Peer-to-Peer Goes Legit?

Peer-to-peer” networks are almost synonymous with “piracy” in many people’s minds. The infamous Kazaa and BitTorrent networks are known as havens for people who want to swap copyrighted content like audio CD tracks. The BitTorrent technology has gained a big leg up toward clearing its reputation, however. Warner Brothers has announced that it will use the system to rent and sell movies and television programs. Movies will be available the same day that the DVD ships.

Peer-to-peer file sharing networks break large files up into many tiny parts. It takes much less time to send all the parts from many sources to a single destination than it would take to feed it from a single server. Movies require enormous amounts of data, so Warner Brothers wants to spread the load around. BitTorrent uses member computers as repositories for some of these tiny fragments of large files, so movies could be transferred much faster with this system.

The system is expected to launch this summer, though details on pricing are not yet available. This is a service worth watching; if Warner Brothers charges less for the download movies than for a physical DVD — and they should — it could be a fast and easy way to get the latest movies. The big question after pricing, however, is what form of copy protection will be used, and whether that will prevent users from making archive copies of their purchases as a backup.