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The Piracy of Pirates

December 16th, 2009 · No Comments


It started a few years ago when the Pirates of the Caribbean became a box office success. Then there were the sequels, with Captain Jack becoming a favorite new character. Don’t forget the periodic news stories about Somali pirates kidnapping people over the past several months. Later Michael Crichton’s last book, the posthumously published Pirate Latitudes, is all about those sea-loving rapscallions. But there is a faction of pirates in Sweden that have been making waves the past few years as well.

In 2003, an anti-copyright group, Piratbyran or The Piracy Bureau, began to run a website filled with television programs and movies, among other digital media. Although it changed ownership a couple times, the site primarily has been overseen by a few people including Gottfrid Svartholm and Fredrik Neji. The purpose is to make digital material available to all, much of it under copyright. People are free to download what they want from the site after they register. The material is shared in bittorrents, or torrents, which is a cloud network of peer-to-peer distribution system for the sole purpose of transferring large files. The Pirate Bay bills itself as “the world’s most resilient bittorrent site.” Users need to have a software program to send or receive the torrents which download small bits of files from other computers that are connected to the same cloud.

But as “fun” as sharing movies and other media may be, the ramifications are real for the entertainment industry. Movie and music studios have been trying for several years to end the illegal download of copyrighted material. A British publication, Legal Week, cited a 2008 study of 16 countries stating the more than 40 billion files were illegally shared, making the piracy rate 95%. And if you think about the thousands of people who may buy DVDs and then want to share them with others, the ramifications could be great. This is especially true since there also are categories for audio books; games for the Xbox 360, the Wii, and Playstation 3; and computer applications like the Microsoft Office products and Mac applications.

The financial implications, however, mean little to the perpetrators. In fact, The Pirate Bay puts many of the legal threats it receives on the site to mock those who send threats. For instance, a 2004 e-mail from DreamWorks Studios requested its movie Shrek 2 be removed from the site since that is in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Not only did the response from The Pirate Bay make it perfectly clear that Sweden does not follow U.S. law since it is not a part of the United States, but the pirates suggested the originator of the legal threat do bodily harm to himself in no uncertain terms. Those pirates sure use colorful language. They claim that since the torrent files are saved on thousands of individual computers, no illegal or copyrighted material is actually stored on The Pirate Bay site; this is one of their main assertions of innocence.

Nevertheless, the entertainment industry has continued to work at ending the reign of the violators. And more European countries are working toward ending copyright violations which may help since there is closer proximity than those in Hollywood sending threats. In addition, Sweden introduced a law in April 2009 requiring Internet Service Providers (ISP) to release the Internet Protocol (IP) addresses of suspected copyright violators. Around the same time, four of the founders were convicted of helping Internet users download copyrighted films, computer games, and music. They were sentenced to one year in jail after a local Swedish law firm helped convince a local court to do so. So perhaps the pirates may be a little less cocky these days. The litany of lawsuits from various countries has to be a little tiresome. But with an estimated 25 million users, or “peers,” the pirates have a lot of fans.

In the summer of 2009, The Pirate Bay was sold to the Global Gaming Factory which said it will try to work with entertainment studios in the future. Time will tell if the pirates can be tamed, or if lure of free audio books and Xbox games is too great for those swimming in the bay.

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Category: Licensing and Access