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Legitimate uses of BitTorrent

bittorrentSince its inception in 2001 BitTorrent has come a long way. From being a fringe protocol to being the defacto peer-to-peer standard. The total number of active monthly BitTorrent users  has been estimated to be more than a quarter of a billion. At any given instant, it is claimed BitTorrent has, on average, more active users than YouTube and Facebook combined (this refers to the number of active users at any instant and not to the total number of unique users).Approximately  up to 70% of all internet traffic ,since the demise of Limewire,is Bittorrent peer-to-peer.

Needless to say therefore that BitTorrent is one of the most common protocols for transferring large files. This and its distributed nature has made it a natural choice for Pirates as a conduit to illegally distribute copyrighted material.Since 2010, more than 200,000 users of the protocol have been sued for copyright infringement.This made me ponder on the question: Are there any legitimate uses for the BitTorrent protocol? Or does the protocol solely exist to rob copyright owners of their hard earned money?

Thus confused I took to the internet and discovered that like most things in life the answer is anything but simple. The truth is we can no more blame bittorrents for aiding infringement of copyrights than we could blame the cassette for killing music. The truth is world-wide-web itself  has been used to download illegally copied software, copyrighted music and movies as well as child pornography, yet no one ever blamed it on the web.

“No one here would dispute that file sharing networks are used by those who would violate copyright. But this is not solely the domain of P2P; copyrighted software has been traded on electronic bulletin board systems (BBSs) since their inception and has permeated every public communication protocol on the Internet. Filesharing is a social phenomenon, not a technological one – demonizing P2P based on one use of the technology is a mistake in my opinion. P2P already has positive mainstream benefits in certain communities and new uses are being found all the time.” Wrote one blogger.

Some of the legitimate uses/users listed include:

Film, video, and music

  • BitTorrent Inc. has obtained a number of licenses from Hollywood studios for distributing popular content from their websites.
  • Sub Pop Records releases tracks and videos via BitTorrent Inc. to distribute its 1000+ albums.
  • Podcasting software is starting to integrate BitTorrent to help podcasters deal with the download demands of their MP3 “radio” programs. Specifically, Juice and Miro (
  • DGM Live purchases are provided via BitTorrent.
  • Vodo, a service which distributes “free-to-share” movies and TV show BitTorrent.


Personal material

  • The Amazon S3 “Simple Storage Service” is a scalable Internet-based storage service with a simple web service interface, equipped with built-in BitTorrent support.


  • Blizzard Entertainment uses BitTorrent (via a proprietary client called the “Blizzard Downloader”) to distribute content and patches for Diablo III, StarCraft II and World of Warcraft, including the games themselves
  • Many major open source and free software projects encourage BitTorrent as well as conventional downloads of their products (via HTTP, FTP etc.) to increase availability and to reduce load on their own servers, especially when dealing with larger files e.g Ubuntu and Fedora.



  • Florida State University uses BitTorrent to distribute large scientific data sets to its researchers.
  • Many universities that have BOINC distributed computing projects have used the BitTorrent functionality of the client-server system to reduce the bandwidth costs of distributing the client side applications used to process the scientific data.


  • Facebook uses BitTorrent to distribute updates to Facebook servers.
  • Twitter uses BitTorrent to distribute updates to Twitter servers.
  • The Internet Archive added Bittorrent to its file download options for over 1.3 million existing files, and all newly uploaded files, in August 2012.This method is the fastest means of downloading media from the Archive.

In my opinion it would be grossly unfair for these people to be robbed of their freedom to use a protocol simply because it is the same protocol used by Pirates. It would be an absurdity akin to the Holocaust where people were punished for being Jews. Whilst at it , it needs to be mentioned that these legitimate uses are nowhere near as popular as the illegitimate uses. As the BitTorrent Zeitgeist shows -legitimate uses are second tier.In Zimbabwe I imagine Jack Sparrow would top the list of BitTorrent users and little that he does can be called legit.

Why therefore is it local ISPs continue to throttle the protocol? Is their case legitimate: BitTorrent does consume excessive network resources. Or is a case of greed: their over shared networks are exposed and brought to their knees. Are BitTorrent users legitimate users or are they to be seen as the boys who cried wolf? Even if the ISPs are also guilty the law says:In pari delicto potior/melior est conditio possidentis.

What is, I pray, your learned opinion?

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4 thoughts on “Legitimate uses of BitTorrent

  1. A well informed article – indeed the unfortunate downside of the pirates on bittorrent is that ISP’s throttle it because illegal downloading far far outweighs the legal downloading via the protocol its a real shame that the legal uses have to suffer in this way – but blizzard themselves were smart – i’m fairly certain they use non standard ports so that ISP’s cant traffic shape as easliy (although some do still)

    I don’t believe ISP’s should be responsible with throttling P2P traffic at all, that said most have to because they oversell there network bandwidth to users expecting most to not use massive amounts so when someone does if they didnt throttle then they would be faced with huge bills which they cant necessarily pass on to the specific users, which kills there profit margins

    that said though, its really on the larger corporations being pirated from to make there software/movies/music more attractive to users so they are more likely to buy it than pirate it – itunes itself has gone a fair way to help this by bringing cheap music to the masses as a good example of how to combat piracy. – i mean the film companies themselves annoy me – see this example: this is why i enjoy going to Ster-Kinekor westgate, the price reasonable and theres no adverts or previews before the film starts!

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