Google Censors Its Own Education Investment in BitTorrent

Google prize winner, Khan Academy, partners with the black-listed BitTorrent network to distribute its free online courses.

Google's blacklisting of file-sharing networks and Homeland Security seizures of the BitTorrent just became a lot more complicated: Khan Academy, producer of the wildly popular open access YouTube courses, is now distributing content over the BitTorrent Network. Ironically, Google awarded the nonprofit millions to expand its network, inadvertently legitimizing claims that BitTorrent is actually used for far more than just pirated entertainment material.

Google Instant’s unexplained blacklisting of BitTorrent likely stems from Homeland Security’s recent controversial domain seizures of several BitTorrent websites, which was based on the justification that the sharing network was a “website through which illegal copies of movies and television shows are shared and transferred." Critics of the legal attacks unsuccessfully attempted to point out that BitTorrent websites are also an important file sharing method of legitimate content, such as open source software programs and independent musicians.

For Khan Academy, BitTorrent was a natural extension for it stated mission of “a world-class education for anyone anywhere,” Sal Khan tells Fast Company. Kahn was excited for activist educators to be able to download the Academy’s entire portforlio, burn it on a CD, and distribute it to rural or underdeveloped areas otherwise unable to access it without a broadband connection.

"I think the single most fun thing about BitTorrent," Khan adds, "is this content will never die. A nuclear bomb could hit our offices tomorrow and could take down our servers, but its going to sitting somewhere in the world on somebody's server." He added, "We don't care about monetizing the content; we just care that it gets used."

Khan was unware of the recent controversy surrounding BitTorrent, and declined to comment about the actions of Google or the United States government. In fact, Khan’s decision to partner with the file sharing network seemed casually hapazard. According to Kahn, when BitTorrent investment firm Doll Capitol Management approached him about the deal, his justification was simply “Why not?”

For what it's worth, Google has historically been a friend to open source and the culture of transparency. This most recent hiccup with Khan is probably not an indication of any nefarious intent, but an absurd illustration of how far U.S. technology policy has to go as it struggles to adapt to the new world of free and open information.

Follow Gregory Ferenstein on Twitter or send him an email.

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