P2P study finds around 100 users responsible for majority of BitTorrent content


January 24, 2011

The distributed nature of P2P networks such as Bitorrent sees millions of users sharing files every day

The distributed nature of P2P networks such as Bitorrent sees millions of users sharing files every day

The BitTorrent peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing protocol was estimated by internet traffic management and analysis company ipoque to account for roughly 27 to 55 percent of all internet traffic as of February 2009 – much of it pirated software, music and video files. While the distributed nature of P2P networks sees millions of users sharing files every day, a new study to examine the behavior of users responsible for publishing files on the Mininova and The Pirate Bay portals reveals that a small group of around 100 users is responsible for the majority of content published over BitTorrent.

The Carlos III University of Madrid (UC3M) study examined the behavior of users responsible for publishing over 55,000 files on Mininova and The Pirate Bay in an effort to understand what they got out of it. Since such users dedicate a large part of their own resources in terms of bandwidth and storage capacity and assume risks involved with publishing content protected by copyright laws the researches wanted to discover whether it was purely altruistic behavior or whether there was some economic incentive at work.

The researchers’ analysis demonstrated that a small group of around 100 users were responsible for 66 percent of the content published and 75 percent of the downloads using BitTorrent applications. The UC3M researchers, working in collaboration with scientists at the IMDEA Networks Institute, the University of Oregon and the Technical University of Darmstadt, identified who these users are and what their incentives for massively publishing contents are.

There were basically two different profiles that the publishers fell into. The first is so-called “fake publishers”, which includes organizations publishing large quantities of false files as a way to protect their copyrighted material, and malicious users looking to spread infected software. The second group includes a small number of users known as “top publishers” who massively publish content on BitTorrent to make a profit from online advertising and, to a lesser degree, from VIP subscribers who wish to speed up their downloads.

With such a relatively small group responsible for the bulk of illegal content the study’s authors predict that if these users were to lose interest due to a loss of advertising revenue or be eliminated from the system through legal action, “BitTorrent’s traffic will be drastically reduced” because so much of BitTorrent's success is centered around the availability of popular content, such as new release films and television shows, which is typically pirated.

But tracking down members of this small group of users could prove difficult. To carry out the research, the scientists developed a tool that allowed them to access the name of the user who published the content, his/her IP address and the IP addresses of those users who later used the BitTorrent application to download the content. However, they found many of these users publish content from servers rented from companies that allow the users to remain anonymous.

The study, titled "Is Content Publishing in BitTorrent Altruistic or Profit Driven?", was recently presented at the ACM International Conference on emerging Networking Experiments and Technologies (CoNEXT).

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

I use it to watch content on my devices that a dvd just does not support. For instance I may have the dvd but I want to watch the movie on my phone.

Paul Anthony

"the study's authors predict that if these users were to lose interest due to a loss of advertising revenue or be eliminated from the system through legal action, BitTorrent's traffic will be drastically reduced"

The author draws the wrong conclusion, if the content is already torrented then there is no need for anyone else to create the torrent. What they have found is the elite groups that are releasing the torrents first, if they are eliminated then someone else will do it instead. I predict that if this group is eliminated then the bittorrent traffic will change by less than 1%.


The thing about torrents though is that you shut down one, or get rid of one user, half a dozen more spring up in it\'s place.


Gave up on torrents except for legitimate/non-copyrighted materials... I sleep easier with an honest conscience. I make money to buy things, and that includes software and music. Stealing is stealing...whether it\'s hardware /or/ software.

But I agree with the comments... shutting down a particular torrent provider just opens it up for someone else. What has to change is the underlying fundamentals of the \"business\" of illegal/unethical torrents.

Matt Rings

I agree, others will come along, but this doesn\'t mean we just up and give up [on trying for honesty]. Me, i think there are just a few individuals (companies) \"in cahouts\" and whichever can keep out the law will keep it going (the servers who rent out to them, apparently). If they shut these few down such that the system of pirate downloads runs sporatically (easily if they could get to the renters--wanted to), pirated stuff would be 99.99% contaminated. *** Of course, if anyone wants to believe people are hanging around their homes willing to share (risk) their \"purchased\" (untainted) software and \"keep it available for download whenever someone wanted it,\" then, hey, not hurting me.

Fred Meyers

If I\'m reading this correctly, I think of few of the responders have missed the point rather than the authors. The idea isn\'t to target torrent creators individually and shut them down, rather it\'s to eliminate the profit potential which erases the desire for anyone to create a torrent. To say that if you shut down one torrent provider another will take its place is correct, but to remove the profit potential is to eliminate the desire for anyone to create a torrent. It\'s the same argument for legalizing narcotics; take away the profit potential for criminals and the market goes away.

Tom Hedlund

without pirated software, internet providers would lose sooooooo much profit thats for sure

Kevin Lee

All greed. Both Internet providers that are profiteering from P2P internet traffic, publishers that are profiteering of the backs of the artists themselves, and monopolizing the markets and media exposure, and P2P creators that profiteer from adds provided by Google and the like, whose retailers are trying to sell us products that where made in a sweat shop in China. All the same corruption, the question is if your big enough, like Microsoft, to lobby government to legalise copyrights to such a degree that even the food we eat is copyrighted. To the point that the copyrighted GM seed it is made from, is sending us on- mass to the next copyrighted \"legal\" drug market health care, provided by the tax we earn for the biggest corporation and copyright enforcer of all, the government. Only the names have changed, individualism will kill the community yet.

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