Gary Fung is no small potatoes, but the real big fish in the BitTorrent pond is The Pirate Bay. The Swedish site reached 25 million unique peers way back in November 2008, and now counts itself among the 80 largest websites on the entire Internet. Pirate Bay works just like any other BitTorrent site, allowing users to search the web for the newest torrent files of music, film, video games, and porn — but unlike other torrent sites, it has the good fortune to be stationed in the world capital of Internet piracy: Stockholm, Sweden.
Sweden: A Pirate’s Paradise
Pirate Bay founders Gottfrid Svartholm and Fredrik Neij never tire of pointing out the differences between Swedish copyright law and its American counterpart. One of their favorite forums for doing so is their own website, where they routinely post DMCA takedown notices they receive from American-based law firms, along with their own hilarious and colorful replies. In response to this DMCA takedown notice from the legal counsel of DreamWorks (TPB users had been pirating an unauthorized copy of Shrek 2), Svartholm, who goes by the web alias anakata, had this to say, in an email dated August 2004:
As you may or may not be aware, Sweden is not a state in the United States of America. Sweden is a country in Northern Europe. Unless you figured it out by now, US law does not apply here. For your information, no Swedish law is being violated.
Please be assured that any further contact with us, regardless of medium, will result in
(a) a suit being filed for harassment
(b) a formal complaint being filed with the bar of your legal counsel, for sending frivolous legal threats.
It is the opinion of us and our lawyers that you are ……. morons, and that you should please go sodomize yourself with retractable batons.
Please also note that your email and letter will be published in full on http://thepiratebay.org.
Go fuck yourself.
Clearly, anakata and the gang believed themselves for quite a long time to be living under a rather benevolent copyright regime. Elsewhere, in response to a takedown notice from EA (for an unauthorized copy of The Sims 2), anakata responds, in September 2004:
Hello and thank you for contacting us. We have shutdown the website in question.
Oh wait, just kidding. We haven’t, since the site in question is fully legal. Unlike certain other countries, such as the one you’re in, we have sane copyright laws here. But we also have polar bears roaming the streets and attacking people :-(.
As Napster, Grokster, SuprNova, and LokiTorrent began toppling in the United States in 2004 and 2005, TPB just kept firing off these off-color replies to DMCA takedown notices, boasting about the state of “sane” Swedish copyright and inviting American lawyers to sodomize themselves. Secure in the presumption of Swedish sanity, TPB executives had no reason to think themselves vulnerable.
But Then Things Got Real
In retrospect, anakata’s confidence in the Swedish government had reached its peak in the summer of 2004. In July 2005, the Swedes began enforcing anti-piracy laws under the European Union Copyright Directive, which had made it illegal to distribute software with the purpose of promoting copyright infringement. On May 31, 2006, Swedish police raided the Stockholm offices of anakata and friends, confiscating TPB servers and detaining three TPB associates for questioning on the suspicion of facilitating violations of copyright law. “The actions taken today in Sweden serve as a reminder to pirates all over the world that there are no safe havens for Internet copyright thieves,” said MPAA chairman Dan Glickman after the incident. (Note: To TPB’s credit, the site was up again three days later: a quicker recovery time than for other catastrophes of similar magnitude.)
A few years later, in 2009, Svartholm, Neij, and two other TPB executives found themselves in trial for promoting copyright infringement. The plaintiff was a consortium of intellectual property groups, chief among them the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI). When all was said and done, the four pirates were sentenced to a year in prison and tagged with a fine of 30 million Swedish kroner. That’s a lot of bottles of rum.
The state of Swedish copyright remains unclear after that decision. All four TPB defendants have appealed the verdict, alleging bias on the part of judge Tomas Norstrom — the same judge who had ordered the raid on TPB servers three years earlier. Swedish media soon uncovered the fact that Norstrom had connections to several intellectual property organizations, through which he had previously become acquainted with several of the representatives for the entertainment industry.
Pirates in Politics
Whether or not the verdict is ultimately overturned, however, Sweden seems to have a strong grip on its status as cultural capital of Internet piracy. One remarkable indicator of the robust culture of Internet piracy in Sweden is the birth of the international Pirate Party movement — an up-and-coming group since its foundation in 2006. The Pirate Party is now officially registered in 18 countries, including the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, France, and Canada. The Pirates control five city council seats in Germany, three municipal councilors in the Czech Republic, one city council seat in Switzerland, and — most importantly — two Swedish delegates to the European Parliament. The Piratpartiet stole more than 7 percent of the Swedish vote in the 2009 elections, winning the party its second seat and a strengthened claim to worldwide political legitimacy.
Amelia Andersdotter, now 23, assumed office in December of 2009, becoming the youngest member of the European Parliament. Captain Hook, Jack Sparrow, and Blackbeard would all be proud.