“Options, not rules”: BitTorrent Profits from Piracy By Serving Ads To UTorrent Client

As galling as it may be, About.com actually has a post calledThe Best Torrent Downloading Software 2013.”  And who is the winner of the best client to use for stealing music and movies?

“Here they are: the most popular ‘music pirate’ downloading software for torrent file sharing. This list is compiled from hundreds of user comments and reader suggestions. Currently, the two most popular tools are uTorrent and Tixati. But definitely look at all the choices below for yourself.”

So what is “uTorrent”?  Why the handy application from SF Music Tech sponsor Bit Torrent, Inc. of course.  uTorrent has been downloaded over 20 million times from download.com alone, so you won’t be surprised to hear that the ad supported application serves over 5 billion ads a month.

According to Torrentfreak:

Based on the stats reported by BitTorrent, the uTorrent client serves more than five billion ads every month. This is quite an impressive figure and more than most smaller advertising companies serve on their entire network.

A quick inspection of the type of ads run on the network reveals that poker software and PC performance ‘enhancing’ apps are the most advertised products. This may of course differ based on the country people download from.

Some of the advertised products are downloaded by thousands of people a day. A product called “SpeedUpMyComputer” has more than 45,000 seeders and hundreds of active downloaders at the time of writing.

Thus far we haven’t been able to spot any ads for premium brands, or plugs for entertainment industry companies. This might be the next challenge for BitTorrent, because there’s certainly an audience to cater to.

Right–“entertainment industry companies” should advertise on uTorrent.  That makes about as much sense as Macy’s doing a direct mail campaign–but just to shoplifters.

Well, it should come as no surprise that Bit Torrent, Inc. is a major sponsor of SF Music Tech–who can forget Andrew Keen’s interview with Bit Torrent founder Bram Cohen live from the eponymous Kabuki HotelYou can check out any time you like…

If you saw Bram Cohen stumble around during Andrew Keen’s interview in response to Andrew’s pointed questions, in a post-Grokster environment you won’t be surprised to know that the company’s CEO denies that Bit Torrent is trying to induce infringement–kitty cat is listening to his lawyers! Even so, the International Business Times points out that:

Users are not able to download torrent files from many of those sites without the use of uTorrent or similar clients. Technically uTorrent doesn’t host any files, but there are more than 150 million registered uTorrent users, most of whom regularly download content illegally [if not continually]…“We are scientists, engineers, developers and designers committed to building a better Internet,” [said Eric Klinker, Bit Torrent Inc.’s CEO].  “We are photographers, musicians, writers and gamers. We came to work here because we wanted to change the way the Internet works for us. How it works for all of us.”

He certainly did that–“the Internet” definitely works better for anyone getting 5 billion ad impressions a month.  But of course–Mr. Klinker and his team are Very Serious Men of Science selling ads for poker sites.

While other torrent sites like The Pirate Bay, Demonoid and BT Junkie have either been shut down or have faced legal trouble, uTorrent has expanded its empire. Earlier this year uTorrent released an Android app and has increased revenue by selling advertising space, all of which Klinker thinks legitimizes the company.

“We do not endorse piracy,” he said. “We do not encourage it. We don’t point to piracy sites. We don’t host any infringing content.”

They sell advertising, so they must be legitimate, right? 

This article, by the way, will be Exhibit A when BitTorrent is finally brought to justice.  This actually reminds me of the Grokster arguments on appeal to the 9th Circuit–a fine example of the losing argument–where these companies essentially said a la Sergeant Shultz, we know nothing, we just thought that millions of people were downloading our software to share copies of the Bible, William Shakespeare and the Grateful Dead.  It never occurred to us that there sure were a lot of highly religious, Shakespeare loving, Dead Heads out there.

The other argument we’ve heard from the Pirate Bay and no doubt will hear from Bit Torrent is that they are “just like Google.” 

Well that’s the problem, isn’t it?

Of course, what’s interesting about ads on uTorrent is that they won’t show up by looking at the Google Transparency Report although Bit Torrent sites are targets of a significant number of the 20,000,000 notices a month sent to Google for search links–made valuable by BitTorrent technology in general and overwhelmingly by use of the uTorrent client.  So the pirates profit in at least two places–on the site that hosts the files and on the uTorrrent client that makes the theft possible.  In fact, it might not be an overstatement to say that BitTorrent, Inc. is the glue the holds together the entire brand sponsored piracy ecosystem.  You can understand why Google would want to see uTorrent thrive given its installed base and the massive amount of traffic it indirectly generates for search. 

You can also understand why BitTorrent would want to start selling advertising so they can get their own piece of the wealth generated by the biggest income transfer in commercial history.

Ben Johnson of NPR’s Marketplace has an excellent podcast interview with the best music tech reporter in the business, Greg Sandoval and sets up Bit Torrent’s problem quite well inBig Ad Sales on High Seas of Online Piracy“:

Most businesses would be pretty excited if they could boast advertisements on their webiste could be viewed five billion times each month. That’s the exposure promised by the company BitTorrent. The ads appear on its downloadable software called UTorrent.

But there’s a catch. BitTorrent is best known as a way for people to illegally share and download content. It’s a dicey marketplace even for a brand that wants exposure. Still, does the promise of money trump fears of selling goods to law-breakers?

The company’s slogan is “Options, not rules”.  Whatever might they be referring to?

Party on in SOMA musictech dudes.

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