BitTorrent's New Plan To Pay Musicians for Downloaded Music—Without Charging Users

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
July 27 2012 6:30 PM

BitTorrent's New Plan To Pay Musicians for Downloaded Music—Without Charging Users

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DJ Shadow is taking part in the BitTorrent experiment

Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

While poor college students and twentysomethings see torrents as that no-cost way to catch Game of Thrones, BitTorrent Inc. hopes to change this with a new revenue model that supports collaborating artists while keeping content at its desired price (free).

BitTorrent Inc. is the primary developer of the BitTorrent peer-to-peer protocol and the download client μTorrent, though alternative third-party clients and hosting are also popular.

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Earlier this week, the San Francisco-based company began offering a free download bundle as part of its initiative to “help artists monetize the BitTorrent ecosystem,” reports TorrentFreak. This featured bundle pairs exclusive music and photos from hip-hop producer DJ Shadow with a free, optional install of RealPlayer.

This is the first of what BitTorrent, with its network of 150 million users, hopes be a new way of distributing content, one that allows artists to profit without asking downloaders to pay up. Each bundle will come with software—like a media player or anti-virus program—and that’s where the money come in. If a user opts to install the program, the software vendor will pay an advertising fee, which will be shared between BitTorrent and the featured artist. If no one installs the software, the artist doesn’t make any cash—but BitTorrent thinks that that won’t happen.

"This is the first time ever that an artist has worked directly with BitTorrent to monetize content," said Matt Mason, executive director of marketing at BitTorrent, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. "It is kind of a giant leap forward."

DJ Shadow’s support is certainly striking, considering past statements he has made about file sharing. “If you’re holding your breath, waiting for me to boost my cool-quotient by giving my music away for free, it’s not going to happen,” he wrote in a 2010 blog post. “The fact is that I feel my music has value.”

Given that there are plenty of  perfectly legitimate uses for torrents, it seems reasonable that the company would want to distance itself from  the more unsavory side of file-sharing, especially as Megaupload continues its very public legal battle.

There is precedence for this sort of shift into respectability. After being shut down for two years by a grumpy RIAA, Napster made the leap to commercial acceptance back in 2003. In the end, though, even legitimacy wasn’t enough to save the fledgling service, as it merged with Rhapsody in 2011.

Will BitTorrent’s experiment pan out? Even if ad revenue is enough to satisfy everyone’s piggy banks, its success relies on users actually downloading the sponsored software. And how many of your friends do you see using RealPlayer?

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

David Sydiongco is a Future Tense intern.