Major media companies say online piracy is such a problem that the federal government should adopt a draconian system of blockades and blacklists to stop infringement. But maybe they should first focus on the pirates they pay and employ, who've just been exposed torrenting the hell out of competitors' movies and TV shows.
The country's top internet providers have reached a deal with Hollywood and the music industry that would require them to identify, then warn, and eventually punish illegal downloaders. The new process, announced Thursday, would identify customers suspected of digital copyright infringement, then issue a series of six warnings, each promising "progressively harsher consequences if the initial cautions were ignored," writes the Times. At the sixth and final warning, the ED-209 from RoboCop stomps into your bedroom going, "Please stop your download. You have 20 seconds to comply," then malfunctions spectacularly, spraying brains and guts across a monitor tracking the progress of your torrented copy of the new Beyoncé album. Amazingly, it still won't do anything to discourage piracy. [NYT, photo via Shutterstock]
BitTorrent cofounder and president Ashwin Navin is leaving the company. He has plans for a startup incubator in San Francisco's Mission District. Good! That means he'll be screwing up far less consequential companies from here on out. Navin deserves credit for persuading Bram Cohen, the creator of the BitTorrent file-sharing protocol, for building a company around it. But that's about it.Navin wasted years and millions of dollars trying to turn BitTorrent Inc. into a competitor to Apple's iTunes store. He struck splashy deals with Hollywood studios by paying them large upfront guarantees, which depleted BitTorrent's bank account but got Navin into the right parties. Meanwhile, BitTorrent's other line of business, which used file-sharing technologies to deliver content more efficiently for corporate customers, suffered from lack of focus, and more established competitors like Akamai moved in. Sometimes losing a founder is bad for a company. In this case, it's nothing but good.
BitTorrent founder Bram Cohen, whose sideline career is in writing horrifyingly violent fiction, approached me at a charity event Tuesday to discuss Valleywag's recent posts about him. I'll give him credit: He's as unapologetic about writing lines like "I don't like fucking bitches like you so don't count on not getting seriously hurt" as I am in criticizing him for them. In Valleywag's comments, Jenna Cohen, Bram's wife, has posted a defense. She says Cohen "has never used" Asperger's syndrome as an excuse. But she does have an interesting explanation for Cohen's stories of torture and rape: They're a turn-on. For her, too. She suggests they were his "porn collection." Here's the full comment:
BitTorrent founder Bram Cohen has Asperger's syndrome, a sort of autism lite thought to be common among geeks, BusinessWeek tells us again and again and again. But does he, really? Midway through the article, the writer admits that this fact was too good to check: "Cohen never sought a formal diagnosis." True, Cohen is obnoxious. His coworkers at the file-sharing startup have learned to put up with behavior he attributes to Asperger's — aimless, unchecked nattering and an utter lack of tact. But did anyone stop to ask if he was simply clueless and rude — or, quite possibly, given the violent ravings he once published on the Web, mentally ill? (Hey, Cohen is the one who started tossing around unproved diagnoses.) That's not the only question about Cohen the article left unanswered.We would have asked what, precisely, Cohen does at the company, and why its investors still allow him to visit the office and waste employees' time. If the answer is that they feel sorry for a guy who claims to have a mental condition, but has never even tried to have it diagnosed, then you'll have a sense for their abilities to perform due diligence. BitTorrent recently went through a round of layoffs. Its attempt to sell movies online has failed; its attempt to use file-sharing technologies to serve as a content-distribution network, which speeds up downloads for paying customers, is likewise faltering, as BitTorrent find itself overmatched by much larger, more professional competitors like Akamai Technologies. Cohen may well have Asperger's. He created an interesting technology in BitTorrent. But neither fact entitles him to keep drawing a paycheck from the company he founded.
A Comcast spokesman contacted an IDG reporter whose report bubbled up to the New York Times today: "Comcast has made no final decisions on how to manage network congestion, despite news reports Wednesday that it will slow traffic for heavy users for up to 20 minutes during times of peak network use." More likely, said the spokesman, the heaviest network traffic users will be slowed for a minute or two at a time whenever parts of Comcast's network get congested. Comcast has been forbidden by the FCC from blocking applications such as BitTorrent outright. But stupid quote of the day comes from the guy at Public Knowledge: "If there was competition, could you slow down your best customers?" No, you could charge them more. (Chart by the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems)
Traffic to NBCOlympics.com has likely already surpassed the 229 million pageviews garnered by the entire 2004 Athens Games, according to the network. Even so, users frustrated with the lack of full-screen video have already started to figure out workarounds. So where are people turning for better-quality Olympics video?Pirates are providing the highest-quality viewing experience for video-on-demand, with events being posted in HD even before they air on tape-delayed TV broadcasts in the United States. Torrents of the opening ceremonies, including a giant 5-gigabyte download of all four hours in HD, proved the most popular television programming available on file-sharing networks this week. And while event organizers and network operatives continue to play whack-a-mole with illegitimate live streams, where there's a will, there's a way on the Web. Want to know where to look? Check out our handy guide.
