Warner Brothers planned to announce yesterday that it will make hundreds of movies and television shows available for purchase over the Internet using BitTorrent software, which is widely used to illegally download movies and other copyright material.
The agreement between Warner Brothers and BitTorrent is an unusual deal between a major Hollywood studio and a company whose file-sharing technology has raised the ire of the movie industry in the past.
For its part, Warner Brothers says it is trying to stem the piracy of movies on the Internet by offering consumers an easy and fast way to download movies legally.
"We've been struggling with peer-to-peer technology and trying to figure out a way to harness the good in all that the technology allows us to do," said Kevin Tsujihara, the president of Warner Brothers Home Entertainment Group.
"If we can convert 5, 10 or 15 percent of the illegal downloaders into consumers of our product, that is significant," he added.
A spokeswoman for Warner Brothers declined to disclose the terms of the deal.
The service will begin sometime this summer, with prices beginning at about US$1 for some television programs and increasing to about the price of a DVD or video rental for full-length movies.
The initial offerings will include movies like Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Rumor Has It and Natural Born Killers.
The television shows will include older fare like The Dukes of Hazzard and Babylon 5.
To use the service, consumers will visit www.bittorrent.com, download the software and then browse the selections on the Web site. They will be prevented from copying and distributing the files they purchase through two mechanisms: One that requires them to enter a password before watching a file, and another that allows the file to be viewed only on the computer to which it was downloaded.
Online piracy has become increasingly vexing for Hollywood studio executives as faster Internet connections have made it easier to copy large movie files. A study commissioned by the Motion Picture Association of America concluded that piracy cost the studios about US$2.3 billion in revenue last year.
BitTorrent, which is widely used by college students and other tech-savvy people, has legitimate uses, offering a way for creators of video documentaries or of open-source software to share their work easily and cheaply. But it is best known as a tool for illegal downloading.
For example, at any given moment in the week ending May 2, an average of 47,069 people were downloading the movie The Chronicles of Narnia using BitTorrent, according to BigChampagne Media Measurement, an online market research firm in Beverly Hills, California. Scary Movie 4, which hit theaters just last month, was being downloaded by an average of 37,287 people in that week.
"There's a significant amount of peer-to-peer usage, which takes place because not many online options exist," said Ashwin Navin, the president and co-founder of BitTorrent.