Pirates, and Copyrights, and Torrents! Oh My! – by “Nick D”

Let’s set the scene. An endless sea vista opens to the sound of waves and a slight breeze. A large wooden boat comes into view, silhouetted on the ruddy orange sky.

Queue epic, driving music.

Enter, The Pirate Bay.


What is the Pirate Bay and how does it work?

The Pirate Bay claims to be the largest BitTorrent tracker online and has been described as the most visible facilitator of illegal downloading. The Pirate Bay was created in 2003 by Piratbyrån (“Pirate Bureau”), a Swedish anti-copyright organization, and was then run independently by a group of individuals starting in the later part of 2004. The site is currently run by an uber-shady company registered in the Seychelles, an island nation northeast of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean.

From The Pirate Bay in the Seychelles to the World: Catch us if you can!

BitTorrent is a peer-to-peer, or “P2P” protocol, which is used to distribute large amounts of data online and allows for rapid download times. BitTorrent relies on the torrent, which is a file containing information on a target file’s component locations. These component pieces are spread across many hosts. When a user requests a download of a particular target file, the torrent seeks each of these components to piece together the target file for the user, which can be opened when all of the pieces have been assembled. This results in very fast download speeds of large files (movies, TV shows, etc.).

For those of you that are interested in how this relates to client-server download processes…

Client Server Download Process
BitTorrent Download Process

BitTorrent file sharing accounts for 28.40% of peak time aggregate traffic in Europe and 17.23% in the US, where it was only recently overtaken by Netflix (for peak time aggregate traffic). According to an MPAA report, the worldwide motion picture industry estimated a loss of more than $7 billion as a result of Internet piracy in 2005 alone.

Torrent downloading services offered by The Pirate Bay are free, and uploading/commenting capability only requires free registration. The Pirate Bay justifies their lack of censorship by noting the “broad spectrum of file sharers” that use The Pirate Bay. This means that everything from Barney and Conan O’Brien episodes to pornographic material can be downloaded using The Pirate Bay. And of course, most (if not all) of this is copyrighted material.

And then Conan O'Barney walked in...


Legal Lash-Back

How, you might ask, can they do this?

Simply put, they do.

The Pirate Bay takes no responsibility for the copyrighted material that is illegally dispersed thanks to their service. The following argument is readily posted on their website:

“Only torrent files are saved at the server. That means no copyrighted and/or illegal material are stored by us. It is therefore not possible to hold the people behind The Pirate Bay responsible for the material that is being spread using the tracker. Any complaints from copyright and/or lobby organizations will be ridiculed and published at the site.”

The Pirate Bay is notorious for this last part; putting up for public display takedown notices it receives from everyone and their grandmother, as well as the (usually vulgar, crass, inappropriate, and hilarious) response they send back. To acquaint you with the type of sentiment that The Pirate Bay typically responds, below is a medium sized cornucopia of phrases excerpted from various responses to Dreamworks, EA, Warner Brothers, and others’ Take-Down Notices:

  • We demand that you cease and desist sending letters like this,
    since they're frivolous and meaningless.
  • It is the opinion of us and our lawyers that you are ....... morons.
  • stop lying.
  • you should please go sodomize yourself with retractable batons.
  • We demand that you provide us with entertainment by sending more
    legal threats. Please?
  • The DMCA is a US-specific legislation, and TPB (The Pirate Bay)
    is hosted in the land of vikings, reindeers, Aurora Borealis
    and cute blonde girls.
  • Go fuck yourself. 

Quite a list of colorful phrases we have here! (if you would like some more, there is a whole list here)

But, you might wonder, why hasn’t The Pirate Bay been prosecuted and shut down?

Well, the Swedish government tried. After a criminal complaint was filed by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the Swedish Police executed a raid of The Pirate Bay, confiscating servers and shutting down the website in 2006. Dan Glickman, CEO of MPAA said in a statement, “Intellectual property theft is a problem for film industries all over the world and we are glad that the local government in Sweden has helped stop The Pirate Bay from continuing to enable rampant copyright theft on the Internet.” Problem solved? Absolutely not. In three days after the raid, the website was back online, with the following graphic:

Take That MPAA!

