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BitTorrent file-sharing users, good and bad, being monitored: study

BitTorrent features page
NBC News

Are you using BitTorrent to get a video game patch or update, or to steal a movie? If it's the former, you're legal, and if the latter, you're not, but a new study says that just the fact you're using the file-sharing site means odds are good you're being monitored.

BitTorrent is known by many as a site that's used for illegal file-sharing of video and music, but it's also used for legitimate purposes. Company and law enforcement tend to paint the site with a broad brush and monitor even those who are using the site legally, according to researchers at the University of Birmingham in England.

"Direct monitoring, in its current form, falls short of providing conclusive evidence of copyright infringement," said the study, presented at SecureComm, the International Conference on Security and Privacy in Communication networks in Padua, Italy this week. 

Tom Chothia, one of the four researchers from the university's School of Computer Science who worked on the study, said that a BitTorrent user doesn't have to be "a mass downloader" to be monitored.

"Someone who downloads a single movie will be logged as well," said he told the BBC. "If the content was in the top 100 it was monitored within hours," he said. "Someone will notice and it will be recorded."

The researchers say they're not taking sides in "this arms race," of either monitoring or copyright infringement. 

Instead, they say, they hope their findings benefit both users by suggestions to improve monitoring detection and blocking, as well as "copyright enforcement agencies" by improving monitoring techniques.

For now, "the monitoring process used by copyright enforcement agencies may wrongly implicate researchers performing experiments in BitTorrent swarms," the researchers say in the study. "The features we present may enable them to design more conservative research experiments or to better interpret their results."

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