Lawsuits Cause Shift in File-Swapping Traffic

A new study says that eDonkey has become the most popular peer-to-peer (P2P) network for sharing video files, a sign file-swappers are changing tactics and technology amid a crackdown on unauthorized sharing of copyrighted material.

Cambridge, England-based CacheLogic said that P2P traffic makes up the majority of all data traveling among Internet service providers worldwide. The company also said that key parts of that traffic has shifted away from BitTorrent, which has been hit by lawsuits and other crackdowns, toward eDonkey, with that network the most popular for sharing video files.

CacheLogic said its study of traffic across P2P networks, based on observations of file sizes and other characteristics from measurements taken on four continents earlier this summer, found that Gnutella was a favorite for audio clips, while FastTrack was dominated by short video clip files.

BitTorrent, meanwhile, while still seeing the vast majority of overall P2P traffic, is now being used more for swapping games, software and software updates in authorized, legitimate settings, such as open-source advocates who use it to move large files full of code. BitTorrent also saw less video traffic than in the past.

Most of that traffic appears to have shifted to eDonkey, where the majority of the traffic is made up of large, data-intense files that indicate full-length video.

Next Generation

BitTorrent itself gained prominence after the first two waves of P2P networks — the original Napster and then networks such as Morpheus and Kazaa — were targeted heavily by the record and movie industries, which used lawsuits and other techniques to root out copyright infringing users.

P2P users have been seen shifting their approaches, with some newer networks working by storing pieces of a full-length movie on different users’ computers, theoretically making it more difficult to track and identify file-swappers.

The shifting traffic also suggests a “game of P2P hide and seek,” said CacheLogic Chief Technology Officer Andrew Parker, rather than a true decrease in sharing of movies and music.

The entertainment industry has suggested that the rise of legitimate digital download sites, especially for music, but increasingly for movies as well, and other evidence shows a decline in the demand for file-sharing.

Matter of Time

At the same time, however, pirated copies of feature films seems to be showing up on P2P networks faster than ever, sometimes even before the films are released to theaters.

Forrester Research analyst Josh Bernoff said legitimate download opportunities are essential to lowering levels of piracy taking place via P2P networks. While the music industry finally moved to offer those choices, the movie studios have been slower to get into the digital distribution act.

“Consumers say they’re ready and willing to pay for downloaded content,” Bernoff said. “The stage is set. It’s just up to the studios and other player to figure out distribution questions” such as digital rights technology to prevent further piracy.

In the meantime, those sharing files illegally will probably not be able to hide for long, however. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has already sued some eDonkey users, though it has focused on more high-profile networks more heavily.

And the entertainment industry has enjoyed some legal victories over P2P software makers. Kazaa and Morpheus face the renewed prospect of lawsuits from the studios after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling which said that if those companies enticed users to employ their software to steal copyrighted content, they could be held liable for the actions of end-users.

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