I know. You must be thinking the author is crazy or something. Well, believe me I am as much as of a Pirate sailing/surfing the dark web as you are. By BitTorrent I obviously mean BitTorrent/P2P protocol, or more popularly known as Torrent. Yes we all love to torrent *stuff* and will argue that they will live on forever despite recent off/on affair of The Pirate Bay. But that’s the truth,

The torrent world as we know it, is slowly dying!

But I love torrents..

I know right? We all do. If you were a student/teenage anytime in last ~10 years, I can bet you have had a chance to use torrents and most probably you were hooked on the same since then as the concept of BitTorrent protocol is very simple and elegant. It just works and solves the problem of P2P file sharing in best possible way (or at least it used to?)

Whoa! How it works?

Well, let’s understand the underlying foundation of the same first, shall we?

The secret formula of BitTorrent protocol is that it can be used to reduce the server and network impact of distributing large files. Instead of downloading a file from a single source server, the BitTorrent protocol allows users to join a “swarm” of hosts to upload to/download from each other simultaneously. Remember this! Simultaneous P2P sharing of data.

How does BitTorrent works

Magnificent right?

This technique of multiple mirror sources creation for distributing data works efficiently over networks with lower bandwidth. Using the BitTorrent protocol, several basic computers, such as personal computers, laptops, even smartphones, can replace large servers while efficiently distributing files to many recipients.

Everything’s great! What’s the problem?

So if you are not living in cave, you must have read a news or two about shutting down of The Pirate Bay multiple times in last 5 years and 2 of the founders were imprisoned. Many countries have tried to block BitTorrent websites multiple times but every time they block a site, 10 mirror pops up which is almost impossible to avoid. Many sites (including TPB) moved to a cloud hosted torrent setup, where they only provided Magnet links for the torrent file which in-turn contained the location of file to be shared so as to avoid legal troubles but legal authorities have had continued to hunt them down.

Piratebay founders behind the bar - BitTorrent is dead

You can read all about the Pirate Bay shutdown here in a nice write-up by Engadget.

In spite of all the problems above, In the past year or so, traffic to the most notorious “dodgy” download sites – The Pirate Bay, KickassTorrents, ExtraTorrent – has nose-dived. Sure, one can argue that the metric of measuring the traffic is no more valid as most of the torrent sites are forced to change their domain name multiple times a year but still you can not deny it’s just not the same it used to be. These sites are not updated as frequently as they were and also we don’t get that much seeders as there once used to be. You can call me nostalgic but this is the harsh truth!

So what happened? Why? Have we all gone legit and stopped downloading the stuff of the torrents? Or maybe it’s the vast improvement in the availability of TV shows on services such as Netflix, Hulu has curbed the temptation to fire up BitTorrent? Or maybe it really is the decline in popularity down to the fact that ISPs have been forced to block access to the leading piracy sites?

Reason #1 – “The Cloud”

This! This is what I think is the main reason for decline of authentic content hosting on BitTorrent. The BitTorrent solved the problem of distributing data over the networks with lower bandwidth so that the server’s outbound bandwidth is not bottlenecked but that’s so 2000’s now. With advent of age of cloud computing we know have virtually limitless bandwidth and space. It isn’t really a concern now. With superb cloud hosting services offering GBs or even TBs of data for free, this couldn’t be unseen by the Pirates.

The one of the most irritating fact about torrents is the problems in downloading the file when seeders are low. This is one of the major drawbacks as now a days most of people are Leechers. They just download their stuff and delete the torrent from the client. This “unthankful” behaviour of many people have led uploaders to start using cloud hosting for the files. Yes! I am not kidding on this one.

Mega is the biggest piracy hub in clouds - BitTorrent

Mega – The piracy hub in Cloud!

Services like Tencent Weiyun(Crazy 11TB free), Firedrive, Adrive and MEGA (50GB free) are the big hotshots in file distribution now. It’s now difficult to find multiple sites offering *all-types-of-content* to download off these cloud storage. I mean why not! It makes sense. One of a very popular free movie download site Glowgaze (name changed to G2G -> 4do.se ->moviez.se) uses the same model. However they still do provide an option to download via BitTorrent but why would I do that when I can download it from Mega/Tencent’s super fast servers on a constant high download speed. Similar system is used by many other sites.

Fun-fact: All the pirated content on G2G (now Moviez.se) is hosted on Google Drive for direct streaming. 😛 Talk about being bold!

These cloud services drop the need to keep my system(server) always on after uploading the content once. If I want to share a file, now I no longer need to keep seeding the torrent until it has multiple seeders.

