When you think of bittorrent software, what do you think of? Illegal music downloading, right? It’s understandable. Napster impregnated this image in our minds. But, torrent sites have grown up since then. Sure, there are some out there that don’t believe in intellectual property, but most of the downloads in 2013 were completely legal.

How Torrent Software Works

Torrent software is a file-sharing platform/protocol that allows users to connect with each other and share files over the Internet. A file is uploaded by a user, and it’s broken up into many small bits. Each part of the target file is then distributed to many different users. When anyone wants to download that file, they collect all the bits from the multiple users and reassemble the file.

The process is efficient and works on the “honor” system – there are “seeders” and “leechers”. Seeders upload the file and get the process started. Leechers are the folks who download the file. Trackers organize the downloading process, and there you have it – files are transferred directly from one person to another.

How It Benefits Users

Users benefit in one major and obvious way. It’s free and easy to download anything the user wants (that’s available via torrent). This means that the user can download any file, including copyright-protected media, and that’s where things get bad for media companies.

Years ago (and even today, to some extent), some users upload copyrighted material and share it. This hurts music and entertainment companies because they depend on revenue from sales of licenses for the media.

Of course, the torrent users involved in this activity often argue that the media companies are greedy and already have enough money. But, the fact remains: downloading copyright-protected material without permission is illegal. It’s essentially theft, and it’s cost heavy metal bands like Metallica millions of dollars.

How It Benefits Artists

Companies, like Vuze, welcome legitimate uses of torrents, and even praise those fighting for stronger copyright protection. They prohibit the sharing of illegal content on their site – making it a great place for artists to freely share their work, if they so choose. Author Grant Korgan and musicians Bands Under the Radar make use of Vuze as a way to share their works.

Why distribute art freely? To encourage more sales. When users get solid demo tracks or other great content, they’re more likely to purchase an entire album or another book or film. It’s a hypothesis that’s been tested and found to work out well for a number of artists.

So, while torrent sites haven’t completely cured themselves of their bad image just yet, the future still looks bright for this industry. It’s a fast, economically viable, proven, and stable way to transfer massive amounts of data.

Not only that, it leaves the control over file transfer with individuals. It makes forming a grassroots movement possible, and is the ultimate form of democracy in terms of file sharing and popularity. Every download is a vote and, while many governments want to see these things disappear, it’s likely that they will only grow in popularity.

Corey Dudley tracks how the internet affects a variety of industries. He enjoys blogging about consumer awareness, cultural impacts, and financial attributes of the modern online world.

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