from companies that specialize in providing this kind of service and then post their content from these servers”.
The future of P2P networks
Assuming that the massive success of an application such as BitTorrent is essentially down to a handful of users who publish most of the content, if these users lost interest or were otherwise ejected from the system (such as through anti-piracy lawsuits), would the application survive with the arrival of other users to replace them, or would it crumble and fall? The article concludes with this teasing question, inviting us to reflect on the future and fragility of these kinds of file sharing networks. “In our opinion”, claim the authors of the study, “the success of BitTorrent lies in the availability of popular content typically protected by copyright, and the people who assume the risk of publishing this kind of content do so in exchange for economic gain”. With this in mind, if in the future these same users lose interest, whether due to waning income from advertising or prohibitively high fines, BitTorrent would more than likely cease to offer such content, leading to a mass exodus of users from the application. “At this point in time, in which content creators, associations of Internet users and political parties are furiously discussing on-line piracy against the backdrop of the proposed ‘Sinde’ Act, studies such as this one are hugely important in that they help us to understand the true nature of content-sharing P2P networks and the underlying economic model”, conclude the researchers.
FURTHER MEDIA IMPACT OF THE PUBLICATION “IS CONTENT PUBLISHING IN BITTORRENT ALTRUISTIC OR PROFIT DRIVEN?” :