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Forget Piracy, Here's How BitTorrent Plans to Revolutionize DIY Distribution

Photo of Paula Bernstein By Paula Bernstein | Indiewire February 6, 2014 at 11:7AM

BitTorrent, the file-sharing protocol, has become synonymous with piracy, but the company wants to set the record straight and forge relationships with filmmakers and other content creators.
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Mention BitTorrent and people mistakenly assume that you're talking about piracy.

"We have this problem because there were so many piracy sites that used it that BitTorrent become a verb, to BitTorrent something," said Matt Mason, BitTorrent VP, Marketing. While Mason acknowledges that piracy sites use the protocol, he also points out that "Facebook, Twitter, The Human Genome Project and traders on Wall Street also use it."

The BitTorrent protocol supports peer-to-peer file sharing that is used to distribute large amounts of data over the internet. The name became synonymous with piracy because the protocol is open-source and allows people to move large amounts of information. But the company is determined to change its reputation -- especially among content creators such as musicians, publishers and filmmakers. Its BitTorrent Bundle, a new file format that embeds digital storefronts inside downloads, could revolutionize DIY distribution for filmmakers, publishers and other content creators.

Since 2011, BitTorrent has collaborated with artists, inventors, studios, labels and distributors to build the new publishing platform. Partially to change its piracy-tinged reputation and also to demonstrate the possibilities of the BitTorrent protocol for content creators and publishers, BitTorrent has recently partnered with high-profile filmmakers and distributors of documentaries "The Act of Killing" and "The Crash Reel" on BitTorrent bundles. In both cases, the bundles provide background information on the film projects along with exclusive material (interviews, videos, photographs, etc.).

The BitTorrent Bundle for "The Act of Killing," for instance, features interviews, essays and stills from videos from the award-wining documentary's director Joshua Oppenheimer as well as Werner Herzog and Errol Morris, who served as producers of the film. It also features reporting on the impact of the film on Indonesia, as documented by TEMPO Magazine. 

"'The Act of Killing' has an important message. Our goal is to reach as many people as possible -- to preserve this film as a documentary, and as a testament to what happened in Indonesia. BitTorrent Bundle allows us to address a global audience of more than 170 million: to ensure that awareness of the film's message reaches beyond the internet's censors and firewalls," said Evan Husney, Creative Director at Drafthouse Films, the distributor of "The Act of Killing."

BitTorrent Bundle was designed to support free speech and open creativity; using decentralized technology to protect digital artifacts from being destroyed or censored. Previous BitTorrent Bundles include the Madonna-directed "secretprojectrevolution," which launched  "Art For Freedom," an online global initiative to support freedom of expression, and "The Lady Gaga Bundle."

"One of the key motivations behind bundle product is to help people really understand and get what BitTorrent is. It's a great technology that can really help filmmakers more than it hurts them," said Mason. 

BitTorrent "Act of Killing" BitTorrent Bundle

BitTorrent doesn't expect to replace YouTube, iTunes or Netflix, but rather, to be another option for filmmakers to distribute their work. "We want people to connect directly with their fans. That was the promise of the Internet," said Mason. 

The company envisions the BitTorrent bundle as a self-serving publishing platform along the lines of YouTube. But unlike a Spotify or a YouTube, BitTorrent isn't trying to build a destination. "Everything can be shared on the internet," said Mason. "For us, it isn't about capturing your fans as much as directing your fans where they want to go."

Approved creators can build their own DIY distribution campaigns using the new Bundle, which the company describes as "direct-to-fan publishing made simple." At the moment, there is no fee for creating a BitTorrent bundle, but that will likely change once BitTorrent introduces "pay gates," where users get a certain amount of content free and then pay to get additional content (at the moment, there are "e-mail gates," which are free). But Mason said that though they'd "take a small cut, it will be way less than places like iTunes."

BitTorrent isn't looking at the Bundle product as a profit center at the moment. "The first thing we want to do is to make sure if it really works for its users. If it works and we're building value, then we'll figure out how to monetize it later on." BitTorrent has over two million licensed works available and 164,383 BitTorrent Bundles are downloaded around the world, every day, according to BitTorrent, which said that the Bundle website has grown over 200% since it launched back in May.

Though BitTorrent didn't set out to focus on documentary films with BitTorrent bundle, given the success they've had, it's likely we'll see more issue-oriented docs doing Bundles. "The Act of Killing" Bundle has been downloaded more than 3.5 million times.

Mason said the company is also in talks with a number of studio, both small on large, on scripted projects. "Filmmakers need another option other than iTunes and Netflix and BitTorrent is definitely another option," said Mason. "Our biggest problem with filmmakers and artists is we can't build the Bundle products out fast enough."

This article is related to: Tech, BitTorrent, DIY Distribution, Filmmaker Toolkit: Distribution, The Crash Reel, The Crash Reel, The Act of Killing , The Act of Killing