A little more than a year ago, the creators of Azureus -- a file-sharing program based on the BitTorrent protocol -- launched Vuze, a version that ignored bootlegs in favor of authorized copies of TV shows, movies, games and other programming. The idea was to create a file-sharing environment that content owners would want to participate in, and that would present less risky revenue streams. By focusing the software only on authorized files, Vuze could charge fees for files or sell advertising around them without fear of being sued for profiting from piracy. It soon attracted content from dozens of producers around the globe, including the BBC, PBS and TOKYOPOP, although the major Hollywood studios largely kept their distance.
This month, Vuze did an about-face. Unleashing the software's search engine, it enabled users to find and retrieve content indexed by some of the world's most popular BitTorrent search engines. These include Mininova, an index site in the Netherlands now under legal assault from Dutch anti-piracy authorities. As a result, users don't have to fire up a second file-sharing program to find free, pirated versions of the titles Vuze offers on a pay-per-view basis. They can do it through Vuze's search engine.
CEO Gilles BianRosa acknowledged that the move didn't meet with universal acclaim from the companies providing content on Vuze. Yet he said that the change merely acknowledges the reality of the marketplace, and argued that it would help content owners compete better with online bootleggers.
"We are not creating a new consumer behavior" by letting users search for files in unlicensed waters, BianRosa said in an e-mail. "Many, if not most, of our users already are searching the web for content, including through one of the numerous existing torrent sites. By introducing our new meta-search functionality, we are for the first time giving content providers the ability to offer their content as a direct alternative to potentially unlicensed content, right where users may be searching for them. We have thus created a forum where content owners can engage directly with the people who are actively looking for their content, and offer them a compelling alternative."
He's got a point there. Hollywood has to compete with bootlegged content online, period. For years the studios and major record companies have refused to offer legitimate copies alongside unauthorized ones, insisting that any p2p operator sanitize the network (more or less) before they would sign a licensing deal. But you can't stop your kids from eating junk food just by keeping it out of your cupboards. They know too many other places to find it, and that's probably the first place they look, anyway.
Said BianRosa, "Ultimately, Vuze and Content Owners have the same goal—drive users to licensed, monetized content. We believe that a higher-quality experience, combined with increased visibility of licensed content can ultimately outperform piracy. When presented with incredible content and a great product experience, we believe that people will do the right thing." It will be interesting to see whether Vuze can build its lineup of content partners with the new version of its software. Another added feature makes it easier for Vuze users to recommend the files they like to their friends, which could bring some viral-distribution love to said content partners. Of course, thanks to the new search capabilities, users can now point their friends to bootlegged files, too. And guess what -- the messages are encrypted to deter snooping.