Remember meForgot password?
    Log in with Twitter

article imageOp-Ed: Is Pirate Bay a big success or suicide for copyright law?

By Paul Wallis     Apr 18, 2009 in Internet
A Swedish court today defined file sharing and copyright law in a way which will affect the world. Pirate Bay’s founders were found guilty on charges of “assisting making available copyrighted material".
The court awarded damages of 30 million kronor, (roughly $4 million US) and a year’s jail to each of the Pirate Bay founders.
The sentence is a precedent in many ways. It’s effectively a criminal sentence, with global implications due to the range of international copyright treaties and laws. Interestingly, the court didn’t convict Pirate Bay of infringement, but of “assisting other people” in copyright infringement. According to the court, the fact that Pirate Bay is a commercial operation also affected the finding.
IFPI, which represents the recording industry, is said to be very pleased, although they had sought 119 million kronor from the court. IFPI devoted a page of its website to its views on the finding.
Pirate Bay’s defence lawyers deny any wrongdoing on the part of their clients, saying that Pirate Bay can be used for both legal and illegal purposes.
Responsibility for actions, in this perspective, devolves on the people acting illegally, not on the facilities they use. The implication here is more or less on the same level as saying that if someone makes a death threat on the phone, it’s not the phone company’s fault.
Sadly for all those about to ride off into the sunset, there’s a particularly nasty subtext to this situation.
It’s called money.
For those of you who’ve never heard of this commodity, or have noticed how evasive it is, and have been wondering what else it does, it tends to affect people’s behavior.
Large global headlines saying “There’s gold in them thar Bit Torrents”, for example, will have criminals selling their grandmothers to get their hands on a server or several. Pirate Bay has 22 million users. If you assume each of those people could generate $1000 worth of business a year, that’s $22 billion. Forget spam, this is SCAM, and scam beats spam, any day.
So the probability is that instead of dealing with disingenuous Nordic notables, you’d soon be dealing with Al Capone 2.0, or perhaps a few of him, for that sort of money.
There’s another problem, and its at the source of copyright law. Most lawyers and courts will tell you that laws aren’t generally broken unless someone has something to gain by breaking them.
Again, money to the rescue. Modern copyright has a lot of money built in to its ownership, distribution and production. In theory, protecting the owners of the copyright is the purpose of the exercise in prosecuting Pirate Bay, supposedly by attacking facilitators.
In practice, the real effect is to attack illegal sales of materials. That’s not the same thing. Copyright owners often receive very low percentages of the value of sales.
Not that there’s anything much wrong in theory with protecting legal product. Again, practice gets in first, though. The illegal sales of materials are likely to become a lot more attractive. Pirate Bay is a relatively innocuous, single headed entity, not a full blown Hydra like many internet crime operations. This prosecution, aimed at a real criminal organization, would have had roughly the effect of J. Edgar Hoover’s denial of the existence of the Mafia, while conducting raids on some families and not others.
Until the idea of “Prohibit everything and prosecute everyone” became the sole working concept of law enforcement, even criminals had to work to earn a living. They weren’t being subsidized by so much illegal product being created by legislation. There just weren't any billionaire criminals, until the law decided being an ass was compulsory.
Turning copyright materials into commodities for criminals is like giving them a blank check and asking if they’d like a few spare biros.
The only way to stop the wholesale theft of copyright materials is to make legal access more attractive to buyers. That means cheaper, which isn’t easy for mainstream media producers. They’re still lugging around stone disk presses and huge corporate entities which create overheads like dandruff.
You pay $X for a computer game, music, or any other digital media because of a vast number of costs incurred by distributors. The real cost of data is measured in thousandths of a cent. Done efficiently mainstream media would be able to sell anything for $1, and still make billions, but that’d be too easy, so they don’t do things that way.
Admittedly, there is some entertainment value in the fact that giving vast amounts of money to the music industry is like giving money to cattle. They then pass it on to people who haven’t produced their material, and instantly reduce the value of their profits by assuming that making a four track song or two will cost millions.
The Pirate Bay court case award will go almost entirely to their lawyers, and their lawyer’s lawyer’s, and will probably be the basis of breed whole planets full of lawyers. Inspiring, isn’t it?
What it won’t do, now or ever, is contribute much to the actual security of copyright. Quite the opposite. A big billboard has now been erected around the world, saying “Ripping Off Copyright Owners Will Make You Rich”.
What do you do next guys, execute Bambi and sell the video to school kids?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Pirate Bay, Copyright law, Crime