Wil Wheaton Reminds Us That Torrents Are Awesome, And Not Just For Pirated Movies

from the targeting-the-tool dept

The conflation of tools and technologies with the ways people use them is a big problem in the copyright debate. One of the many, many examples is the way the anti-piracy crowd treats "torrent" as a dirty word. Google endorsed this last year when they started dropping it from their search autocomplete results, and as Mike pointed out at the time, just imagine they had done the same with "mp3" a few years ago when that was supposedly synonymous with piracy. Defenders of this kind of filtering don't take such a forward-thinking stance, and their typical response in the torrent debate is to assert that the majority of BitTorrent traffic is likely infringing. Of course, that's not really the point: you don't look at the ratio of infringing use to legal use, but rather at the legal use by itself—if it's substantial and meaningful, then you have to go after the infringing users, not the technology as a whole.

Torrents have many legitimate uses. BitTorrent is simply a good protocol for sharing large files with large groups—they are perfect for films, video games, music and of course software. Linux distros are a commonly cited example, since they are always available by (perfectly legal) torrent, but this is often brushed off as if it's an excuse and torrents are not really necessary for this. Geek icon Wil Wheaton puts a bullet in this notion with a recent post on his blog, clearly demonstrating why he turned to BitTorrent for a copy of Ubuntu:

One of the things that drives me crazy is the belief in Hollywood that bittorrent exists solely for stealing things. Efforts to explain that this is not necessarily true are often met with hands clamped tightly over ears, accompanied by "I CAN'T HEAR YOU LA LA LA."

As an example of the usefulness of bittorrent for entirely legal purposes, I present the following comparitive images:



In case you can't see, the torrent is going about six times faster than a direct download, needing less than 10 minutes as compared to nearly 45. It's a simple example, but an effective one: P2P sharing is simply better sometimes. Google prides itself of directing people to the best possible information, but when their users start searching for the latest version of Ubuntu or the new Counting Crows album, they won't see autocomplete suggestions for this perfectly legal (and potentially superior) means of obtaining what they want. Seems like that runs directly counter to Google's mission. It may only be a minor annoyance, but it's also pointless, and it will only get worse as more and more people embrace torrents for legitimate distribution.

Filed Under: bittorrent, linux, wil wheaton


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  1. identicon
    Austin, 17 May 2012 @ 1:40pm

    New Law Bans Hammers Amidst Cries from Home Builders

    DECEMBER 1ST, 2019 - WASHINGTON, DC - It was a cold day in political hell as Jane's Law, a new bill passed by the house and senate and signed by the president earlier today, has officially banned the sale and use of all standard hammers in the United States today. The law was written and named after Jane Brown, the 45-year old mother and housewife who was bludgeoned to death during a home invasion nearly 2 years ago today. Advocates of the new law dismissed the claims of home builders and others stating "Hammers are a dangerous form of weaponry that cause hundreds of deaths each year. Jane's Law gives law enforcement a powerful new tool to save these lives." When we tried to reach the president of the American Homebuilders Association for comment, he said something inaudible, clearly intoxicated, then shot himself in the head. Professor James Gray at Harvard University, a proponent of the hand tools industry said, "Today really is a sad day for America and a true defeat for common sense. Yes, hammers can be used for malice. So can screwdrivers, drills, and virtually any other hand tool. Despite this, we have always recognized as a society that a tool, even one with potential to be misused by crafty criminals, also has the ability to be used to create houses, repair furniture, and even destroy things we actually should destroy." When asked for his view on the subject, Senator Ron Dewings had this to say: "This new law strikes a blow for freedom. American citizens will never again have to worry about a shadowy intruder in the night wielding one of these weapons of mass terror."

    The proceeding is a fake news report I generated both in an effort to finally achieve a "most insightful comment of the week" nod, and also to illustrate the key point here that many who would see BitTorrent banned seem to miss: You can punish behavior, but you cannot punish the tool. Any tool, every tool, all tools have the potential to be used for good. Even implements of torture can be used to craft leather belts. When you start to ban a tool rather than it's (mis)use, this is what you get. Do you really want us to go back to hammering houses together with a flat rock?

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