Bram Cohen’s BitTorrent software made it a cinch to pirate films on the Internet. So why is Hollywood on his side?
By Daniel Roth
For two years after the dot-com crash, Bram Cohen could almost always be found at his small dining-room table, first in San Francisco’s Nob Hill and later in Oakland. His long brown hair would flop in front of his eyes, and he’d curl it back over his ears as he stared at the screen of his Dell laptop, writing line after line after line of code. Occasionally Cohen would take breaks—there was a club to visit some nights, a conference on coding to help organize, a trip to Amsterdam—but then he’d return to his wooden chair, his keyboard on his lap, his laptop propped up on some books, his back perfectly straight (thanks to posture classes he was taking), and he’d program some more. First he lived off savings from the handful of jobs he’d worked during the bubble. When that ran out, he lived off credit cards, following a rigid system for applying for and transferring debt to 0% introductory-rate cards. Friends would ask what he was doing. Why wouldn’t he just get a job? Cohen shooed them away. He was determined to solve a puzzle that was consuming him.
Since the birth of the Net, programmers had been stumped by how to transfer massive files—movies, TV shows, games, software, whatever—without incurring astronomical bills or risking frequent failure. Cohen knew he could find a solution; all it would take was time, good code, and brute intellect. He had all three. The money would take care of itself. “I didn’t have any clear plans when I first started,” he says. “I wasn’t worried, partially because what I was doing was really cool, and partially because I’m broken and can’t feel anxiety.” (more…)