February 3, 2005 | By Donna Wentworth

Mike Godwin on "Steal This Show"

We loved that this NYT piece reported on EFF's high-definition TV PVR build-ins. We hated that the highly unfortunate title, "Steal This Show," suggests that recording TV programs using a homebrew HDTV PVR is somehow tantamount to stealing. Not surprisingly, so did Public Knowledge's Mike Godwin. Today, he runs a fine-toothed comb through the piece, pointing out that the authors appear to have swallowed a few MPAA-propagated myths:

Let's leave aside whether time-shifting television with an off-brand counterpart to TiVo is "stealing." A more important problem with the article is that it gives a false impression of the normal user experience of BitTorrent. [According to the article,] "On the kind of peer-to-peer site that gave the music industry night sweats, an episode of 'Desperate Housewives' that some fan copied and posted on the Internet can take hours to download; on BitTorrent, it arrives in minutes."

That hasn't been my experience of BitTorrent, and I doubt many other ordinary users routinely experience the downloading of TV programs in "minutes." On the off chance that BitTorrent speeds had suddenly improved since I had last used the application, I conducted an experiment...downloading Episode 13 of "Huff"...took six hours...An HDTV version of the episode, in full resolution, might have taken ten times longer.

Don't get me wrong: BitTorrent is a significant advance over last-generation file-sharing programs, especially in terms of maximizing use of bandwidth. What it doesn't do, at least for ordinary broadband users, is enable the kind of rapid downloading of TV content that the Motion Picture Association of America believes it must attack.

If anything, Godwin understates the problem for those looking to use BitTorrent to "steal" television. Televisions in American households are getting bigger and bigger, and a low-resolution copy of 'Desperate Housewives' that looks OK on your laptop screen will look awful on your new 50-inch rear projection TV or 40-inch plasma flat-panel. Indeed, shows downloaded from BitTorrent might be the best demonstration out there of why you'd want to pony up for a digital cable HD package!


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