BitTorrent study finds most file-sharers are monitored

List of downloads Illegal downloaders are likely to be monitored "within hours"

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Anyone using file-sharing service BitTorrent to download the latest film or music release is likely to be monitored, UK-based researchers suggest.

A Birmingham University study indicates that an illegal file-sharer downloading popular content would be logged by a monitoring firm within three hours.

The team said it was "surprised" by the scale of the monitoring.

Copyright holders could use the data to crack down on illegal downloads.

The three-year research was carried out by a team of computer scientists who developed software that acted like a BitTorrent file-sharing client and logged all the connections made to it.

BitTorrent is a method of obtaining files by downloading from many users at the same time.

The logs revealed that monitoring did not distinguish between hardcore illegal downloaders and those new to it.

"You don't have to be a mass downloader. Someone who downloads a single movie will be logged as well," said Dr Tom Chothia, who led the research.

"If the content was in the top 100 it was monitored within hours," he said. "Someone will notice and it will be recorded."

Less popular content was also monitored although less frequently, the study indicated.

Marketing tool

The research identified about 10 different monitoring firms logging content. Of these, a handful were identifiable as copyright-enforcement organisations, security firms and even other research labs.

But about six of the biggest-scale monitors were harder to identify, as the companies behind them used third-party hosting firms to run the searches for them.

Why such firms wanted the massive amounts of data was unclear, said Dr Chothia.

"Many firms are simply sitting on the data. Such monitoring is easy to do and the data is out there so they think they may as well collect it as it may be valuable in future," he said.

Some firms alleged to be carrying out mass-scale monitoring have been accused of selling the data to copyright holders for marketing purposes.

"The data shows what content is popular and where," said Dr Chothia.

The study also revealed that so-called blocklists, used by some illegal file-sharers to prevent monitors from connecting to their computers, might not be much use.

"Many of the monitors we found weren't on the blocklists so these measures to bypass the monitors aren't really working," said Dr Chothia.

Hard evidence

Some copyright owners in Europe and the US are using IP addresses gathered by monitoring firms to apply for court orders obliging internet service providers to hand over the physical addresses associated with them.

They are then writing to individuals seeking recompense or warning of the possibility of court action.

But Dr Chothia doubts evidence gathered in this manner would stand up in court.

"All the monitors observed during the study would connect to file-sharers and verify that they were running the BitTorrent software, but they would not actually collect any of the files being shared," he said.

"It is questionable whether the monitors observed would actually have evidence of file-sharing that would stand up in court," he added.

Lawyers have previously cast doubt on whether evidence collected from an IP address can be used in court because such an address pinpoints the internet connection used for downloading rather than a specific individual.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 60. if my neighbours piggyback on my open WiFi, I will get a letter? Not scary at all :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    It's the governments that are behind it, because they want control over the upcoming web content filters.....
    Thinking of starting a new political party? BLOCKED
    Got something controversial to say? BLOCKED
    Want cheap deals from companies that don't pay their backhanders? BLOCKED

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    If I buy a book and lend it to a friend, that seems reasonable. If I buy a book, make multiple copies and hand them out free on a street corner, I hope most people would consider that wrong. So why is it considered reasonable to hand out free copies on a virtual street corner? This is killing creativity. Why should designers, authors or musicians carry on if they're not getting paid?

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.


    "And in other news, it costs 40p for a tin of baked beans or £2 for a six-pack."

    Having a little trouble reading are we? The person you are replying to was comparing the price of a PHYSICAL album to an MP3 download with no physical nature.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    Im sure they dont register if you download the whole file / use the file / that is was the file you thought it was. Apart from marketing data and possible suspects of large abuse its sounds pretty useless.
    An IP can be traced to the person responsible for the IP at any specific date and time. Although its harder to prove they knew what was happening.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    Once again the issue of pricing is not being considered and instead they are focusing on the people who cannot afford the extortionate prices that the companies demand for what should cost a fraction of the price.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    @Bauer, you are equally wrong. People with USB modems or 3G cards on devices will have their PC / tablet identifiable. Being behind a router simply means there's doubt but if there's only 1 family PC, I think its obvious which one will be used.

    File sharing will never go away until the entertainment industry makes is so cheap that its not worth the hassle. 99p per film x few million = profit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Like to hear a track or two from an album before I commit to parting with my hard earned cash. If I watch a film borrowed from a friend, and I like it, I'll likely buy a copy for myself

    Does this mean the "industry" loses a sale? No. But if I'm not allowed to do either of these things, then I won't be buying anything - period !!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    The law needs to make it possible to directly investigate a location with a suspect IP and search/remove all computer equipment where illegal activity is suspected. Evidence is vital when investigating crime. The efficient and quick retrieval of evidence should be at the focus of all future cybercrime bills. Fines need to reflect the serious nature of social costs that a criminal theft brings.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    Anyone remeber the skull and crossbones from records in the 1980's - "Home recording is killing music" - hmmm Music companies still seem to be making a profit 30 years later.
    This is no different. I never download anything from the internet - I'm still old fashioned and buy records (And CDs and other modern new fangled things such as DVDVDs) - Bring back VHS and Vinyl!

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    So? An IP address and a time stamp does not identify the exact user.
    Big Media - They think they know but they have no idea. Just read up about The Scene on Wikipedia, they are literally decades behind.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    This sort of thing is fueled by 2 camps; Corporate greed and its pathological need to increase profits every year, and the paranoic GB establishment which attempts through successive governments to control and limit GB citizens. We need to put them right.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    It doesn't seem fair that the US seems to get the latest TV/Movie releases weeks and in some cases months before the UK. Some US TV shows never even make it to the British TV networks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    I don't pirate movies or games myself because I think most of them are trash and pay for the few I like.

    Nevertheless I welcome the fall of hollywood and major games publishers. If there's no money to make dreadful movies and games like the phantom menace and call of duty then piracy would have served a useful purpose in my book. Ironic that they would be defeated by their own consumers..

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Torrents are a legitamate method of distributing large files, such as Linux installation DVDs. Why is there an assumption that people downloading large files from the internet are pirates downloading films, music, software and gay pornography? Sheer lunacy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    What's to stop someone making up a load of IP address logs and selling these?
    What's easier and cheaper and requires no hardware/software costs?

    Bare in mind the above, how reliable is this data now?

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    7/10 Empiredown for some of the good responses you go.

    This ladies and gentlemen is what we refer to on the internet as "trolling" not the rubbish descriptions you normally read.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Everyone wants to physically own something that means a lot to them whether it be a film or music. However, the entertainment industry churns out so much rubbish and advertises each one as being the best thing since sliced bread, the consumer needs a way to filter out the BS. Downloading a poor quality version of a film or a couple of songs will simply give an indication of what is worth getting!

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    It's about time the movie/music companies realised they need to offer legitimate purchasers a better service than illegal downloads.

    When I'm penalised for buying a DVD by being forced to watch a 5 minute FBI warning about copying, I'm punished by the DVD containing copy protection so I cannot copy it to my PC and stream it from there to my PC, I have NO incentive to pay to be punished.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    1. Big corporations will continue to pressure governments into trying to wipe out the "problem"
    2. Many people will find alternative ways to get material either online or from another source
    3. The amount of products being sold will not increase, and so other means of persecuting the prolls will be found

    The lawyers must be loving all this


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