January 17, 2005 | By Donna Wentworth

Macworld Editor's Pick for 2004: BitTorrent

We missed this last week, but it's worth noting: the editors of Macworld have given an "Editor's Choice" award to BitTorrent -- despite the fact that it's "championed" by pirates. Why? Editor-in-Chief Jason Snell explains:

[BitTorrent] is one of the most clever technologies we've seen in recent years. ...

Everyone who offers downloads of large files should offer BitTorrent as a file-transfer option. Game companies already use it for distribution of gigantic game files to beta testers; software developers really should look into it as a way to distribute large update files far and wide. Hollywood could even take advantage of the concepts behind BitTorrent to enable legitimate distribution of movies and TV shows on the net.

Yes, right now BitTorrent is largely being used for illicit purposes. But that didn't stop us from recognizing it as not only a fantastic technology with plenty of legitimate uses, but as an easy to use Mac OS X program. Here's hoping that BitTorrent lives a long life, and grows into a tool that's used mostly by the mainstream, and not by the shadowy underworld of movie, music, and software pirates.

BitTorrent is, of course, just the sort of "fantastic" technology that will be put to the test by the Supreme Court's review of MGM v. Grokster in March.

For more than 20 years following the Sony Betamax decision, the capacity for "plenty of legitimate uses" has been enough to protect the legitimacy of everything from the humble photocopier to the personal computer. The VCR followed the very path Mr. Snell describes, going from "shadowy underworld" pirate's tool to mainstream consumer product. This created the home rental market -- something that was supposed to strangle the life out of the movie business but instead proved its lifeblood. Now, as Internet-enabled technologies take their first baby steps, Hollywood has turned its back on Betamax. If the Supreme Court does the same, we'll never know what technologies like BitTorrent would have grown up to be.

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