BitTorrent Creator Praised 'Digital Piracy'

Because so many copyright holders offer files legally over BitTorrent, some experts believe the file-sharing technology will survive the inevitable scrutiny of the courts. As Ed Felton notes, creator Bram Cohen has frequently promoted the legal non-infringing use of his creation.

Stories about Cohen frequently cite his good intentions:

Cohen denies that he wrote BitTorrent with the intent to assist piracy and says he is the last guy you would ever find stealing digital content.

A recently discovered mission statement on Cohen's personal web site online since July 2001 appears to suggest that he developed the software to enable piracy:

I am a technological activist. I have a political agenda. I am in favor of basic human rights: to free speech, to use any information and technology, to purchase and use recreational drugs, to enjoy and purchase so-called 'vices', to be free of intruders, and to privacy.

I further my goals with technology. I build systems to disseminate information, commit digital piracy, synthesize drugs, maintain untrusted contacts, purchase anonymously, and secure machines and homes. I release my code and writings freely, and publish all of my ideas early to make them unpatentable.

Technology is not a panacea. I refuse to work on technology to track users, analyze usage patterns, watermark information, censor, detect drug use, or eavesdrop. I am not naive enough to think any of those technologies could enable a 'compromise'.

Despite my emphasis on technology, I do not view laws as inherently evil. My goals are political ones, even if my techniques are not. The only way to fundamentally succeed is by changing existing laws. If I rejected all help from the political arena I would inevitably fail.

By declaring intentions to enable piracy, Cohen makes it much easier for the courts to view BitTorrent software as a contributory infringer of copyright.

Instead of being able to build systems on BitTorrent and know that its servers and clients will be allowed to operate legally, we have a future Grokster smackdown waiting for us.

Thanks, Bram. Maybe you'll have more success with your plan to create undetectable new recreational drugs.

Update: Cohen has added a preface stating that the piece was a parody of another manifesto.


Just because he writes software to enable piracy doesn't mean he wrote BitTorrent for that end.

Further, Bram or BitTorrent getting sued would not shut down anything -- there are no central servers. At worst it would cost Bram a lot of money -- but no worries there, the code is out in the open. The genie is out of the box.

Total non-issue as far as podcasting goes.

Ahhh...the trouble with blogs and the internet in general...all things can and will be used against you know matter how far into the future. Even if your thoughts have changed.

Would it still be a "non-issue" if podcasters like this WEEK in TECH couldn't use BlogTorrent? How would hosting services like Hurricane Electric be effected?

I'd have to agree with 'Pete's comment on this one.

Just because he says that he builds systems to commit digital piracy doesn't mean that BitTorrent is such a system.

Two things. First, it's like Ben Hammersley wrote:

(...) Almost every story, written in the past few days about the Grokster case have missed this clause out. So, filesharing applications are now liable to new legal contraints. Yes. In the US. Not here. Not in China. Not in India. Not across the majority of the world. The Supreme Court of the United States of America may have made a silly ruling, or it may not, but it did it in the US. Last we checked, their bailiwick doesn't extend outside of the fifty states.

Second, if I understand you correctly, you blame Bram Cohen for having an opinion, 4 years ago? Or you blame him for creating bittorrent? Or for the combination, having an opinion and creating bittorrent, a few years later? Or for not knowing in 2001 the impact of the US Supreme Court's Grokster decision.

I blame Bram Cohen for misleading people about his original intent in developing BitTorrent.

If that was his goal then, or it remains his goal today, he should be direct about it. Let developers and publishers decide whether to build on BitTorrent, knowing that his mission is to create systems to commit digital piracy.

Rogers, please shut down your host immediately. It's running an operating system that was just built to rip of the rights of the truthfull owner of the Unix copyright. And you don't want to promote copyright infringements, don't you? And we all believe in what SCO says, don't we?

So there are only two options left: shut down your hosting or port your software over to Windows ;-)

FWIW, BitTorrent is a pretty crappy platform for piracy. There's simply too many ways for an attacker ([RI|MP]AA) to get your IP address, and therefore network provider and location, which opens you up to a lawsuit.

So Bram has been insisting for a long, long time that he didn't build BT with the purpose of aiding piracy, but you find one statement of his -- not related in any direct way to BitTorrent -- and you assume that he's been lying this whole time? That's pretty weak.

Further, it's pretty clear by his mission statement that if he were going to try to build a piracy platform, it would be anonymous. BT, as Tim mentioned, is anything but anonymous.

Further, and again, even if he comes out tomorrow and says that BT was created to share pirated videos, that will not effect legal podcasting in any way, shape, or form. The Supremes were careful to phrase their opinions in such a way as not to chill the legal uses of technology.

thank god for usenet, eh? me hearties!! :) harrrr

You're spinning for him, Pete. From July 2001 to July 2003, Bram Cohen's homepage linked to this agenda. During the same period he developed BitTorrent. The idea the two are unrelated is farcical.

If the inventors of the VCRs were as talkative about their desire to enable infringement as the inventors of file sharing, we wouldn't have VCRs.

i couldn't care less what his intentions were/are. i'm just glad he did made the program, and to be honest if he didn't invent it someone else would have because that's the beauty of the web.
long live bit torrent and bram!!

