NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Shortly after Hollywood launched a major offensive against Internet pirates last month, two popular Web sites for stealing movies shut down.
But no sooner had Suprnova.org and Bittorrent.org pulled the plug then copycat sites appeared in their place. What's more, BitTorrent, the technology targeted in the movie industry crackdown, appears to be as popular as ever.
BitTorrent remains the most common "peer-to-peer" technology used by Internet users looking to swap files, both legal and illegal, according to CacheLogic, a British company that monitors peer-to-peer traffic. CacheLogic estimates that just over half of all Internet file-sharing uses BitTorrent software.
"In general there has been very little reduction in the levels of BitTorrent traffic across the globe," said Andrew Parker, the company's founder and chief technology officer. "As many of the (BitTorrent) sites...were being shut down, new ones sprung up."
Parker said he was surprised that BitTorrent usage has not noticeably declined. He noted that when the music industry launched its counteroffensive against Internet pirates by suing users of Kazaa, then the No. 1 peer-to-peer service, file-swappers quickly shifted to newer technologies, including BitTorrent and another one called eDonkey.
The massive shift away from Kazaa took about two months, said Parker.
But with BitTorrent, a similar exodus isn't happening -- at least not yet. And that speaks both to the wiliness of the BitTorrent technology and the big obstacles that Hollywood faces as it tries to avoid a crisis similar to the one that struck the music industry when Napster set off what amounted to a massive online looting of songs.
BitTorrent, a different kind of threat
"I'm not in any way surprised" that BitTorrent continues to thrive, said Eric Garland, the CEO of BigChampagne, a peer-to-peer research firm. He notes that BitTorrent is a different technology than traditional peer-to-peer software like Kazaa and Morpheus.
Instead of acting as a central repository that connects users who want to share music or other files, BitTorrent is essentially homeless.
It's simply a technology that makes downloading easier and faster. While BitTorrent is good at swapping data between computers, explains Parker, users have to find the files they want themselves. That's what led to Suprnova.org and other sites set up specifically to tell users what BitTorrent files are available and where to find them.
The sites, which essentially act as conduits between downloaders and BitTorrent files, were the primary target of last month's campaign, in which the Motion Picture Association of America filed 100 lawsuits against BitTorrent and other index sites around the world.
"The reason BitTorrent will be persistent and will continue to be disruptive or troubling is that the MPAA went after some of the most-trafficked Web sites that essentially point users to these files, but that doesn't impact the technology at all," said Garland. "What happen is mirror sites pop up, in some cases within minutes."
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So how does a BitTorrent user know where to find a replacement site? Simple, said Garland: "Google."
There's another threat looming: Peer-to-peer sites are all abuzz these days about a new computer program set to be released this month. Details are scant, but eXeem is being described as a cross between BitTorrent and traditional peer-to-peer software that helps users find the files they want.
To Garland, the rise of eXeem and copycat Suprnova.org sites shows that the entertainment industry is wrong to think it can turn Internet piracy "off like a switch."
A spokesman for the MPAA did not immediately have a response to a written request for comment.
The iTunes solution
Working in Hollywood's favor is user apathy: Consumers aren't all that interested yet in watching movies on computer screens, said Yankee Group senior analyst Michael Goodman.
But that's bound to change in coming years. And when it does, analysts said, movie studios need to be ready or else risk being blind-sided.
Some analysts and Internet users think the only answer is for Hollywood to stop trying to fight piracy and to focus on finding a solution similar to iTunes. The Apple Computer service, which lets consumers download songs for 99 cents a pop, has been a spectacular success.
The answer, said Garland, is to take piracy mainstream. "You marginalize it. You take what's great about the experience and you sell it to people."
Paul Ford, a New York writer and avid peer-to-peer user, thinks that's a great idea. He readily admits to regularly downloading Comedy Central's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" because he doesn't have or want cable service.
But he said he would happily buy a subscription, if only one were available.
"'The Daily Show' is worth $50 or $60 bucks a year for me," said Ford. "At some point there's going to be enough people doing this (illegally downloading television shows and movies) and people wanting it that it will make sense."