A tiny group of users is responsible for the great majority of BitTorrent activity, according to Spanish researchers.
A team at Carlos III University of Madrid examined the behavior of users who published over 55,000 files on the two main portals of BitTorrent, Mininova and The Pirate Bay. They collected the names, ISPs and IP numbers of publishers, and the IP numbers of downloaders.
They found that just 100-odd users were responsible for 66 percent of content published and 75 percent of downloads.
"The success of BitTorrent is due to the fact that a few users make a large number of contents available in exchange for receiving economic benefits," says the team.
Basically, they say, there are two different user profiles. In one group are the so-called 'fake publishers' - organizations fighting illegal downloading and malicious users who publish a large quantity of false files in order to protect copyrights and spread infected software, respectively.
The other group includes a small number of users - known as 'top publishers' - who publish massive amounts of content on BitTorrent to make a profit. The money comes mainly from online advertising, boosted by VIP subscriptions held by users who wish to speed up the downloading of the contents. It's these people who are responsible for the majority of BitTorrent activity.
"If these users lose interest in this activity or are eliminated from the system, BitTorrent’s traffic will be drastically reduced", the authors of the study predict.
"In our opinion, the success of BitTorrent lies in the availability of popular contents which are typically protected by copyright law, and people who take the risk of publishing those contents, do it because they receive an economic benefit in exchange for doing so."
The study gives the lie to the idea that most illegal file sharers are motivated by a Robin Hood mentality. If the activity were made less profitable - through heavy fines, for example, or by cutting advertising - file exchange networks could die out altogether.