Since it's inception, bit-torrent has been the bane of filmmakers, film distributors, and studio shareholders alike. The popular file-sharing protocol has tons of legitimate uses, but there's no question that one of its largest uses is the mass dissemination of copyrighted material without permission of those who own said material; AKA movie piracy. However, a new service called VODO is planning on turning the worst aspect of peer-to-peer downloading into an advantageous new release platform for independent filmmakers.

The project, created by one of the gentlemen behind the movie piracy documentary Steal This Film, functions as an intermediary between downloaders and content creators and works a little something like this: A filmmaker interested in giving out his film for free submits their labor of love to VODO. A jury then approves the film for distribution, at which point it ends up on the VODO homepage as a bit-torrent download which can then be shared freely by users all over the world. Should a downloader enjoy a film and then want to support it, they can go back to the website which works as a portal directly to the filmmaker, be it to make a donation or ask for permission to show the film commercially.

It's a clever service that puts a name and a face to the otherwise faceless p2p distribution method that has plagued small-time distributors for years. Sure, it's frustrating for a multi-billion dollar studio if someone leaks one of their films online, but people are still going to buy the Blu-ray or DVD of something like Wolverine. That's not always the case for a film that can't afford to muscle itself onto the retail shelves of a Best Buy or Walmart. I do think it's a little odd that a filmmaker has to essentially apply for permission to give away their film for free through the service, but at the same time I understand that, considering the service is free, to not have any kind of quality assurance screening process would open up the flood gates and dilute the advantages the platform was designed for in the first place.

The latest addition to the VODO family is a documentary called Us Now that takes a look at "how 'user' participation could transform the way that countries are governed. It tells the stories of the online networks whose radical self-organising structures threaten to change the fabric of government forever. Us Now follows the fate of Ebbsfleet United, a football club owned and run by its fans; Zopa, a bank in which everyone is the manager; and Couch Surfing, a vast online network whose members share their homes with strangers."

So if you're in the mood to feel empowered, go ahead and download Us Now; it's free and legal, just like the filmmaker wants it to be. Who knows, you might find it's worth more than the nothing you paid for it, in which case VODO is once again to the rescue.

[Via BoingBoing]