Search engine to remove links to illegal content

Is Hollywood finally ready to embrace file-sharing? Signaling an openness to creating a legitimate business via peer-to-peer technology, MPAA topper Dan Glickman announced Tuesday the first stage of a potentially significant partnership with BitTorrent, the world’s most popular program for illegally downloading movies and music online.

In what BitTorrent creator Bram Cohen labeled “a sign of good faith that is a big step,” company has agreed to remove all links to pirated content from its search engine, including an expedited process for MPAA member studios.

That sets up BitTorrent as a potential partner with Hollywood instead of the thorn that it has been.

“In the long term, we want to work with the motion picture industry to make as many films available online as possible,” Cohen explained.

Big media companies have asserted they won’t work with tech firms that enable piracy. By blocking use of its Web site for illegal content, BitTorrent opens itself to partnering with studios and labels looking to take advantage of its low distribution cost and huge audience — though it’s unclear how many P2P users are willing to pay for content.

Cohen has said previously that he hoped to turn his company into a partner for movie and music companies looking to distribute their content online. New alliance with the MPAA is likely a first step toward making that happen.

Move will do little to actually reduce piracy, as the search engine on BitTorrent.com is just one of many that finds “torrents,” or files moved around the Internet using Cohen’s technology. Other Web sites will continue to refer visitors to movies, though the MPAA this year began suing some of them.

BitTorrent is currently the most popular application for swapping content — legal and illegal — online. Due to the large size of files like films and vidgames, it’s estimated that BitTorrent accounts for between one-third and one-half of the world’s Internet traffic.

The BitTorrent company has no control over what’s traded and indexed using its technology, however. So now that it has stopped referring users to illegal content, the MPAA can’t go after the company through legal channels, as it did with other P2P networks after the Supreme Court ruled in Hollywood’s favor in last summer’s Grokster case.

Cohen added that BitTorrent is close to finishing technology that would let movie files be protected against piracy and sold via an online payment system to users of its P2P application. The main hurdle remains obtaining studio content.

Cohen said he’s in talks with studios to provide films, and he’s also discussing a deal with the RIAA, with hopes to sell music through BitTorrent as well.

“New technologies are testing our ability to meet consumer demand as much as to fight piracy,” said Glickman. “This is a real first step toward working with companies like Bram’s.”

MPAA and BitTorrent first started talking about an alliance in July, soon after the Grokster decision.

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