Consumers Prefer Legal Content, New Study Suggests

in Copyright/Intellectual Property by

WASHINGTON, February 9, 2011 –A recent report commissioned by NBC Universal shows that if given the opportunity, consumers prefer to obtain content online legally.

The report, by the Cambridge, U.K.-based internet monitoring and research group Envisional, examined four main methods of sharing copyrighted material online: BitTorrent, cyberlockers, video-sharing sites and other peer-to-peer networks such as Kazaa or eDonkey.

The report showed that films make up the largest single category of pirated content at 69 percent, followed by television at 11 percent on the BitTorrent tracking site PublicBT, one of the most popular of such sites online.

BitTorrent is the most popular form of file sharing globally, with more than 100 million users worldwide, according to Envisional. It is so large that on its own BitTorrent traffic accounts for 14.6 percent of all internet traffic.

The protocol transfers bits of files between peers, or users, and the rate at which file transfers happen is correlated with how many people there are sharing the content — the more the better and faster the transfers.

It appears that if users are able to obtain their content in a simple way legally online they will do so rather than trying to find illegal copies that are of questionable quality:  In the United States, Hulu makes it easy for users to access a large amount of television for free viewing online, and purchasing content on iTunes or Amazon’s Video on Demand service is easy and cheap.

The data shows that music is not a big factor on BitTorrent, and that file sharing on networks like Kazaa has plunged. This suggests that piracy may not be as a big factor online as the music industry claims. This makes sense given the cheap and easy availability of music online via iTunes, or via internet radio services like Pandora.

One of the newest methods of file sharing is cyberlockers. They make up the smallest method  of sharing of pirated material. They only make up 3 percent of the internet’s traffic. These sites work by offering users a cheap place to host data and share it anonymously.

Individuals search message boards and cyberlocker index sites for files; these sites do not host the content but rather simply offer links to files which are hosted by cyberlockers.

While these sites are currently small, they continue to grow. The largest cyberlocker RapidShare currently gets more page views than The Pirate Bay, the most popular BitTorrent site. Hotfile, another popular cyberlocker, has recently been targeted by the MPAA.

Video sharing sites, which contain large amounts of user-generated content, have long been plagued with hosting illegal content. YouTube, the world’s most popular video sharing site, accounts for 5 percent of global bandwidth alone.

To prevent the sharing of copyrighted material, YouTube has implemented a number of preventative measures. These measures include the limiting of video length to 15 minutes and installing copyright filters that scan videos.

A number of smaller online video sharing sites such as LetMeWatchThis,  ZMovie,  and Movie2K appear to be geared toward the sharing of illegal content.

These sites have become the target for Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). The two agencies have teamed up and have gone after a number of popular video sharing sites. Last week, ICE and HSI shut down 10 of the most popular sites including Atdhe.net, Channelsurfing.net, and HQ-streams.com.

In the wake of the fall of Napster and Kazaa, P2P networks that used to be the most popular forms of file sharing have dropped off precipitously, according to Envisional.

These sites now only account for less than six percent of all internet traffic — the smallest compared to the other three forms analyzed.

Rahul Gaitonde has been writing for BroadbandBreakfast.com since the fall of 2009, and in May of 2010 he became Deputy Editor. He was a fellow at George Mason University’s Long Term Governance Project, a researcher at the International Center for Applied Studies in Information Technology and worked at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. He holds a Masters of Public Policy from George Mason University, where his research focused on the economic and social benefits of broadband expansion. He has written extensively about Universal Service Fund reform, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and the Broadband Data Improvement Act

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