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 80.

    Yes but many people use fake IPs and proxies. Also most IPs issued to home connections in the UK are dynamic ones with multiple users, so you will see many addresses linked to the same IP.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    This is why filesharers have their own lists of "dodgy" IP addresses and use them to prevent certain networks accessing their machines.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    I used to tape the top 40 trying to guess when the DJ was about to talk.

    Should I be worried about that too?

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    Okay illegal downloading is stealing, but what of monitoring my internet use without a court order. Can I demand a copy of all their info under data protection? Can I correct errors? Can I sue the monitors for breech of privacy? Doesn't all this sound slightly one sided? Once again big business rides over the rights of the little guy who can do nothing to stop them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    @59 sadly, this is where we are headed. People going to jail over insults on the internet. The way nobody seems to notice these things and/or doesn't care about free speech (if it doesn't affect them), makes me physically sick. Soon we will all be forced to have shaved heads to avoid offending anyone, or maybe be forced to install a brainchip monitering what swears we are allowed to say.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    Drugs cost millions to develop and yet their patent lasts less than a decade. Songs cost a fraction of drugs and yet their copyright lasts for 70 years! Where's the rationale in that? Make copyright fair (just a few years) and 'illegal' downloading will dissapear.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    @55 - So basically what you are saying is that if you can't afford something from a company it's perfectly okay to steal it. Working on that logic your car or house are fair game for anyone who wants it but doesn't want to pay for it. Scary....

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    Why download anyway? Its all on YouTube which is much more convenient when you're at a friends house, I can't see this battle going on for too long to be honest, the technology had its heyday in the 90s but its been made obsolete with better internet speeds and content provision.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    At the end of the day there are millions of people doing it, getting caught is probably the same odds as winning the lottery so stories like this are hardly likely to deter anyone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    "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***." [Emphasis mine]

    That would be a horrific state of affairs and would lead to many wrongful seizures. And you want search warrants based on IP addresses? Prior to there being a court hearing or even an arrest? No, thanks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    People stating on here the prices are too high. That is not a defensible case for stealing. That's what they said about music, and it has changed the music industry forever. There are no longer record shops. You hardly get any money as an artist from record sales, total reduction in independent labels. Large labels owned by investment banks, is this what you want?

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    The harvesting of IP addresses isn't that hard to do, however it has been proven time and time again that the information is practically worthless and seems to mainly fall into the hands of unscrupulous "speculative invoicing" scammers.
    Hopefully ISPs have now learned their lesson and will stop handing over user information to these con-artists at the drop of an officious looking letter.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    I know what I'll do to stop all this copywrite nonsense. I'll get a supercomputer and tell it to produce every combination of sounds that can be heard over a 5 minute period. I'll then copywrite all of them as being my creations and punish anyone who EVER tries to write ANY music EVER again. Now can you see the stupidity?

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.


    Because not all of them are any good.

    Why should they get paid for something that is only really evaluated at a point when the consumer cant give it back because its unsuitable.

    No. if you are going to act like a simpleton I will talk to you as one.

    No Test = No Money

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    Is it legal for a private company to monitor an individual's activity on the web without the consent of either the uploader or downloader?
    Seems inconsistent with the new law about cookies ??

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    @empiredown - fairly sure you're trolling but you could at least make an effort to *appear* informed. Anyone with a rudimentary grasp of networking technology knows that you're talking nonsense regarding IP address investigations.

    And copyright infringement is a civil matter unless you're involved in pirating on a "commercial scale."

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    Recently I have just bought second hand DVD's online. When you can buy a second hand DVD for 26p + £1.25 postage whats the problem?

    Stagger your TV watching and get the big American shows on DVD a year after they come out and get them cheaper. There is no real need to download these shows illegally unless you have a medical condition that means you have to see it now!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    @59 Don't worry, I'm sure you'll still be able to order industrial sized rolls of tinfoil online.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.


    the government could wipe out national debt if they asked big businesses to pay *all* their taxes as well as all their friends and families and closed tax haven loopholes.

    Most people seem to be missing electronic books, a hardback book is about £12-£15 and the electronic version is the same but has no printing costs, storage costs, delivery costs but is still the same price...go figure

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    Look at it this why it's like going into your local record store taking everything off their shelves and walking out again while flicking a 'V' Then the next time you go you wonder why all the records stores have closed down. Then Cash Converters moves in and then in 5 years they'll go bust because everyones downloaded and there's no more physical things to cash in and sale.


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