Piracy in the clouds - RIP BitTorrent

–RIP BitTorrent–

Sure, Cloud storage has been around for years now but with low-speed internet it didn’t make sense. But now! Heck even in India we have superfast broadband connections ranging upto 100Mbps for personal use. ~2 years back, whenever I used to get a new phone of flash a new ROM on my droid the first thing I used to do was turn off the cloud backup of images. But now, things have changed! I have synced my iPhone 6 camera roll to Onedrive(130 gigs of storage). It really is very convenient to never worry about backing up the stuff.

So, maybe that’s why cloud storage is starting to phase out BitTorrent! Remember when was the last time you download a ROM from XDA using the torrent? Nope, right? Now they host most of stuff on DevHost or Android File Host! Even Linux distros are now being hosted on cloud.

Reason #2 – Polymorphism of BitTorrent?!

Polymorphism: Concept of OOPS anyone? 😉

Well this reason talks about how technology has evolved around BitTorrent which now uses the same underlying principle but it is hard to understand from above. We have multiple forms of Torrent around us which can be used effortlessly.

POPCORN TIME! Not sure if you know about it, but 70-80% of Torrent traffic is Multimedia content (Movies, TV Shows, Music etc.) and Popcorn time is the mecca of media piracy. Well, what it does is basically allow you to stream content of the BitTorrent protocol. It wraps up your favourite content in a nice User interface with cover image and detail about the same and make the content available to you in as simple as 1 click. It’s like Napster for Movies! And what’s more?

Popcorn time streaming movies over BitTorrent protocol

Netflix of Pirates!

Popcorn Time is OPEN SOURCE! 😛

BitTorrent Sync is another such example which utilises the BitTorrent protocol as its underlying foundation. Sync was launched last month (June 2015) as a stable built however it was available as Beta download in April 2013. Sync is basically BitTorrent’s answer to all the Cloud storage companies! It’s USP is to sync the data across devices without needing to upload to cloud and then download it. It promises to keep the bits sync across all your devices and if anything is modified, it won’t pull the whole thing again and will only sync the modified piece of the file. Sounds cool right?

It provides theoretically Unlimited space with truly private mode of sharing. It’s motto is:

Device to device. Skip the cloud.

There might be more of them. But these were the ones I could think from Top of my mind. Let me know if you know more alter-services of BitTorrent protocol.

Reason #3 –  Legit Alternatives:

This. This is what I think the biggest reason of low popularity of *piracy* Torrents now a days. We just have plethora of legal alternatives now. With advent of services like Netflix, Hula, Amazon, Spotify/Apple Music 😛 we just don’t have to use BitTorrent. These services are dirt cheap and provide high quality content. I remember sometimes the only reason to download movies/songs from torrent was to get a digital copy for many people. That problem doesn’t exist anymore.

BitTorrent legal alternatives!

With just a click of mouse you can start streaming your favourite digital media in hi-def. Also with Smart TVs and Google Chromecast alike devices, you can just fire up Netflix anywhere and start watching your favourite TV show.

Quietly behind the scenes music piracy has collapsed to less than a fifth of the level it reached five years ago while movie and TV show downloading has been cut in half.

Here is a very nice post by the reddit user “theirisnetwork“, quoting below:

“While I can’t speak for everyone, I can confidently say that I’m someone who has gone from being a pirate to more of a cordcutter. Back in high school and college I used to be heavily in getting content through alternative means. But as time went on I started getting burned out on it. I had HDD filled with content and no time to consume it all. So they just all stayed on the backburner as I was worrying about finals and graduating.

After college I went and got a full time job and that once again seemed like a wonderful opportunity to automate my piracy game. Since I wasn’t at the house from 9-5 I could just go and queue up all of my stuff and then have fresh new content back at the house later.

But, it sounds weird saying it, but it started getting taxing on my life pirating stuff. Right now where I am in my life, the thing that I don’t necessarily worry about is money, but rather time. After working my job, I now have a more limited frame of time to do things before I need to head to bed. Back in college, I didn’t care spending an hour or two searching torrent sites for the best version of an album or for the 1080p version of an old movie I want. But now, using that time for something like that seems wasted, especially when I could be going out and doing IRL activities.

That’s where I started shifting more towards steaming services. I started off at first piggybacking on family members, but then started rationalizing that I really don’t mind spending $10 a month for Netflix. As roothorick went and brought up, I was really drawn to it because of the convenience factor. Netflix doesn’t need any special codecs to work on my devices, and I don’t need to jailbreak anything or do any sort of hack to get it to work. It just works on my tablet, my smartphone and my gaming console. I don’t have to worry about the quality sucking because it’s HD content, or if a random episode or movie ends up with hard coded subs or is in the wrong language.

