Photo: Dylan Love
Matt Mason is the author of The Pirate’s Dilemma and one of BitTorrent’s newest employees.We recently had the opportunity to talk with him about BitTorrent, piracy, and the changing face of the media business. Here’s the takeaway with a full Q&A below:
- BitTorrent is actively working with artists to figure out how to help them make money with using BitTorrent distribution.
- The BitTorrent protocol is the de facto piracy tool because it works incredibly well.
- Many major companies use BitTorrent internally.
BUSINESS INSIDER: Why does BitTorrent seem like the go-to piracy tool?
MATT MASON: This is an incredible technology for moving large amounts of data across asymmetric networks like the Internet. And that’s the reason it’s been used as a tool for piracy. If you look back through history, the tool that’s always been used for piracy has been the most efficient, ruthlessly disruptive thing. And so often that the birth of new technologies you’ll find this period of chaos where people don’t really understand what’s going on. So when Edison invented the record player, live musicians looked at this device and said “Oh, my God. This device plays live music in venues…”
BI: We’re going to be put out of business.
MM: Right, and that was the birth of the recording industry. And I feel like we’re at a similar point in time right now. So the way we look at it is that this is a really amazing technology, there are lots of great uses for it. The idea that the audience is the server farm can apply to a lot of different business models and can really help a lot of different people save money and do things differently. And we should be championing that. And with regard to the content industries, I feel like the way we could be at most service in the world…we can’t stop or block piracy more than anybody else can, but we can talk to 160 million people who are using BitTorrent. And we could say to them “Hey, are you interested in this?” we can’t track our audience but we know who they are. They talk to us, they engage with us when we ask them to. We know a lot about them. They’re mostly men aged 16-24, either in college or just graduated. Secondary audience is sort of 18-34. There are definitely differences and nuances around the world, but that’s broadly who they are. And they’re really avid, passionate consumers of content. And if you show them a piece of content that they like, they’re much more likely to go and buy the album. They’re much more likely to go and sign up for an email and get updates from their artists. They’re much more likely to go and actually see the show in a theatre or buy the t-shirt. They’re very, very passionate users and consumers of the things that they like.
BI: BitTorrent’s really gotten slammed with the perception that it’s strictly for piracy. What ways have people been using it more legitimately?
MM: If you look at any organisation with a large user base, whether it’s Facebook or Twitter or Wikipedia or Blizzard, all of these guys use BitTorrent to push updates to their servers. And frankly, if their CTOs weren’t using BitTorrent then they shouldn’t be CTOs of companies like that. It’s just a really good technology to use for a lot of different things. Being seen as a piracy tool is a burden to us at this point.
Everybody who works at BitTorrent has this fervent belief in the power of distributive technology and what it can be used for next. If you look at the coming problems in the media industries, the things we’re going to be talking about in the next 10 years, it’s still going to be piracy. That’s not going to change. We’ve got more good ways to find alternatives to piracy than we’ve ever had. And we’re very, very much in the business of trying to create more of those and help people figure out more of those.
We’ve released an API called BitTorrent Torque a couple of weeks ago which is a way for developers to actually develop on top of BitTorrent inside the web. And the reason we did that is we want to see people actually using BitTorrent protocol as the back end for websites where people are trying to host content without having massive, massive bandwidth fees.
BI: Your browser treats a torrent download as if it were just a normal file.
MM: We’re not great at building beautiful UIs. We’re not going to build the next social network. But we’re really happy if someone else wants to use it. It’s definitely good if other people are figuring out great new ways to use BitTorrent for really cool stuff. So that’s the idea behind it.
BI: How easy or complicated it was to get Torque off the ground?
MM: it was a dedicated team, a small team. It was really kind of a passion project. At BitTorrent, we’re a big believer in letting people run with a good idea. And it was an engineer named Patrick Williams who was just like “This is a great idea. I’m going to build this.”
The big idea behind BitTorrent is the audience is the server farm and the more of them there are, the more power you have. I think it’s the closest thing we have to a perpetual motion machine. It’s definitely got more uses than people have explored.
BI: Can you talk at all about anything that BitTorrent has down the road?
MM: We’ve got so many thing that are coming up. We’ve been experimenting with new ways to get content creators into the BitTorrent ecosystem and new ways for them to talk to our audiences and also make money. So over the last few weeks, this experiment with DJ Shadow a few weeks ago where he did the first kind of monetized torrent with us where he didn’t ask people to pay for it but there was an advertising offer inside the actual torrent. The idea being every time the torrent was shared there was at least the opportunity for people to engage with him in a way that helped him monetise the piece of content in that torrent.
BI: So how did that work?
MM: There was a promotional read-me inside the torrent. We also offered it in various places if you were signing up for BitTorrent, we always offer you a piece of content from an artist that comes in and we say here’s something for you to get started as a way to promote artists.