This week in Sharp Darts, I wrote about the Pirate Bay trial and returned to the question of lessons the music industry could learn from file sharing sites.
I didn't have space to do much explaining about BitTorrent, with is how Pirate Bay users actually share files--it's a powerful means of doing so that uses a distributed network. In contrast to the original Napster model, where one user downloads a file from one other user via Napster's network, BitTorrent allows many users to share directly with one another, pulling bits of a file from several different users at once. This allows users to share even files they only have partially downloaded.
If they're well seeded, even huge files--entire artist discographies, albums encoded in lossless formats, not to mention movies and episodes of East Bound & Down--can be downloaded surprisingly quickly. Torrent trackers like the Pirate Bay just provide files--tiny ones, measured in KB--that tell your torrent application of choice where to pick up bits of your East Bound & Down episode or whatever. The technology allows a torrent tracker to work with relatively small bandwidth costs, and since no pirated files pass through the site, its owners can argue (with varying levels of success) that they aren't actually engaging in piracy.
If you're interested in trying BitTorrent, Lifehacker has a great guide to getting started.