BitTorrent's Public Image Campaign

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BitTorrent is one of those classic "technology is neutral" pieces of software. There are people who are using the protocol in totally benign ways to share public domain and creative commons material, academic research, and more. But it is more notorious for being the protocol that powers a large part of the illegal file-sharing on the internet. The BitTorrent company is aware of its software's less than stellar reputation, and according to Variety, it is waging a PR campaign to win the hearts and minds of Hollywood.

In recent months, BitTorrent has teamed with Vice Media, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Moby and other filmmakers and musicians to launch promotional content bundles. Those packages have included photos, trailers, videos, songs, posters and other digital extras, in hopes downloaders will go see or purchase a movie, attend a concert or, say, buy a T-shirt. This spring, BitTorrent plans to add a payment capability to let users unlock a bundle using a credit card.

“We have to solve this pain point with the content industries,” said BitTorrent marketing veep Matt Mason. Piracy is “a question we have to answer every day.”

For Cinedigm chief marketing officer Jill Newhouse Calcaterra, the prospect of tapping into BitTorrent’s 170 million-plus user base was irresistible. The studio distributed a clip of romantic comedy “Arthur Newman” via BitTorrent last April. The bundle was downloaded 2.7 million times, and resulted in 300,000-plus visits to Cindedigm’s website.

It's a nice idea. The pro-file sharing community often point to studies which say that file sharers also buy more media, which would be a net benefit to the studios if they could find some way to live with torrenters. But considering Comcast alone sent 625,000 copyright alerts last year, it seems like the folks making decisions about piracy for the studios are less interested in engaging with BitTorrent than trying to stop it.