by LUKE BAUMGARTEN & r & & r & The Libertarian Web & r & & r & Last Friday, BitTorrent, the company that created the file-sharing software of the same name, announced it would lay off about half its staff, or 18 workers -- including founder/inventor Ashwin Navin. This isn't as big a deal as the crisis in our financial markets or anything, but certain estimates peg BitTorrent uploads and downloads as accounting for half of Web traffic worldwide, so it's no stretch to call BitTorrent the Wachovia of file-sharing. (Actually, calling it that is an understatement.)
Much of the company's staff is dedicated to figuring out how file sharing can make money. In the last two years, it has failed miserably. Its BitTorrent Entertainment Network, conceived as an iTunes rival, is going away.
There are three salient points here: 1) Half of all Web traffic comes from the transfer of digital music, movies, TV, etc.; 2) The company that created the standard for that transfer is laying off about half its workforce; and, most important, 3) the company only employed about 40 people to begin with.
The upshot: For years, the recording industry has complained that people who share music are taking money from the pockets of artists. That's true, as far as it goes. The opposite side of that coin, though, is that even the pirates -- or in this case those the industry believes are complicit in the piracy -- are broke too.
I haven't written much about national trends in music in a while (much to the joy of certain scene people, I hear). In general, this column space is going to become as locally focused as I can make it. This news, though, is too big to be getting as little coverage as it is. There's little money to be made in digital media. There's even less to be made in digital media distribution. The old open-source maxim, "Information wants to be free," is as true as ever but isn't broad enough. It's not just information that wants to be free, but the way that information reaches people. No one is going to get rich in digital media, least of all the supposed pirates.