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Sample Descriptive Essay: Bit Torrents and File Sharing

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BitTorrents, cybersecurity, cybercrime, net neutrality and the like are hot topics around Ultius. Our professional, American freelance writers often compose essays and research papers on these trending topics and from time-to-time, we like to publish exceptionally relevant work on our blog. Should our readers want to utilize this content in their own research, go for it! Just remember to cite your sources correctly

What is file sharing?

BitTorrent is an internet content distribution protocol, or set of rules, for the exchange of information (“BitTorrent”). The technology allows data, like large files, such as an online upgrade of Microsoft Windows 10, or a Netflix movie download, to occur utilizing a collection of users as network redistribution points. The BitTorrent methodology is often referred to as swarming, where each member of the swarm, contributes to the distribution of data in the network, rather than antecedent mechanisms of distribution. Anthony Leather of Forbes explains that,conceptually, prior to BitTorrent, a content owner, such as Microsoft, as the online purveyor of Excel software, would download Excel directly to the individual buyer.. In one day, this might happen thousands of times, consuming their resources and creating a slow experience for the customer.

In the case of BitTorrent technology, Microsoft would now download a copy of Excel to one user or customer, who would thereafter, distribute a copy of Excel to another user or customer. Through the decentralized utilization of BitTorrent, Microsoft saves on bandwidth consumption, users gain speedier downloads, everyone saves money, and the user saves on frustration. Another way of looking at it is if you have five computers at home, and you would like to download Excel, your primary computer could perform the initial transfer, and your other four computers could obtain the software from your primary computer, rather than all five computers being required to download the software directly from Microsoft servers (Leather).

The process relies on the innovative protocol method called peer-to-peer, or P2P (“Peer-to-Peer”). In P2P, each user computer has the same capacity to start a session distribution or sharing request as another. The traditional method, called the client/server method, operated where a main computer, or client, requested a service, and the server would provide the service according to Carman Carmack of Howstuffworks.com. So, in this instance, if a customer wanted to order Excel, conceptually, the purchase would be made, then a request for download would be made by your computer (the client) to the server to download a copy of Excel to you.

The actual transfer would be handled by File Transfer Protocol, or FTP, or in other instances Hyper Text Transfer Protocol, or HTTP. Protocols are a set of rules that effectively control the conversation and actions between the requesting client computer and the performing server computer. If the file requested is large, and the amount of clients requesting services of the server is high, the ability to rapidly obtain the downloaded software, movie or music can be indeterminable. If the traffic it too high on the server, the download process could come to a dead crawl. In the case of P2P, a copy of the software would be provided by a user, not a server.

Types of peer-to-peer networks

  • Gnutella
  • Kazaa
  • G@
  • eDonkey
  • Butter Project
  • Direct Connect
  • KickassTorrents
  • Isohunt
  • The Pirate Bay
  • Popcorn Time
  • RetroShare
  • Zeronet

Napster – The new world order

Most people are familiar with Napster, the notorious music sharing application, started in 1999, that allowed individuals to download music from other users who were online at the time, rather than having to purchase their own original CD (Suskind). Napster users were effectively downloading the music from a friend down the street. The process allowed music aficionados to bypass industry record companies and get their music for free. Ultimately, Napster encountered major legal entanglements, from the Record Industry Association of America (RIAA) and major worldwide recording stars, where it was found that they violated music artist’s copyrights. The process was theft of the artist’s work. Napster shut down in 2001, and the owners were forced to pay millions of dollars to musicians, and those who held musical copyrights (Suskind). 

The principle upon which Napster was based, a principle that revolutionized the music industry, is the same P2P principle as BitTorrent (Suskind). Napster reconstituted the concept that a music buyer must purchase an entire album, in order to enjoy the one song that they actually liked. In addition, it provided a means for those who loved music that was older, and often retired by the record companies, to still be obtained and enjoyed. In effect the P2P power of Napster, and its legal successors, took control of music out of the hands of the industry and put it in the hands of the consumer as Alex Suskind of The Daily Beast explains.

Many may remember the contract squabble between Prince and Warner Brothers Records, which exemplified the level of control the industry had over its artists (Christman). The now defunct Napster concept, reinvented and transformed into newer and legal formats, has also allowed new musicians to explode onto the music scene, through control of their own brand and music, an experience which older artists had never been allowed to experience (Suskind).

From Napster to BitTorrent

BitTorrent is the dominant scheme for users to share software, movies, books and music online through P2P sharing (Carmack). BitTorrent works through the download of tiny portions of data files from numerous internet sources that already have the files, simultaneously. The process is simple to use, and in most cases is free. BitTorrent has emerged into one of the most popular activities, and represents the highest percentage of internet use today.

Slightly different from other P2Ps, BitTorrent uses a tracker server to identify sought after files. Another unique characteristic used is referred to as tit-for-tat. This feature requires a computer that seeks files to distribute files, solving a P2P dilemma called leeching, which like it sounds, prevents computers that only want to leech off of other computers from doing so. A benefit that BitTorrent provides is that the more a computer shares, the faster their own downloads become. Further, to best use bandwidth, the data transmission highway, BitTorrent grabs different portions of the file from multiple computers at the same time (Carmack).

BitTorrent on rewriting the rules of the internet

In 2008, a U.S. internet problem was brewing (Baer). During the peak hours of 7pm to 11pm, internet providers were attempting to deal with the enormous demands for data transfers during those hours. In order to solve this problem, providers began favoring some classes of data over others. In an effort to reduce traffic, certain types of data were allowed to function and others were denied. This issue, referred to as net neutrality, became a hot button issue in Washington. Net neutrality is the principle that an internet provider, like AOL, should not block or restrict any particular kind of content, in an effort to ensure a neutral internet, free of resource “legislation” by anyone. The internet should be freely accessed and trafficked by all (Baer).

