Friday, June 2, 2006

Sticking it to the Man

by alec on June 2, 2006

After being raided on Wednesday, and having their servers confiscated, Swedish bit-torrent tracker The Pirate Bay says that they will be back online shortly.  You can read the story of the raid, and how they’re flipping the bird at the MPAA on Slyck.  Slyck finishes with this final comment:

It seems once again the entertainment industry is about to shoot itself in the foot, unable to stop the global spread of file-sharing. Considering the speed in which ThePirateBay.org is scheduling its return, (which requires a substantial amount of logistics, organization, leadership, and not to mention equipment), it would appear they were well prepared for this event. The same cannot be said about the entertainment industry.

It appears that The Pirate Bay was commingled on quite a number of servers. According to the comments on Slyck, about 160 servers were taken from RIX|Port 80, the Pirate Bay’s hosting service, affecting 300 businesses. In the process, the Swedish Police knocked out political websites (including the anti-copyright PiratbyrÃ¥n party), and news agency websites.  Some are commenting that this is an attempt to suppress democracy.

Sweden’s laws, which have permitted personal file trading, are what has allowed The Pirate Bay to exist for so long.  Regularly served cease and desist letters by the entertainment industry, the operators gleefully posted them and their responses on the website, and continued to operate the service.  Swedish laws, however, were harmonized with the rest of the EU last year, and police are reportedly seeking a test case to determine if the laws also outlaw torrent trackers. 

It is those same laws which are generating a series of due process complaints as well.  Police refused to allow the three arrested a lawyer. Under Swedish law, apparently if the three are not suspects in a crime that can result in a jail term, this is not required. It seems that this is a civil violation, more akin to a parking ticket in Sweden, than a criminal act as it is in the US.  However, if they aren’t suspects in the type of crime that can result in jail, then police don’t have the right to get a warrant, and conduct a raid.  Moreover, one of the suspects was forced to give a DNA sample, which, I don’t believe even in the US can be required without a warrant.

Others have taken a different approach to the MPAA’s threats.  iso-hunt, a search engine which indexes torrent trackers like the Pirate Bay, for instance, is also being sued by the MPAA.  However, they have provided a clear, and apparently DMCA compliant, copyright policy.  Copyright owners may request that links to copyrighted material be removed, and iso-hunt’s operators will do so. The dialog between MPAA lawyers and iso-hunt is an interesting exercise in sophistry, as iso-hunt says “provide us a list of copyrighted works”, and the MPAA lawyer says “you oughta know which they are”.

Meanwhile, bit torrent being what it is, which is to say decentralized and lightweight, The Pirate Bay operators are reportedly already scouting for new sites and buying servers, promising to be online within days.  It’s this action, and not any court action, which really demonstrates the futility of the MPAA’s position. Because the torrent structure is little more than an indexing scheme, more akin to a search engine than a content hoster, it’s nearly impossible to suppress.  Moreover, as bit-torrent clients have evolved, many have included tools to easily create new trackers for files that users wish to share.  What that means is that the raid on the Pirate Bay didn’t remove the offending copyrighted material from the thousands of locations where it is hosted.  Rather it took out The Pirate Bay’s database used to find these sites – a database easily reconstructed by The Pirate Bay from backups, or by users eager to continue to share files. 

True copyright reform, coupled with effective tools to allow copyright owners to easily distribute content digitally, and users of that copyrighted content to easily consume it, is needed, rather than heavy-handed and ineffective laws, such as the DMCA, pushed for by US entertainment industry lobbiests.

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