The Pirate Bay case: Not necessarily a victory for Hollywood
Millions continue to use the filesharing service as verdict is appealed. Access to the site remains open and the Pirate political party has seen a surge of support.
Last week's conviction of the founders of The Pirate Bay did not shut down the filesharing website. Instead, it has boosted the ranks of its supporters and raised awareness of an ideological and legal battle for control of how the Internet is used.Skip to next paragraph
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The court ruling handed down one-year jail sentences to each of the four men and assessed $3.6 million in criminal damages. The global entertainment giants that brought the case, including Warner Bros., Fox Movies, Sony Music, and EMI, claimed it as a major victory.
But even as the founders were being sentenced, 10 million Internet users were busy downloading music and movies via their website. And the verdict has been appealed, meaning that the website may remain unaffected for years – and become a standard-bearer for those who argue for a free flow of media and information over the Internet, unfettered by state and corporate control.
"There is a growing social movement around this issue in Sweden. It goes beyond filesharing and downloading free music and movies," says Daniel Johansson, a music and Internet analyst at Stockholm's Royal Institute of Technology. "It includes people who are concerned about surveillance laws and who feel the Internet is being developed by governments and corporations instead of the common man.
"The Pirate Bay," he adds, "has a lot of sympathy right now."
Within three days of the ruling, the Pirate Party – which campaigns for copyright reform – gained more than 15,000 new members, doubling in size to become the country's fourth-largest political party. Several Internet service providers (ISPs), including Telia Sonera, the country's largest, said they would not block The Pirate Bay website and would no longer keep records of any sites visited using their networks, thereby protecting their customers from potential lawsuits.
Sweden developed a reputation as a haven for online piracy after it invested in high-speed broadband in the late 1990s and its reluctance to tackle filesharing became clear. The presence of The Pirate Bay, one of the world's largest, most brazen file-sharing operations – its founders held lectures titled "How To Dismantle A Multibillion Dollar Industry As A Hobby" – made the accusation hard to deny.
"There was a laissez-faire attitude and the main political parties have been very reluctant to take a stance," he says.
That stance may be related to the tradition of openness in the country, he says. "The Internet has been seen as a media that is open and free. Politicians were reluctant to challenge that view. But eventually, criticism from overseas became too embarrassing and the government began to act more forcefully."
Pressure from the global recording industry, as well as the US and Hollywood, led to police raids in 2006. The Pirate Bay's servers were seized, yet the site was back in business within days, using other servers located in the Netherlands. The ensuing publicity doubled the number of users, which eventually reached about 25 million, including more than 3 million registered members.
Ruling being appealed and resisted