Nov 072010
Pirate Bay verdict won't stop crime
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Policing the internet: The music industry has concluded that lawsuits alone are not the way to discourage online piracy

THREE big court cases this year—one in Europe and two in America—have pitted music-industry lawyers against people accused of online piracy. The industry prevailed in each case. But the three trials may mark the end of its efforts to use the courts to stop piracy, for they highlighted the limits of this approach.

The European case concerned the Pirate Bay, one of the world’s largest and most notorious file-sharing hubs. The website does not actually store music, video and other files, but acts as a central directory that helps users locate particular files on BitTorrent, a popular file-sharing network. Swedish police began investigating the Pirate Bay in 2003, and charges were filed against four men involved in running it in 2008. When the trial began in February 2009, they claimed the site was merely a search engine, like Google, which also returns links to illegal material in some cases. One defendant, Peter Sunde, said a guilty verdict would “be a huge mistake for the future of the internet…it’s quite obvious which side is the good side.”

The court agreed that it was obvious and found the four men guilty, fining them a combined SKr30m ($3.6m) and sentencing them each to a year in jail. Despite tough talk from the defendants, they appear to have tired of legal entanglements: in June another firm said it would buy the Pirate Bay’s internet address for SKr60m and open a legal music site.

The Pirate Bay is the latest in a long list of file-sharing services, from Napster to Grokster to KaZaA, to have come under assault from the media giants. If it closes, some other site will emerge to take its place; the music industry’s victories, in short, are never final. Cases like this also provoke a backlash against the music industry, though in Sweden it took an unusual form. In the European elections in June, the Pirate Party won 7.1% of the Swedish vote, making it the fifth-largest party in the country and earning it a seat in the European Parliament. “All non-commercial copying and use should be completely free,” says its manifesto.

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