BitTorrent had a problem (Baer). The internet providers wanted to potentially lock them out. Lawmakers needed to consider legislation in order to protect the concept of a free and neutral internet - who knew where that would go, and users demanded faster download speeds. There were no government affairs offices, the company had no political action committees (PACs) to help with legislation, BitTorrent had just 23 employees. So, what was a company to do? BitTorrent had an advantage, they had profoundly creative technologists who understood the internet better than anyone, so they set about to tackle the internet providers’ problem, and in effect, revolutionize an industry.

They decided to fix the net neutrality problem by creating a technology that directly addressed the problem (Baer). Enter Micro Transport Protocol (uTP). Micro Transport Protocol is a method of unjamming traffic. The process can be equated with our daily commute to work. There are times of the day when we can leave for work and immediately sit in traffic for hours, and there are other times when we can leave later in the day, or earlier and have a clear drive that would only take twenty minutes. This is the function that uTP serves for BitTorrent. uTP tells BitTorrent to sit at home, watch TV, and leave for work later in the day when there is less traffic. TCP/IP, another more classic protocol, handles traffic jams after the fact. It proceeds on the data highway until it encounters a problem, then when things begin to fail, it realizes that there is a problem. In the case of uTP, it functions as a smart protocol. It anticipates problems and addresses them (Baer).

If you are streaming video for Ocean’s Eleven, and are using an intense level of resources, uTP cause BitTorrent to wait until streaming completes prior to transferring data, also utilizing late night, less competitive hours to get things done. Utilization of uTP has changed the dynamic of the high resource peak hours of 7pm to 11pm. Peak traffic continues to decrease. In addition, BitTorrent users have increased from 60 million to 170 million within a six year period since 2008 (Baer). BitTorrent has proved that the solution to policy issues is not always legislation, sometimes creative technological advances can serve the same purpose.

The darkside of BitTorrent

You must be ever vigilant if you engage in illegalities while using BitTorrent (Delahunty). Popcorn Time filed a lawsuit in an Oregon District Court, for downloading and sharing “The Cobbler.” Some IP addresses associated with Comcast accounts were cited. The complaint sought a permanent injunction and damages up to $150,000. It is likely that the defendants will be offered a settlement, but the threat of a court case is still quite jarring (Delahunty).

In a more offensive file sharing case, two men were arrested on Tuesday, April 14, 2015, for possession and sharing of child pornography through BitTorrent (Goldberg). They were arraigned in Pennsylvania District Court, after which they were jailed at Montgomery County Correctional Facility. Casey James Boone’s bail was set at $500,000, and Moises Alexis Perez-Gonzalez bail was set at $25,000. An investigation was conducted by special agents from the Attorney General’s Child Predator Section into determining who was sharing child pornography of what appeared to be children between 6 to 10 years old. The IP addresses were tracked down to the men’s home and agents and local police obtained individual search warrants and hit both homes separately (Goldberg).  

Entertainment isn't the only industy susceptible to piracy. Alexandra Elbakyan, a russian researcher, made a large number of academic journal articles available for free on the internet. These journals are technically the property of the publisher, and normally require payment to access them, and she has had a judgment made against her to repay the publisher.

Depending on the ultimate outcome, in what may be the funniest example of illegal BitTorrent piracy, a 63 year old Cluj-Napoca, Romania woman, nicknamed Super Pirate Grandma, was arrested and continues to be criminally investigated for pirating copyrighted content and distribution (Paul). Certainly it is not funny that she was arrested, and hopefully the investigation will end with no liability on her part, but the name Super Pirate Grandma (SPG), certainly makes you chuckle.

Yet SPG’s experience is an important lesson for anyone interested in using BitTorrent for illegal purposes. The key takeaway from this sample discriptive essay is the fact that using BitTorrent is legal, and the fact that you can access some highly appealing content, does not mean that downloading copyright product will not get you into big trouble down the road. When we use the internet, it is easy to get lulled into a false sense of confidence, that what we are doing is either safe, legal or is something that we can get away with. You should never allow the internet to create a false sense of comfort.   

Works Cited

Baer, Drake. "How BitTorrent Rewrote The Rules Of The Internet." Fast Company. Fast Company & Inc. 3 May 2014. Web. 6 May 2016. 

"BitTorrent" WhatIs.com. TechTarget. n. d. Web. 6 May 2016. 

Carmack, Carmen. "How Bittorrents Work." How Stuff Works. HowStuffWorks, a division of InfoSpace, LLC. n. d. Web. 6 May 2016. 

Christman, Ed "Prince Gains His Catalog in Landmark Deal With Warner Bros.; New Album Coming." Billboard. 18 April 2014. Web. 3 May 2016. 

Delahunty, James. "Popcorn Time users sued in the U.S., two men arrested in Denmark." After Dawn. AfterDawn Oy. 20 August 2015. Web.  6 May 2016. 

Goldberg, Michael . "Two Lansdale men arrested for allegedly possessing, sharing child pornography." Montgomery Media. Digital First Media. 15 April 2015. Web. 6 May 2016. 

Leather, Antony. "Windows 10 To Use BitTorrent-Style P2P To Deliver Updates." Forbes. Forbes, Inc. 16 March 2015. Web. 6 May 2016. 

Paul. "63 Year Old Romanian Woman Arrested for File Sharing on BitTorrent." BurnWorld. Burn World, Inc. 23 March 2015.  Web. 6 May 2016. 

"Peer-to-Peer" WhatIs.com. TechTarget. n. d. Web. 6 May 2016.

Suskind, Alex. "15 Years After Napster: How the Music Service Changed the Industry." The Daily Beast. The Daily Beast Company, LLC. 6 June 2014. Web. 6 May 2016. 

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