So Brad used to be a drug loving rebel but is now a lying capitalist pig. Isn't that a change for the better? ;-p

Hip Hip Oink! Hip Hip Oink!

Well, does BitTorrent "synthesize drugs" too? He mentions a few things in his statement and there's nothing to link to BitTorrent directly. I think you're being disingenuous in claiming this as a revelation.

If the inventors of the VCRs were as talkative about their desire to enable infringement as the inventors of file sharing, we wouldn't have VCRs.

It's funny you should mention that.

So, is that (i.e. piracy) what BitTorrent is for?

From Clay Shirky's Group as User: Flaming and the Design of Social Software - "If you assume a piece of software is for what it does, rather than what its designer's stated goals were..."

The reason that BT is not an instance of 'tools for digital piracy' is that it is a bad tool for that use. You'll see this in pretty much every single Bram interview -- he's more than happy about unauthorized distribution, he just didn't build BT for that purpose, because he didn't build in anonymity.

This isn't over-clever reasoning. His work happens in the context of a branch of the cipherpunks where anonymity systems are a big thing. For example, some BT developers also worked on Freenet, and to them the issue of anonymity is very concrete.

But Grokster was clearly planning to profit from the enabling piracy. I don't think it's 100% clear--certainly not from a legal standpoint--that Bram did a similar thing. Particularly since it has tons of legitimate users. How does the rule apply to a P2P that has enabled efficient and legal sharing more strongly than it's use as a piracy tool (ie, everyone knows who you are on a torrent)?

Sure, Rogers, I'm the one spinning.

Let's have a look at all of the things, by your logic, he must have intended BT to do:

1. disseminate information
2. commit digital piracy
3. synthesize drugs
4. maintain untrusted contacts
5. purchase anonymously
6. secure machines and homes

The point is that just because he has something listed in a mission statement does not mean that every line of code is to further every end within the mission statement.

It's just as easy to suppose that he didn't intend BT to 'synthesize drugs' or 'secure machines and homes' as it is to suppose that he didn't intend it to 'commit digital piracy'.

Combine that with the two huge points that you continue to ignore (1. There's no anonymity to BT at all and 2. That even if he intended this for piracy, the impact on podcasting is nil) and it's pretty obvious just whose got the turn-table running at 72 RPMs.

Hmmm, maybe he added this after you read it, but this is now the first line:

"[This was written in late 1999, and is a parody of a cypherpunk's manifesto, which struck me as very dishonest manifesto claiming to solely be concerned about privacy. This screed is written in the exaggerated voice of a 'prototypical' cypherpunk, making much more direct declarations of his intent.]"

So maybe he's not reccomending eating babies after all.

Sorry - My bold added to the quote.

Thanks for the update. I've revised it to reflect Cohen's statement that it was a parody. If that's true, and I'm not in a position to suggest otherwise, it's better he answered it on a couple of weblogs than in court.

This 'parody' bit is a very recent addition, indeed Google's cache of the page doesn't show it. I wouldn't be surprised if he added it after the Supreme Court decision to try and cover his ass.

I suspect that's not the issue. It's not the Bram Cohen's who need to fear Grokster (IT LIVES!!!!), it's the Suprnova's and upldrs of the world who do. Lots of folks will use the tech for completely innocent purposes, lots of folks won't. So it's not about the author; it's about the operator.

Grokster happened to be both, so people are focusing on its liability as the first, wheh the real action is its liability as the second ....

No matter if it's a parody or not, you've misread what he wrote.

"I build systems to disseminate information, commit digital piracy, synthesize drugs, maintain untrusted contacts, purchase anonymously, and secure machines and homes."

"I refuse to work on technology to track users, analyze usage patterns, watermark information, censor, detect drug use, or eavesdrop."

He's not saying he built anything to do any of the first list. He's saying he refuses to compromise his tools in order to make sure people don't use them for that. The fact that he mixed in "commit digital piracy" with "synthesize drugs" and "maintain untrusted contacts" should clue you in.

"Your Rights Online: Bittorrent Creator A Digital Pirate?"

Headline on Slashdot ATM.

I gotta say Rogers, as a total outside voyeur on your web writings, I was pretty surprised at the viciousness of your post when I first saw it. That it's gone this far is pretty sad. You usually seem to be a pretty level headed dude, thus the surprise.

Play shoot the messenger if you like, but Bram Cohen linked to a "technological agenda" on his home page for two years that advocated digital piracy.

I'll take the hit for not considering that it might be a droll parody, along with everyone else who took it as a genuine statement of his beliefs (as I'll bet you did). I'll take the hit for not contacting him. I'll take the hit for the headline.

But calling it vicious and blaming me for subsequent news coverage is a stretch. At some point in the last two years, he should have considered how that agenda would appear to the world and the courts.

Eh, my choice of words was likely not the best - I'm not trying to over-vilify you here. As others have pointed out, though, you have got to see how your original post appears sensationalist.

No harm no foul. I'm getting a bit grumpy about this, but I do think the scrutiny I'm getting is fair.

If you actually read this then you can easily tell from the style and tone that it's a parody, not a serious manifesto. Anyone that tries to say otherwise either has interests in seeing BitTorrent's reputation damaged or is just a blatant moron.

you're a prick. get a life! throwing accusations around.

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