In a new film, Arthur Newman, Colin Firth plays a man who fakes his own death and takes on a new identity. So it’s only fitting that the film is being promoted through BitTorrent, the peer-to-peer network known primarily as a tool for online piracry, which is similarly making a concerted effort to transform its own image.
Arthur Newman doesn’t come out until Friday, but all this week you can use the BitTorrent protocol to download a file that includes the first ten minutes of the film, the movie poster and 53 photos from the set.
Partnerships like this are all part of BitTorrent’s effort to go legit.
“People think BitTorrent is a piracy company — we’re not, we’re a technology company,” Matt Mason, VP of marketing at BitTorrent told BuzzFeed. “We move up to 40 percent of all Internet traffic everyday — more traffic than HTTP.”
BitTorrent’s effectiveness at moving large files like movies and music has put it at odds with the film and music industries in the past. In March, Marianne Grant, senior vice president of the MPAA, called BitTorrent “by far the best way” to illegally download movies.
The company has been working on cleaning up its image by cutting deals with filmmakers, musicians, and the companies that distribute their work legally at the same time that film and music industries, who are looking to the peer-to-peer network for help recouping revenue that piracy has eaten away.
BitTorrent already has the technology and the user base of 170 million monthly users monthly, meaning all filmmakers and musicians have left to figure out is monetization. Some options include charging users to download a film, or offering a free sample that will motivate them to buy it on iTunes or Amazon, or to go to a theater.
Getting BitTorrent users into theaters is the idea behind the Arthur Newman promotion. The first ten minutes of the film released on BitTorrent follow Firth’s character as he painstakingly dismantles his life: inviting his girlfriend (Anne Heche) on a beach camping trip knowing she’ll decline, saying goodbye to his son, towing a new convertible behind the SUV he’ll abandon at the beach with his clothes and personal identification. The clip ends abruptly as he drives away, with the idea is that viewers will want to know how the story ends enough that they’ll buy a movie ticket to find out.
BitTorrent has been successful using this model in the past. Last year, when an exclusive clip of the award-winning but distribution-less documentary Kumaré was released on BitTorrent, it was downloaded 3 million times, with 80,000 of those users checking out showtimes for the film after downloading.
Numbers aren’t available for Arthur Newman yet but Jill Calcaterra, chief marketing officer for Cinedigm, the company distributing the film, is already counting the promotion as a success. “There has been a lot of buzz a lot of people are talking about it. We anticipate it’s going to be a very positive response,” she said.
Cinedigm has plans to promote six other films through BitTorrent this year. The next will be the sci-fi Absence. According to Calcaterra, working with BitTorrent is all about staying ahead of the curve. “You have to try new things. That’s where we are in this industry,” she said. “Now is the time to try new things and to not sit on your laurels because the world will pass you by. ”
It’s strange to hear a film distribution company speaking so enthusiastically about working with BitTorrent given the industry’s efforts to combat piracy, but that dynamic appears to be changing. “We’ve had a strained relationship in that people have misunderstood us, but we’ve never had a lawsuit brought against us, we don’t do anything illegal. We don’t point to piracy content, we don’t host it, we don’t condone piracy,” BitTorrent’s Mason said.
Neither the Motion Picture Association of America nor the Recording Industry Association of America — the industry lobbying groups leading the crusade against piracy — have taken positions on BitTorrent’s efforts, according to their spokespeople.
A spokesperson for the RIAA explained, “What we do support generally though is a copyright owner’s right to do what they want with their work. We simply don’t want BitTorrent technology being used for the unauthorized distribution of content.”
Mason said reluctance and skepticism from the old guard is to be expected. “When Edison invented the record player, nobody saw the record industry coming. Artists thought that it was going to cannibalize the money they made from live performances,” he said. “I think that we’re in a similar position with this — here’s this incredible technology that move files really fast but no one’s really, really got their head around what you could do with it. “