Well blow me down

After a much publicized and contentious trial, the founders of The Pirate Bay have been found guilty of “breaking copyright law“. The founders petitioned a retrial on the basis that the judge, a voluntary member of several copyright oversight boards, was biased in favour of protection of intellectual property. This attempt was quashed, however, when a peer review concluded that this association could not be deemed a conflict of interests.

There are many parallels to be naturally drawn from this verdict. The Pirate Bay has always proclaimed, civilly and mockingly based on the audience, that their website simply links to content and does not host any on its own. The similarities to other search engines like Google and Bing are more than obvious as it is trivial to use those web services to locate legal and illegal software hosted on third-party sites, just like The Pirate Bay.

The precedents set by this verdict, and particularly those emphasized by the refusal for retrial, are rather serious for TPB’s native Sweden. For one, public opinion of its government and national police force faltered considerably years ago after a raid on one of TPB’s many global web hosts, with the populace accusing its representatives of catering wholeheartedly to foreign pressures. More substantially, there is reasonable doubt concerning where the line is drawn regarding hyperlinking, quoting, and fair use of copyrighted materials (I linked to the BBC above – am I a Swedish criminal, then?). The strongest precedent of all is the claim that peer-to-peer sharing is detrimental to the music industry, ignoring the facts that the nations and specific demographics of the most enthusiastic music pirates are the very same that fuel that industry with the most sales.

The Pirate Bay still presents its corpus of responses to legal threats, based on the professional advice of its legal counsel whom, intimately familiar with Swedish law, were quite certain that the website’s actions fell comfortably within both the letter and spirit of national jurisprudence. It is rarely a valid excuse to proclaim ignorance of the law, but considering the website’s thorough research and powerful assertions that its services were legal, it seems legal compliance may be a moving target.

The cards are still being reshuffled, but the announced sale of the The Pirate Bay will undoubtedly spell the end of its claims that “0 torrents has been removed, and 0 torrents will ever be removed.”

The future of The Pirate Bay is looking grim, but peer-to-peer sharing is far from over. Hundreds, if not thousands of equivalent sites exist today. Sites like ShareReactor, Audiogalaxy, Suprnova, PizzaTorrent, and now The Pirate Bay, all rose through the ranks to become recognized as popular destinations before disbanding due to public pressure, and over the years the next replacement popped up even more quickly than the last. The decades-long endeavour of sharing digital files will not die with this one web site.

Meanwhile, in response to The Pirate Bay verdict, Sweden’s Pirate Party won its first seat in the European parliament as well as over 7% of Sweden’s votes, while similar parties have organized in America, Germany, Finland, Poland, Spain, Portugal, and other countries.

The role of The Pirate Bay may not conclude, even in its death. Its playfully outspoken founders may in fact connect with a wider audience as martyrs than they could have hoped to reach as webmasters.