Do you remember back in the 2000’s there was a file sharing program called Napster? Actually it was for music but it allowed us to share files of different types, from movies to images. It was the start of mainstream peer-to-peer or P2P file sharing, allowing anyone to share files and download them as well. Basically, everyone who has Napster installed connected to a centralized location where the communication is established with the network. Napster’s server’s then control the data that allows users to share their files. It did not last however, it was shut down by the government because of complaints of copyright violations and the risk of sharing of intellectual property protected information. This would be a stab at file sharing on the Internet, but it would be replaced by something else.
That something else would allow users to continue to share files but without a central server like Napster. It would be decentralized, but also direct P2P using a different protocol. The protocol has become synonymous with the name of the application itself, BitTorrent. It is the most commonly used file sharing application on the Internet and it was purchased by the cryptocurrency project called the Tron Foundation. It now delivers a tokenized decentralized file sharing network that runs on the BTT token. So it seems that file sharing and cryptocurrency is a match.
The principles of the BitTorrent network is based on a “Tit-for-Tat” algorithm. That means that to download files or to “leech”, you must also contribute files to the network or “seed”. Therefore, it is an ecosystem of “leechers” (downloaders) and “seeders” (uploaders). This is to make sure that there is fairness in the amount of contribution made to the network from all users. The network also becomes faster with more “peers” aka computers or users. Another feature users get on BitTorrent’s network is anonymity. In no manner is a user required to provide their ID or personal information for other users. There is more privacy in using BitTorrent than let’s say Google Drive when it comes to sharing files. With Google Drive, the owner of the shared file can be tracked to their Google account and g-mail which has an identity often attached to it. In order to understand the concept of BitTorrent, we must take a look at how their network functions.
When a file is uploaded to the network, it is not stored in one place. It is actually broken into fragments called “pieces” and identified by their cryptographic hash. The pieces are stored across the network on different computers. A cryptographic hash function is used to verify the authenticity of the pieces for security purposes as well. That means that no one can just tamper with the pieces, they are protected with cryptographic technology. Pieces of files are then distributed across the network and as more seeders join, the faster and more reliable the network becomes. BitTorrent also does not let the user download the file immediately. It must go through a process first which involves having the torrent file to point users to the location of other peers who have the pieces to the file.
A torrent file is accessed by users when they want to download a file. The BitTorrent client gets a list of file locations for torrents that users download. The communications protocol is beyond explaining in this article, but in simpler terms it allows information to propagate across the network. The torrent file does not actually contain the content. It just contains information about the location of the file’s pieces which the user’s client will download from. The content’s pieces can be downloaded as .torrent files. Once the pieces have been downloaded, the client then puts the pieces together to reconstruct the content. Thus downloading a large movie file becomes more efficient and reliable by breaking it into pieces rather than one large file. This is because when the connection times out, you don’t have to download everything again if you already have pieces of the file.
BitTorrent has been controversial because of the way it circumvents the law regarding file sharing. Music companies are against the sharing of music on various platforms unless there is paid royalty to the musician and recording studio. Copyright laws also protect intellectual property as well as published content. BitTorrent makes pirated movies easier to share and there is a market for leaked Hollywood films that make use of P2P technology. It also allows the sharing of games, music, software and photos. Just about anything digital can be shared using BitTorrent’s network. There is not much the government can do however because of the decentralized nature of BitTorrent. Another complaint comes from users who were infected by malware since some files can be disguised to appear legit, but the truth is as a leecher you have no right to make a claim since you are using the software somewhat at your own risk. Despite these claims of piracy, patent infringement, viruses/malware and illegal file sharing, BitTorrent was able to continue unlike Napster. Besides its distributed and decentralized nature, BitTorrent is more a software or protocol rather than a company, so that is another issue for the legal sector.
The slippery slope is that in some jurisdictions, or nations, what is legal may not be legal and vice versa. BitTorrent gets around this argument since the peers are decentralized and BitTorrent itself is not the one providing the data. Through the years since it started in 2001, BitTorrent has faced lawsuits and has had to meet compliance to regulations on certain occasions. It was too decentralized to stop since there are millions of users worldwide, not just in one country or geographic location. When BitTorrent does comply, it does so by removing links to content which creators requested.
The protocol or software itself is legal, you are not violating the law by having it installed. Other controversy involves BitTorrent trackers, which provide the links to the content that may or may not be copyright protected. In the US alone, there are over 200,000 lawsuits against BitTorrent since 2010. Because of this outrage, it would only be a matter of time before more BitTorrent protocols are blocked by ISPs on the request of regulators and legal departments. If that is the case, then it would not have a good future and will likely thrive more underground rather than finding mainstream use.
This is where Tron steps into the picture. It seems that the BitTorrent network would be an ideal platform to add to the Tron network’s ecosystem and blockchain. To get this started, Tron would issue a token for the BitTorrent network called the BTT coin. What Tron aims to do is use the network as a platform for DApps based on BitTorrent’s decentralized file sharing. Tron can utilize this for its entertainment and media based content sharing platform. BitTorrent would remain distributed and decentralized and with Tron’s vision of censorship resistant, open source and incentivized communities. In a nutshell, the BTT coin allows Tron to tokenize the BitTorrent network. This is in order to connect creators to users and in return get paid in BTT coins for their content. It will actually be more compliant to copyright laws and intellectual property for the platform to remain clear of violations.
The platform sounds good for creators, but the overhaul to the system may not resonate well with users. Instead of a truly decentralized system, it seems Tron’s BTT coin as a token has put more regulation to the platform. Users of BitTorrent do not have to use BTT as a token to get content. Tron is supporting users who want to continue using the software like before. They will not be able to collect BTT coins though, so there are incentives to using the tokens. The incentive here is to keep users to continue sharing on the network, only this time around they will get rewarded for it. Seeders will tremendously benefit from this ecosystem because the more files they upload for sharing, the more BTT coins they can get. The BTT coin as a token can also be exchanged for goods and services on the platform besides just converting into fiat currency.
The benefits it seems are still yet to be explored for the new BitTorrent and BTT. The vision of a truly decentralized file sharing network continues, only this time there will be rewards for everyone. It encourages more file sharing and that way the availability of content can become sustainable (that’s the idea in theory). What remains to be seen are the legality of the content and whether the Tron Foundation will work closely with regulators to make sure that content is not being illegally shared by users unless there is consent from or incentives for the creators as well.