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Swedish Pirates

Swedish Pirates

As you may or may not know, last week the men behind the world’s most notorious (though not – notably –  the largest) file-sharing website were found guilty of copyright infringement, ordered to pay £3 million in damages and sentenced to a year in prison. I won’t go over the details as this does it perfectly but I am interested as to what it means and, more importantly, doesn’t mean.

The Pirate Bay provides indexed links to torrent files. Torrent files are used with a stand-alone program to find other users with that same torrent, downloading or uploading data between each other depending on how much of the completed album/movie/game etc they have yet downloaded. No actual content is hosted by the website and file sharing itself is not illegal, just the sharing of copyrighted content.

The court found that they were guilty of knowingly enabling the sharing of copyrighted content. Now, before I get into what this logically leads to, I should mention that The Pirate Bay was set up in 2003  by an anti-copyright organisation called Piratbyran, and has become the most notorious of its kind by gleefully styling itself as some sort of romanticised digital Robin Hood figure, railing against the bloated corpus of corporate media. As pirates in fact, those (somewhat misguidedly) loved semi-mythical figures of the seven seas. They are proud of their illegitimacy.

Going out of their way to wind up the music industry in the most high profile manner possible (the internet), they were purposefully attracting controversy. The major labels want figures to make examples of, to claw back lost revenue and give them a good kicking in the process. The chairman of industry body the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) John Kennedy reacted thusly to the verdict:

“The Pirate Bay did immense harm and the damages awarded doesn’t even get close to compensation, but we never claimed it did.

“There has been a perception that piracy is OK and that the music industry should just have to accept it. This verdict will change that.”

The way people discover, access and aquire music has changed forever and unless some wildly extreme measures are implemented you will never stop people illegally downloading music. Losses aside, the time has come to adapt – Apple have become the world’s largest digital music retailer (to the point that they essentially own the UK singles chart) by adapting rather than panicing and innovating rather than leading high-profile but arguably pointless witch hunts.

The one thing the music industry does have to accept is that it has to change. This verdict will not alter people’s perceptions, rather it will reinforce views that the music industry can’t / won’t change. The Pirate Bay still very much active (and busier than ever ironically) and there are an infinite amount of other websites, forums and programs that do exactly the same thing. Not only that but if we consider what The Pirate Bay actually does – links to downloadable copyrighted content – we would have to take into account any sort of data hosting site or search engine. Just think about that for a second. EVERYTHING. If the precedent set by this verdict was to be followed to its logical conclusion we’d have to take most of the internet to court. Including…


Go to google, type the name of an album/ film etc followed by torrent and… that’s what The Pirate Bay does. It looks different, indexes the files and bleats on about it but it’s essentially the same premise. It’s a search engine. There’s a very interesting piece on this issue here but I’ll just pull one quote from it, from Ben Edelman, a professor at Harvard’s Business School focused on Internet regulation:

“Google now can and does do what the Pirate Bay has always done, and if they’re prosecuted, they would have much more interesting arguments in their defense.”

Exactly. A couple of Swedish ‘pirates’ are easily made examples of – thanks partly to their loud mouths – but I wonder how this issue will be approached.

The music industry’s business model is out of date. Time to adapt, change and grow with the times. No-ones sure what’s going to happen but I think that prospect is as exciting as it is scary. In fact, more exciting! No, as exciting.

Now, what’s for dinner. Anyone?


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