When the VCR first came on the market, nearly 100% of the TV and movie content it was used for was "unauthorized," because the big studios refused to offer films. Of course, thankfully, the Supreme Court eventually made it clear that just because it was "unauthorized," it didn't mean that taping TV for later watching was "infringing." But, if the metric you used to judge whether or not a new technology is a "pirate technology" is what percentage of its use was "unauthorized," you get a very skewed picture. Early on, all sorts of new and innovative technologies are mostly used for unauthorized copies... until the industry catches up. However, people don't often deal with trends very well, and they assume, quite incorrectly, that if a technology is initially used in an unauthorized manner, it must be a "piracy tool" and no amount of discussing how trends and adaptation works will convince them otherwise. Lately, there has been plenty of talk about BitTorrent -- with a few cases here and there pointing out that a high percentage (usually over 90% of works are infringing). The argument being made is that there is little redeeming value with BitTorrent since it's almost exclusively used for infringement.
Of course, over time, things change. Content creators begin to embrace the new, realize that it might not be evil, and suddenly we see more and more interesting case studies. And that seems to be happening with BitTorrent. The recent MusicMetric analysis of BitTorrent downloads for the first six months of 2012 found that 31% of downloads were for authorized files. Now, you can argue that this is still less than half of all files -- but it's a big step up from the standard claims that somewhere between 1% and 10% were authorized. It seems quite likely that the trend is moving in the right direction.
In an effort to highlight just how much authorized content is shared using BitTorrent, Bittorrent Inc. put together a neat graphic representation of just one day's authorized downloads
, creating a massive page that includes a single dot for every authorized download. We've put a snapshot of just a small portion of that image below this post... but that's really only a fragment. If you go to the full page, there's an awful lot of scrolling involved. And that's because it's showing 689,955 authorized downloads. In a single day. Not bad.
In case you're wondering who's actually offering up music that's getting downloaded like this, Eliot van Buskirk tracked down the top ten authorized music acts on BitTorrent, which turns up a few surprises.
- Death Grips: 34,151,432
- Counting Crows: 26,950,427
- Billy Van: 18,702,053
- Gods Robot: 12,172,672
- Way Too Sick: 9,974,321
- Paz: 6,485,001
- Bray: 5,878,492
- Pretty Lights: 5,005,061
- DJ Shadow: 4,349,048
- Chester French: 523,356
As Eliot notes, that number one legal download, Death Grips, is signed to a major label deal on Epic (part of Sony Music). The Counting Crows are obviously a big name as well, and we wrote about
their decision to use BitTorrent. They're ex-big label, but now independent. Also, DJ Shadow and Chester French were both associated with Universal sub-labels, though I do not know if either are still "signed." Either way, it's interesting to see that it's a mix of artists, including some from major labels and some others. It certainly looks like, perhaps, the idea that BitTorrent is just for infringement may have to be officially considered debunked.