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MPAA to serve lawsuits on BitTorrent servers

Targeting movie sharers, not enabling technology

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The Motion Picture Ass. of America (MPAA) will today launch a legal attack on BitTorrent users in a bid to prevent ripped DVDs being shared across the network.

The lawsuit will target BitTorrent server operators, Reuters reports rather than downloaders, indicating this is less an assault on the technology and more on the people misusing it.

BitTorrent, developed in 2001 by Bram Cohen, speeds file transfers by segmenting the content and downloading parts from multiple users according to who offers the fattest pipes to your machine. As you receive a file, so other BitTorrent users are able to grab it from you in the same way. The idea is to ensure a more even sharing of bandwidth between participants.

It's not a classic P2P application in the sense that it's about improving download performance rather than sharing files per se. Files are found not through the application itself but through links on websites. These trigger the code to download the content, grabbing files where possible from peers rather than the initial server.

It is this latter component that the MPAA is targeting. Websites encouraging BitTorrent dissemination of movie material for which they do not have distribution rights will be on the receiving end of lawsuits, the organisation is expected to say. Cohen himself is not believed to be in the MPAA's sights, sources told Reuters.

The move marks the latest step an escalation of action the MPAA is taking against illegal file sharers. Last month, it initiated legal proceedings against more than 200 named and unnamed individuals sharing movies on P2P networks.

Precedent leaves the MPAA with little choice but to attack movie-sharers rather than BitTorrent itself. But if next July's anticipated Supreme Court ruling in the MPAA/RIAA vs Grokster/Streamcast goes in favour of the movie and music industries, the heat is going to be on any technology, no matter how benign the intentions of its developer, that nevertheless makes piracy possible. ®

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