Torrential Doctor Who Fans

Standard television ratings are being heavily impacted by filesharing around the world, and in Australia in particular this is becoming a bit of a perceived problem.

The Next Doctor, for instance, is likely to have been heavily retreived by Doctor Who fans across Australia given that the broadcast of the 2008 Christmas special is scheduled for mid January.  Too far from Christmas, and too close to wait.

With hints in the run up to the episode (mainly thanks to its title) that the adventure will have a major implication on the life of the Tenth Doctor (note to the writer of this article – it doesn’t) Australian fans with knowledge of BitTorrent (and by extension anyone who doesn’t live in the UK) are likely to access the peer to peer filesharing system in order to download the latest Doctor Who.

This isn’t the first time either – back in June Doctor Who was one of the most downloaded TV shows.

The real problem here – without sounding like an advert for the state-controlled BBC – is that foreign TV networks and producers don’t seem willing to embrace the internet and the World Wide Web in quite the same way as the BBC do.

As such, I can easily view last Monday’s episode of EastEnders (unlikely that I should want to, mind) via BBC iPlayer.  If I wanted to view an episode of Lost (again, unlikely…) I could easily do so via the BitTorrent "network" – although I would be doing so illegally, even though it would be comparatively easy to setup a website with advertising on it and access to a time controlled DRM download of the show.

Of course the whole aspect of the legality of downloading directly or from a peer-to-peer (P2P) network depends on the funding of the broadcast.  Generally speaking however television programs are funded by tax or advertising paid by budgets from the the originating territories.  As such there is a distinct moral question over the issue of downloading a program via the BitTorrent P2P network – but not particularly if you know when the program is likely to be broadcast, or you’ve missed the broadcast.

It is a minefield, let’s be honest.  One thing to note, however, is how easy it is to get hold of a broadcast via the BitTorrent network.  If it was 100% illegal, then a blanket ban on all websites listing torrent files (these contain the location across the P2P network of each constituent data part that comprises the finished download – no data is stored on a hosted server) would have been implemented a long time ago.

It is worth noting also that BBC iPlayer utilises a P2P system in order to reduce the impact on the servers hosting the material.

This is an issue that won’t go away, and has been linked with Doctor Who since the leaking of Rose back in 2005.  We will watch with interest…

Christian Cawley

A long-term Doctor Who fan, Christian grew up watching the show and has early memories of the Graham Williams era. His favourite stories are Inferno, The Seeds of Doom and Human Nature (although The Empty Child, Blink and Utopia all come close). When he’s not bossing around the news team, Christian is a freelance writer specialising in mobile technology and domestic computing, and enjoys classic rock, cooking and spending time in the countryside with his wife and young children. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

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