The federal shutdown of Megaupload and arrest of its owner Kim Dotcom last month has triggered a panic in the filesharing community. Several popular bittorrent communities have abruptly shut down, including Btjunkie, Cheggit, and Fileporn. File-locker service Filesonic disabled file sharing, and Uploaded.to blocked traffic from the U.S. Other vulnerable site owners are surely considering similar measures.
It should come as no surprise then that the filesharing program Tribler, whose lead researcher claims that “The only way to take it down is to take The Internet down,” is suddenly in the spotlight. In fact, it is so popular right now that the Tribler website has been reduced to just its download page with the message, “Sorry: limited website due to high popularity.”
Tribler is perhaps the next generation of filesharing. While it uses the bittorrent protocol in its peer-to-peer distribution of files, unlike traditional bittorrent programs it does not rely on tracker files downloaded from websites. Instead, search results for downloadable material are gathered directly from other users. (See Wikipedia for a more detailed explanation.) There may be no simple way for the government or any other entity to “pull the plug” – shutting down any one Tribler user will deprive other Tribler users of that user’s bandwidth but will not destroy the network.
If Tribler does become widely used – and in the process becomes the new go-to for downloading copyrighted music and videos – there will be ramifications in the controversial war against online copyright infringement.
Paradoxically, Tribler could be a great boon to the so-called “copyright trolls” – copyright holders who obtain the IP addresses of individual downloaders, subpoena their identities from their ISPs, and threaten them with litigation unless they agree to a settlement.
Without central hubs like websites or torrent communities to target, the copyright holders may get added sympathy from judges and more tolerance for their massive lawsuits that have thus far met with resistance and even sanctions. In effect, the copyright holders will be able to make a more plausible argument than they could before that there are no other ways for them to protect their copyrights. (While there is some credence to the idea that it will be harder for governments to shut down Tribler, it will be no harder for plaintiffs to track the IP addresses of individual downloaders.)
Large copyright interests, moreover, might decide that the government is powerless to interfere with Tribler-aided downloads. SOPA and PIPA, for instance, would probably have no effect on Tribler: there are no websites to shut down. In a post-Tribler world, copyright holders might find it more profitable to spend their money on self-help remedies like private litigation rather than on lobbying the government for new legislation or increased enforcement.