A study carried out at a university in Spain has discovered that just 100 hard-core users are responsible for three quarters of the traffic on popular file-sharing portals.
Researchers at the Carlos III University of Madrid say they have developed a tool which exposes "the name of the user who published the content, his/her IP address (which provides the user’s city, country and the service provider’s name) and the IP address of those users who later used the BitTorrent application to download the contents".
Perhaps the most surprising result of the research is that a hard core of around 100 regular users are responsible for 66 per cent of the uploads, or content published, as well as a whopping 75 per cent of all downloads.
The BitTorrent peer-to-peer network, which alows users to share locally-stored content with thousands of other users at the same time as downloading new content, does have legitimate uses but is best known as a source of pirated music, movies, TV shows, games and other software.
The Spanish study found that the small group of über-users were split into two main profiles. 'Top Publishers' are those who rent server space from, shall we say 'secretive' ISPs and make money from on-line advertising and premium download services.
What will realy raise a few eyebrows is that the other prevalent profile is that of 'fake publishers' which largely consists of users from the various copyright protection agencies around the world uploading huge amounts of fake data purporting to be new releases, swamping the servers with garbage files.
A smaller group was also found to be using the network to disseminate malicious viruses and malware embeded within pirated software.
The research paper, entitled Is Content Publishing in BitTorrent Altruistic or Profit Driven? calls into question the viability of BitTorrent in particular, and the wider P2P network in general, should this tiny group of users be ousted from the service by dwindling economic returns or legal action.
"In our opinion," the authors of the study conclude, "the success of BitTorrent lies in the availability of popular content which is typically protected by copyright law, and people who take the risk of publishing that content do it because they receive an economic benefit. If in the future these users lose their incentive, either because of a decrease in advertising income or due to having to pay very expensive fines, BitTorrent would very likely cease to offer this content, which would make people stop using the application on a massive scale."