Ballarat Uni claims 89% of BitTorrent is illegal


The University of Ballarat has published a research paper claiming 89 percent of BitTorrent files it studied during a certain period were confirmed to infringe copyright, a result immediately hailed by the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft as a victory in its war against file sharing.

In the report — available in full online from AFACT’s web site (PDF) — researchers from the university’s Internet Commerce Security Laboratory analysed the most popular BitTorrent trackers on the Torrentz website on April 21st, 2010 and scraped the information from them.

Torrentz is a search engine which combines results from many different BitTorrent search engines, so the BitTorrent servers traced by the University of Ballarat consisted of sites as diverse as Demonoid, MightyNova, TorrentBay, BitReactor and so on.

It appears that more than a million individual torrent files were tracked from the servers. But in the end, the university found that just 4 percent of torrents — more than 15,000 — were responsible for 90 percent of seeders. In the BitTorrent system, a seeder is a BitTorrent use who has downloaded all of one file and is now hosting it rather than simultaneously downloading chunks.

“In summary, our results indicate that 89 percent of all torrents from our sample are confirmed to be infringing copyright, both by the number of files and total number of current seeders,” wrote the university in its paper. “Of the torrents in the top three categories (movies, music and TV shows), there were no legal torrents in the sample.”

According to Paul Watters, director of the laboratory, a total of 117 million downloads had been completed across more than one million torrent files.

AFACT — which represents a number of content providers such as film and television studios, including Village Roadshow, which assisted the university with its work, immediately jumped on the paper, stating it showed that legitimate use of the BitTorrent software was minor.

“All it takes is an internet connection and the BitTorrent software to efficiently distributing large files amongst users,” said Neil Gane, executive director of AFACT. “It may be a legitimate software but, as we have always maintained, it is the preferred software for sharing unauthorised copyright content. The research found that movies and TV shows made up 72% of all torrent traffic yet not one copy was legitimate.”

And actor Roy Billing — who has had roles in Underbelly, for example, said file sharing was having “a detremental effect on the movie and TV industry”, with “no returns” going back to content creators.

iiNet ramps up
The news comes as iiNet — which has been enmeshed in an ongoing court case with AFACT over claims its customers infringed copyright through BitTorrent — this week stepped up a war of words with the organisation.

Yesterday iiNet chief executive Michael Malone posted a link (PDF) to a letter iiNet chief regulatory officer Steve Dalby had written in reaction to an article involving AFACT in industry newsletter Communications Day yesterday. In the article, AFACT said it wanted to see ISPs collaborate with content providers on an industry code to tackle copyright infringement.

Malone described the letter as Dalby responding to “AFACT bullshit”.

“AFACT’s poor attempts to present itself as the voice of reason are belied by their ongoing negative and unproductive behaviour,” wrote Dalby. “This disconnection from reality is not difficult to spot.”

“AFACT have made it very clear — their idea of cooperation is for ISPs to disconnect their customers when they demand it. If we don’t do their bidding they’ll tie ISPs up in the courts. That’s not cooperation, that’s an attempt at coercion and is, therefore, a poor model for a commercial relationship or an industry code of conduct.”

Image credit: myuibe, Creative Commons


  1. Paul Watters is quoted as saying:

    “If ordinary listeners who listen and think ‘gosh 89 per cent, that’s a lot, maybe I should think about what I’m doing’, and actually go out and buy a DVD or a CD, that’s probably the sort of outcome we would be looking for.”

    This just makes me wonder who paid for the funding of this project. Clearly, as the director of the laboratory, he is biased, which limits the credibility of the report.

  2. They should of split this study down into Countries and which laws are they applying to determine if what was being downloaded infringed copyright

  3. It’s a point that everyone makes when these sorts of studies are published, but that the content overlords keep ignoring: if you make it easy and relatively cheap for me to buy your stuff, I most likely would rather do that than pirate it. I haven’t pirated a song since iTunes (and now Bigpond Music) opened in Oz, but I still have no easy and convenient way to watch shows I want. If you make me wait just because of region, or expect me to pay for more ads on Foxtel, I will not!

  4. I claim that 99% of each years uni books are just last years with a few spelling mistakes fixed up.

  5. I’d like to know what percentage of that “illegal” content was actually available for puchase in Australia. While perhaps legally sound, it’s not very logical to go after people for copying stuff that you refuse to sell to them.

  6. I’d also be interested in their sample. Public domain texts are disttributed by torrent, as is free, open-source software. Torrents are essential to human rights activists, in distributing information safely. These files may be smaller, but they’re essential.

    Gee, this is like banning the roads because hoons use them. “But, after midnight, 89% of the people on the roads are hoons!”

  7. So they found that 89% of torrents from a site that specifically caters for searching other sites which are specifically setup for illegal torrenting…are illegal. Wow, give them a medal for this insight!

    Did they try a site like Or Or 100% of torrents on those sites are LEGAL!

    Or would that have skewed the results of the study too much?

    If you specifically go looking for the illegal material you are bound to find it. This study is dubious at best, maybe “misleading” is a better word?

  8. Meh. The fact that AFACT endorses the study taints it.

    Once again serial linux distro downloaders like myself get a bad name because aussies are by capita the biggest tv bt users.

  9. what impinges the validity of the results is the sample they used.

    by using an indexing site that connects with a cross-promoted community, i.e. a community of users, it was clearly going to find similar community activity.

    it’s like studying a picnic site for ants, and finding them. or looking for homosexual men in a turkish bath house, or surveying the people in a hospital, declaring 89% of people are injury prone and dying, sic. etc.

    the results are skewed. where you find a community of users who inhabit a site, as a community, that does not make it representative for the whole community, nor of the whole population.

    but, to put it into another perspective, 100 million downloads puts it out of the league of any recent commercial australian product. understandably, it is a global phenomenon, but when you fail to recognise a social activity with millions of people, it is ridiculous for AFACT to use this as ‘ammunition’, it is simply a war they cannot win without using guerilla info-warfare i.e. propaganda.

    the reality is, P2P is a modern social medium, that the media industry failed to dominate for all the reasons that continue to crop up. regardless of legality, it is a form of community that will be hard to dissemble or dominate with millions of people behind it, AFACT may as well be trying to convince people that chinese is the new language to be used in australian film and music – they might succeed with that policy.

    there are teenagers who will never see a movie unless they have downloaded a trailer or a cam copy first to see if it’s good, who won’t watch commercial TV directly, or the ads, or buy books, CDs, use iTunes, etc.

    how does AFACT refudiate sales and “loss” when a product is being downloaded 100x more than it is being legally watched on commercial TV or in a theatre/cinema, etc. poorly. as seen in this AFACT funded study.

    is it still the same argument if in a survey of 100 people, 10 people hadn’t seen it, 80 people downloaded it and 2 people payed to watch it ? where does that point to being the failure, the 80 people downloading it, the 1-2 people who went to see it, or the person asking the question who missed 8 people ? perhaps.

    it’s poignant in this case, with 11% vs 89% legal vs illegal torrents, how does one determine ‘legality’

  10. Equating a shared file to a lost sale is a crazy argument by copyright holders.
    Having said that, comments crying out that this study was biased and there are substantial non-copyright-infringing uses uses for P2P like linux distros (cough) are disingenuous.
    The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

  11. Being serious. BT is the answer for a need, the need to view the content when and how a consumer wants. Given the global reach of the internet, putting barriers to content distribution is a forlorn hope and only serves to protect businesses that refuse to change.

    When someone comes up with a content delivery system allows content creaters to get rewarded for contend that allows consumers to consume media without drm, region lock, device restrictions. not going to happen in the short term

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