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Summary:

The popular torrent-indexing site Mininova.org late yesterday took the drastic step of removing all but a few torrents in response to a copyright infringement lawsuit. Dutch rights group BREIN went to court against Mininova in June, and later that summer, the site was ordered to remove […]

The popular torrent-indexing site Mininova.org late yesterday took the drastic step of removing all but a few torrents in response to a copyright infringement lawsuit. Dutch rights group BREIN went to court against Mininova in June, and later that summer, the site was ordered to remove any links to infringing content and prevent any further uploads of such content. Mininova is still considering appealing the ruling, according to a blog post published yesterday, but it decided to take down millions of links in the meantime.

The end of Mininova as we know it comes just a few days after The Pirate Bay announced the closure of its tracker. It also marks yet another wasted opportunity to monetize BitTorrrent.

Mininova was by any measure one of the most popular — if not the most popular — torrent sites on the web, clocking 633 million page views in August and serving more than 10 billion torrents since being launched in early 2005. Mininova functioned as a search engine, meaning that it didn’t actually run its own tracker, but instead indexed torrent files tracked by The Pirate Bay and other tracker servers. In fact, The Pirate Bay and Mininova were in many ways a sort of duopoly ruling the BitTorrent world. The Pirate Bay’s tracker servers made it possible to swap files, and Mininova’s search engine made them discoverable.

Yet the two couldn’t have been more different. The folks behind the Pirate Bay cast themselves as rebellious outlaws and made fun of copyright owners’ requests to take down content. Mininova, on the other hand, responded to all takedown request and a few months ago even started to experiment with a proactive filtering solution to police its uploads. And while The Pirate Bay belongs to an obscure offshore company, with the people associated with it long claiming that they don’t own a piece of it, Mininova is incorporated in the Netherlands, complete with an office address and a CEO.

Mininova has also been increasingly cooperating with rights holders to distribute licensed content via BitTorrent. At last check, its Content Distribution service offered access to some 9,000 torrents ranging from obscure e-books to impressive TV documentaries. And the only torrents Mininova left up are part of the Content Distribution service. That should give its content partners a temporary boost as users start to download licensed content for the lack of any better alternative, but it remains to be seen if those few thousand torrents are enough to keep Mininova going as a business.

I’ve said it before: The chances of turning torrent sites into businesses that are not only legal but actually make rights holders money are incredibly low. BitTorrent users don’t like paid content or intrusive advertising, and they’ll always have a plethora of alternatives at their disposal that won’t bother about rights and royalties. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. YouTube has demonstrated that it’s possible to monetize content that’s been uploaded, and sometimes even mashed up, by end users, and it took rights holders a while to get used to the fact that giving up control helps them to make more money (in fact, Viacom still hasn’t seen the light.)

I’d argue that the same could be done with a torrent site. Don’t expect a perfect system, but one that’s good enough, and still much better than the status quo. Unfortunately it looks like it’s too late for Mininova to even try.

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  1. Monetizing user-generated uploads is a business issue that’s been around since the start of internet video. One would think that it’s in the intellectual wheelhouse for NewTeeVee, which holds conferences on these topics, operates premium sites and certainly works to be an important resource for people operating in this space.

    We have had years to come up with proven business models or data to support reporting on this issue, but the best Janko can do is “Content + Bittorrent + ?? = profit!”

    I just don’t understand the point of this calorie-free post. YouTube’s deals with content owners are rev-shares or straight licensing deals – not dissimilar with deals these content companies have struck with on- and off-line companies all over the world. The post says nothing data-driven about why those deals might or might not be workable for torrent sites, or why the author has drawn a strange connection between the two.

    If NTV has any data or insight about these issues, please share it. So far, all I’ve learned today is that Janko misses Mininova. At some point, those who think of themselves as thought leaders need to move to something more sophisticated than, “the solution is obvious – the Internet is win.”

    1. My point is that Google’s deal with rights holders is actually very very different from “deals these content companies have struck with on- and off-line companies all over the world.”

      Traditional licensing, to oversimplify it a little, works like this: First you hammer out a deal, then you distribute a catalog of works covered by the deal.

      YouTube monetiztion on the other hand, again admittedly oversimplified, works like this: A user uploads a clip that makes use of a work, and then the rights holder decides if he wants to make a deal (rev share) or take down the content (DMCA + content ID based filtering).

      It’s after the fact licensing, and in fact in can be case by case licensing, and the mere fact that so many rights holders are okay with this new modus operandi is profound, because it means that we’re that much closer to the admittedly somewhat magic formula of turning torrent sites into licensed, profitable businesses.

      1. if what you say is true regarding whats happening on youtube, then the entire copyright issue on the internet can be transformed into a monetization and or metrics or whatever you want to call it, it can be changed overnight.

        If they let people do what they have been doing since before napster, but since its networked, monetize it, …(SOMEHOW)like the youtube content id situation, of rev share, however that occurs, then yes, torrent sites will be turned into promotion tools, and the onus will be on large content companies to turn this all this confirmable activity into a point of purchase repackaging deal, ala that 300 buck nine inch nails album that sold out in a day. however, it will be like family guy syndrome for repacking, in other words, if there is a trend in a some bizarre piece of content gettting alot of attention, it will be bought up or if its already owned, repackaged and promoted, like 4g fast.

        if this actually happens, copyright as the oil of the 21 will become well, not that, it will be in content owners best interest to simply let the content form what it will form and resell it as quick as possible by taking out the middle man and offer one click downloading in the format of choice at the fastest speed wherever, and while we are on the topic, wtf is tv everywhere trying to be? Wireless IP video devices? ok, it will be devices for the dumb and rich, basically the IE 6 users of today will save us all from litigious choking through copyright.

        whatever half of this is so convuluted i should stop

  2. Yea i agree with the poster above, nothing really insightful in this article. Torrent sites can only be profitable if allowed to be left alone. However, that said, symbiotically, or in conjunction, or underwritten by large media content providers, overlain along the patterns that surface with let’s say mininova or as it was known previously suprnova (you thought we forgot hey?_slonceck or whatever that dude’s name is/torrentfreak tv) anyway, by using their vast resources to repack rar’d (cause you know torrent users love their rars)
    content related to the habits they observe on the “hunting” interweb, the nonhunting or rather “the room service” net which exists in the penthouse of IP enabled devices that are in the living room already could be and is the next vast this is where the solution will take hold environment.

    however, it will take a while for large content companies to allow the equiv of content id on youtube to exist as a full scale torrent site from yester millenium. let people show you what they want, then give it right back to them specificaly based on what they are showing you, only faster and at a higher res for a few bucks and try and turn it into a habit, under (the current infringey net/or advert RandD) and the overnet (commercial dynamic IP enabled devices that communicate with the undernet.

    We’ll be living this whether you understand me or not within the next five years.

  3. 10 More Sites for Free and Legal Torrents Friday, February 5, 2010

    [...] used to be one of the biggest torrent directories on the Internet until it was forced to shut down all unauthorized content due to a copyright infringement lawsuit late last year. However, Mininova [...]

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