A BitTorrent Arms Race?

By May 20, 2012

A Russian, Microsoft-backed startup says it has developed technology for copyright owners to fight piracy. But the company is tight-lipped about exactly how the service works – and if it’s effective, it or company’s that buy protection could face legal repercussions.

Image: BitTorrentPirate Pay – a play on the popular torrent site The Pirate Bay – tested its service by disrupting torrent traffic of “Vysotsky. Thanks to God, I am alive,” a Walt Disney and Sony-produced film that played in Russian theaters this winter. According to the company, it blocked 44,845 downloads of the film over a 30 day period, and anticipate being able to offer wider protection in the future.

“Not everything passed smoothly in the beginning,” said Pirate Pay CTO Alex Klimenko, in a statement. “We faced a difficult task to make a working prototype into a full service for a very short time. And in the process we gained invaluable experience, our technology has become literally a hundred times better and now Pirate Pay is able to block counterfeiting in torrents much better.”

A Microsoft press release – written in Russian – lauds the project for what the company called a “unique” model for fighting online piracy. Pirate Pay received a reported $100,000 in seed funds from Microsoft.

Former vice president of engineering for BitTorrent, Inc John Pettitt warned that the technology may not be that effective, and that it may not be effective against all BitTorrent technologies that are in circulation. And importantly, he noted, the technique may not be legal.

“Reading the article it sound like they are spoofing traffic to confuse torrent clients and force disconnects,” Pettitt wrote. “It’s not at all clear if this will work against all versions of the protocol (particularly the udp based version). Leaving aside the technical issues it’s also unclear is such action is legal. It sounds like a targeted denial of service attack, a major corporation paying for such an attack leaves itself wide open to civil and criminal legal action particularly if they accidentally target the wrong torrent which given the history is highly likely.”

And TechDirt’s Mike Masnick pointed out that even if the project is effective at curtailing torrent traffic, there’s no guarantee that would-be pirates will go out and buy a cinema ticket or DVD of the film they were unable to download. There is also the possibility that an arms race will develop between the filesharing community and anti-piracy efforts like Pirate Pay.