Steam and Gamefly greatly changed up my pirating habits, mostly because of their sales and convenience. Sadly, I would say that I’ve become more of a casual gamer than I was before, so when a really good game comes out, I don’t mind waiting for the games to be on sale. If it’s a game that I must need to play, I just Gamefly it. Once again, while I’m not rich, paying the $16 a month for the games that just come to me is a whole lot easier than having to download ISOs and then mount them to disks and burn them only to find out they don’t want.

Music used to be my big one that I still decided to stick to. I am very proud of my iTunes library and it takes up the majority of my HDD space. It’s to the point that I still use a iPod because I need the 160GB space for all my music. I was also a bit of a snob and wanted to make sure the music I was listening to was high quality (not FLAC, mostly because I chose to have a manageable library over having to open VLC each time to listen to music). But then Spotify came along. And now I can listen to almost any song that I want to. If there isn’t a song that’s on there, I can just download it to my Spotify account. That was the one thing I hated regarding music piracy, is that there will be a random time I want to listen to a song, but very rarely is there a streamlined process to just grab one song, so I usually say fuckit and download the whole album, which I proceed to not listen to. But Spotify, it takes less than three seconds to search for a song I want and listen to it.

Don’t take this the wrong way, I still support the concept of piracy. The main reasons why I am able to use most of these services is because piracy was such a game changer that people chose to change their business models to move people like me away from piracy and more towards streaming services. But nowadays I just don’t have the time commitment to start actively pirating again.” — Source: Reddit

This, sir, right up here is THE BEST EXPLANATION for most of us.

Reason #4 – Too much of a hassle and risk?

Before you guys bash me for how simple using BitTorrent is, let me rest my case!

So, most of you who would be reading this post with interest would be the ones who are actively downloading/uploading stuff using Torrents from last 5~10 years, which means you are now well seasoned to do that stuff and I would keep you under “Pro” category. But, reality is far far away from this scenario! Let us see how:

Downloading stuff from BitTorrent be like

Downloading stuff from BitTorrent be like..

I am a Computer Science Engineering (B.Tech). I had a class of 60 students out of which I believe only 10% of them actually deserves to be called an Engineer, but that’s something up for debate for some other day. During my 4 years of tenure of Engineering, I saw numerous instances of people fucking up their Laptops/PCs because of downloading a virus infected torrents, some got their online social media accounts compromised because of clicking the “BIG GREEN DOWNLOAD” button by mistaking it for the genuine download link. One guy, lets call him Mr. V, even got his whole HDD write-protected because he pirated a latest movie which was a 1.5 gigs .exe file! I know, it’s plainly stupid, because we know .exe files posed as video files are always virus!

Since Movies form the majority of BitTorrent traffic, if we take us as the primary alpha users, still sometimes it’s a pain to download the sample first to check if the video quality is nice, or sometimes we download whole thing on faith and it turns out to be a fake torrent with some other video itself. Most of the times it’s frustrating when the stuff you wan’t to download has very less seeders and then the download gets struck ~90%. Sometimes in spite of having a 20 Mbps broadband line, download speeds remind you of good’ol Dial-up days when Leechers>Seeders. So there are actually multiple scenarios which we can think off.

And why is it a hassle(for a general user, and how they fuck up)?

  • Well, first one needs to download a decent BitTorrent client! Most of us prefer uTorrent but most of the people Google “the best torrent client” and then click those adword ads to download a shaddy client which itself will install plethora of malware on their systems.
  • Then, instead of going to legit (irony?) sites like Kickass torrents or TPB or Torrentz, they again Google “the best torrent site for xyz content” and again manage to fuck up.
  • Even if people get to a better site, they will again struggle with which torrent to download which is legit, as quite a research goes behind each download (at-least I do). Most of them end up infecting their pc and those are the ones who say “Torrents sucks!” which is crazy I know, but that’s general opinion.

So what happens? Ha! as I mentioned in the #3 above, it’s actually now easy to subscribe to legal alternatives, people end up going for them. For a marginal cost, it ensures that they get high quality content! Not that you should go for it, but that’s what a lot of people are moving on to.

How it follows:

  • Log on to their account on NetFlix, iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Spotify, Hulu…..list goes on.
  • Search for their favorite TV show, Movie, Song.
  • Hit Play and Done.

I hope you get my point.

With advent of high-speed internet, all the content we consume is slowly getting on the cloud so that you can access it from anywhere on the go. In India, we still are struck on low-speed internet but things are changing with new players entering the ISP market and are creating quite of a noise. It won’t be surprising to see if in next 5 years we see piracy plummet down the Internet valley for which I believe foundation has started. However we do see innovative attempts like BitTorrent Sync, Popcorn time etc.

This may be the most controversial post I have ever written but constructive criticism is welcomed! Let us know your thoughts on the same. Cheers!