December 14, 2004 12:01 PM PST

MPAA targets core BitTorrent, eDonkey users

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traffic-directing role was played by individual users' computers, rather than a central server. Judges said those companies are not legally responsible for their users' actions, and the entertainment companies have appealed that decision all the way to the Supreme Court.

eDonkey has been a hybrid of those two types of systems. In its early days, individual users maintained Napster-like central servers that managed traffic on the network. Many people still use that older version of the technology; it is the operators of those servers that the MPAA is now targeting.

However, the creators of the eDonkey software said most searches are now done using the newer, wholly decentralized software.

"eDonkey doesn't rely on central servers anymore, so taking them offline won't effect the network adversely," said eDonkey creator Jed McCaleb. "The servers are only used to connect with old and third-party clients.

The BitTorrent difference
BitTorrent works completely differently. In that system, individuals who want to share a file prep it for distribution, creating a "torrent" file that uniquely identifies the content and tells computers how to get it. That resulting how-to file can be spread around the Net, posted on Web sites, or spread through chat networks like the Internet Relay Chat.

Included in this torrent file is information about how to get to a "tracker" server, which actually facilitates all the uploads and downloads associated with a single particular piece of content. That server is sometimes run by the original distributor of the content, and sometimes by an unrelated third party. If the tracker server linked to a particular piece of content goes offline, existing downloads of the file can continue, but no new people can begin downloading that file.

The MPAA actions are directed at the people who operate these tracker servers, rather than people who might casually find a link to BitTorrent content and begin downloading the content themselves.

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