The folks who are bringing you the Olympics online don't actually want you to watch their coverage. NBC and Microsoft are delaying the most popular events by three hours so that it won't interfere with more profitable TV broadcasts. And you'll have to download Microsoft's Silverlight browser plug-in to watch in your browser. But a bird's nest of geography and time-delay restrictions worthy of China's Communist Party government is in place. Thankfully, the anarchy of the Web offers plenty of options for having a crowd of curious coworkers surround your computer as you watch live handball, with varying degrees of expense and difficulty. Rather than being the coming-out party for Silverlight Microsoft hopes for, it may instead be the year sports fans learn a few new online-video tricks.Online schedules: NBC's Olympics listings takes a bit of work (you have to enter your ZIP code and select a television provider, even if you just want online listings). However, once you've done the work, it'll send you notifications when events you've selected will be broadcast. Jason Kottke has found Google and iCal calendars, which will allow you a bit more flexibility in setting up alerts, and the New York Times has a schedule as well. And of course, there's an official schedule from the organizers in China, with times listed for Beijing's time zone (16 hours ahead of San Francisco, 13 hours ahead of New York) — probably the best place to go for daily updates, as smog and weather may upset the schedule. Sling Media's Slingbox: For those with more money than time, the best solution might be a Slingbox. Then you can beam your home satellite or cable signal over the Internet to your laptop, desktop, or iPhone, and remotely switch between NBC and MSNBC. Pros: You can get great quality, even HD, if your home Internet connection is fast. There is SlingPlayer software available for a range of not just operating systems but handheld devices as well. Cons: Prices start at $129.99 and your selection of Olympics coverage is limited to what's available from your satellite or cable provider, which means missing early heats and niche events and having to put up with tape delays by the networks. International proxies: It is possible to watch live streams from other countries, such as BBC Sports from the UK or CBC Sports from Canada, by configuring your browser to run through an anonymous proxy. I recommend using Mozilla's Firefox browser with the FoxyProxy add-on installed. Xroxy has a handy list of proxies which you can sort by country to find proxies in the UK or Canada — which must be anonymous, and preferrably running the SOCKS protocol. Your best bet is to get a geeky British or Canadian friend to install a proxy on their machine for you and your Yankee friends. The latency can be frustrating, but once you get a stream started it will work fine. Pros: Quality streams from legitimate providers, and if you're accustomed to jingoistic U.S. coverage, the charming accents from the Beeb's announcers and the humble mien of the Canadians can be quite refreshing. Cons: Takes some technical know-how to set up, and proxies come and go. You might miss an event because you're too busy fiddling with your settings or a proxy fails when too many people sign on. Video on demand: If you're running Windows Vista, you can download events using TVTonic for "Olympics on the Go." Torrent client Azureus works on any system to help download events after the fact, especially the most popular ones like tennis, football, boxing and basketball — Torrentz cross-site search of multiple BitTorrent indexes should make it easy to find the Spain versus China women's basketball game you might miss tomorrow. YouTube's official channel is blocked — even using international proxies — though a reader came up with a crack that works for now. Other less thoroughly policed online video sites like Veoh, Metacafe, Dailymotion and Megavideo will also have videos. Pros: Torrents will be high quality and work for anyone, while video-sharing sites will be easiest to use. Cons: Nothing will be live, obviously, and no one knows how long video clips will remain on sharing sites. P2P Streams: The way I'll be watching online will is through MyP2P, a site that catalogs live sports and television streams from around the Web, listed by event. It helps to run Windows, though not necessarily Vista, because many streams require software downloads — check out MyP2P's beginners guide for tips, including where to find software downloads and optimization settings. I ended up finding live BBC coverage of the opening ceremonies via Justin.tv, which ran just fine in my browser. If you can't find the channel you want in the media format you prefer, check wwiTV, TV For Us, TV Channels Free, Channel Chooser or BeelineTV among others. Pros: Free and fairly easy once you've installed most of the media players listed by MyP2P. And it's fun to watch coverage from other countries — I'll be watching all my football with spanish-speaking announcers whenever possible. Cons: Quality is hit-or-miss, stream links come and go, and you have to think ahead in terms of scheduling to make sure you've got all the necessary programs installed. Also, Mac users will want to install Windows XP through Parallels or Fusion for the widest selection of channels.
BitTorrent has denied our report that the company laid off 12 out of 55 employees. That may be true: While our source told us 12 employees were on the layoff list, we've learned that, at the last minute, the jobs of two sales engineers, an HR manager, and an office manager were spared. Another tipster — "you can guess as to whether I'm an insider or not" — says that the BitTorrent layoffs aren't the fault of new CEO Doug Walker, who came to the those-crazy-kids file-sharing startup to add some enterprise-software gravitas. Instead, the elimination of BitTorrent's sales and marketing departments amounts to a coup by cofounders Bram Cohen and Ashwin Navin, pictured here to Walker's right and left, who are giving up on the notion of marketing BitTorrent's file-sharing technology to businesses and hardware makers, and instead pinning their hopes on becoming an "Internet peace corps."That's the second time I've heard that phrase from BitTorrent tipsters, so I'm guessing it's already widely used, if poorly understood, within the company. Anyone care to explain what an "Internet peace corps" is — and how this plan will pay back BitTorrent's investors, who have invested at least $24 million in the company? Our tipster also says Walker's trying to raise a third round of financing amidst this uproar. Here's his detailed recounting of BitTorrent's woes:
When Comcast was caught blocking file sharing on its network, the Federal Communications Commission seemed to strike a blow in favor of peer-to-peer startups everywhere by fining the cable company. Observers assumed that the FCC decision would open the field for file sharing to turn into a legitimate business. But for BitTorrent Inc., a San Francisco startup seeking to commercialize the BitTorrent file-sharing protocol, the move against Comcast led to layoffs instead. The ruling may ultimately prove fatal to the company.