So much for the raid…


And Now, Some Commentary…

First, it is important to note that these guys founded the Pirate Bay:

The Real Pirate Bay

Gottfrid Svartholm (left) and Fredrik Neij (right) have both been charged (along with Peter Sunde and Carl Lundström) with “assisting [others in]copyright infringement” due to their association with The Pirate Bay. While in the process of an appeal, each defendant was sentenced to 1 year in prison and required to pay damages totaling 30 million SEK (US$3,620,000) (this verdict will only be upheld after all appeals have been processed according to Swedish Law).

Good with computers? Absolutely.

Creepy Looking? Sort-of.

Digital-Pirates in deep $#!%? Looks like it.

But they probably see themselves as modern-day Robin Hoods, stealing from who they consider as the rich (MPAA) and giving to those they consider as the poor (the swath of users on The Pirate Bay). However, while Robin Hood stole from a disillusioned, powerful king and gave back to the people who the king stole from, the users of The Pirate Bay haven’t been preyed upon. We operate in a (largely) capitalist world. If the public wants what MPAA and the rest of the entertainment industry produces, by all means the public is entitled to what they want and the entertainment industry is entitled to the profits generated by that demand.

Dispersing copyrighted material is illegal and/or immoral however you slice it, because it denies the producers of a good from their due share of benefits. It is stealing. The Pirate Bay provides the perfect conduit for this to occur. It is difficult for them to make the argument that they are not at fault for the illegal dispersal of copyrighted material because they aren’t the ones that hold the digital files – just the links to them… They call themselves the PIRATE bay for god sakes.

Yes, PIRATE I say!

Most people would agree that what The Pirate Bay facilitates is illegal, but where does it fall on the spectrum of illegal dispersal of copyrighted material?

If someone makes a DVD recording of a playlist and gives it to their friend, it is an isolated case. Sure, the friend could go home and make another copy and give it to his or her friend and so on and so forth, but the infrastructure is such that there is both time involved and physical transport of tangible objects that are required to share copyrighted material. This by the way, is still illegal, but does not make front-page news like The Pirate Bay.

The reason why The Pirate Bay’s activities are so criminal is because of the scope of individuals that can illegally acquire copyrighted material online. BitTorrent allows for anyone with internet access to download the latest piece of entertainment of their fancy. The infrastructure is designed to allow for maximum dispersion and minimal effort for the user. As opposed to a single DVD copy, which for all purposes will not hurt the entertainment industry, a BitTorrent file of the same movie makes the copyrighted material available to anyone on the internet – and all you need is enough hard-disk space to store the target file!

The Pirate Bay would, by this argument, fall on the far end of the illegal spectrum…

The (Illegal) Spectrum

The only reason that the Pirate Bay can get away with this is because they hide behind international disagreement when it comes to copyright law. With the company currently running the site in the Republic of Seychelles, they only need to abide by Seychelles’ copyright law. This highlights a gaping hole in the current international copyright system. What are some countries solution? Block thepiratebay.com. Denmark, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Malaysia, Netherlands, Norway, China, Sweden, and the UK have all experimented with blocking thepiratebay.com at some point in the recent past (according to Wikipedia).

What can countries, interested in protecting its citizens’ works but not interested in internet censoring, do? Not much (as of now) against sites like The Pirate Bay. Perhaps getting on good terms with countries where infringers hide and convincing the country to take action (like in Sweden) would work. How about against downloaders and uploaders using a site like The Pirate Bay? If they are within the borders of your country, huge fines would probably do the trick.

If they are outside your borders?

Tap your heels together 3 times and repeat “There’s no place like home”; with the current international copyright conundrum, there’s not much else you can do.

One thought on “Pirates, and Copyrights, and Torrents! Oh My! – by “Nick D”

  1. The historical solution to piracy has always been to reduce the profitability of same.

    Unfortunately, with the internet this is a supreme task. But it can be done if those holding copyrights are willing to work at it, and not let greed overrun reason (which at this point they have not been able to do).

    Cost to the consumer is a major factor in their legitimising use of bittorrents (and similar) to obtain content.

    If the consumer percieves an organisation to be greedy, they don’t feel as much (or any) guilt in obtaining pirated content.

    I sincerely believe there would be a very surprising positive reaction from the majority of consumers if the entertainment industry were to lower prices (a significant reduction…not just a few pennies) and announce that the reason for such action was to show consumers that greed was not driving their industy. They could then couple that message with a plea for consumers to obtain content legitimately.

    The consumer would be much more likely to feel guilt after such an action, and therefore be less likely to obtain pirated content.


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