Pirate Bay Decides to Join the Navy
After taking a pounding in court earlier this year for facilitating copyright infringement, the Pirate Bay is being sold to Global Gaming Factory. The buyers insist the site will still cater to file-sharers, but they're determined to find a way to legally license what's traded. The site's founders contend the new owners have the right attitude, but many longtime users say the Pirate Bay has sold out.
06/30/09 12:51 PM PT
He may still have an eye patch, a peg leg and a funny hat, but is a pirate still a pirate if he writes you a check before plundering your ship? How long would Robin Hood keep his band of merry men intact if they took from the rich -- and charged the poor a redistribution fee for access to those riches?
That same outlaw factor that propelled buccaneers and Sherwood Forest denizens to cultural popularity is also enjoyed by the Swedish file-sharing Web site the Pirate Bay, which enables the sharing of digital media content by way of BitTorrent technology and thumbs its nose at anyone who says it's facilitating illegal acts.
Yet that online street cred may be in danger of disappearing following Tuesday's news that the Pirate Bay is being acquired by a Stockholm-based company that wants to take it legit.
"The Pirate Bay is a site that is among the top 100 most visited Internet sites in the world. However, in order to live on, The Pirate Bay requires a new business model which satisfies the requirements and needs of all parties, content providers, broadband operators, end users, and the judiciary," said Hans Pandeya, CEO of Global Gaming Factory (GGF). "Content creators and providers need to control their content and get paid for it. File sharers need faster downloads and better quality."
To address that latter point, GGF is also buying another Swedish company, Peerialism, which has developed next-generation peer-to-peer technology. The total cost: 60 million Kroner (US$7.5 million.)
Keeping the Digital Skull-and-Crossbones Flying
GGF, which claims to own the largest network of Internet cafes and gaming centers, clearly wants to rewrite the rules for file-sharing. It hopes to combine the Pirate Bay's notoriety and 20 million monthly visitors, Peerialism's new technology, and a desire to keep offering free media content while holding off music, movie and television company lawyers.
Those lawyers finally caught up with the Pirate Bay's founders earlier this year; they were convicted of encouraging copyright infringement, fined and sentenced to prison. They are free pending appeal.
The Pirate Bay's Web site is a testament of sorts to the same underground, anti-copyright attitude that propelled Napster to notoriety -- and legal defeat -- in the U.S. earlier in the decade. The "legal threats" section contains profane responses to media companies that have lodged complaints against Pirate Bay, and it encourages the site's visitors to email them along to those companies' lawyers.
A Tuesday post on the Pirate Bay Blog is meant to assure fans that the Web site is not selling out. "A lot of people are worried. We're not and you shouldn't be either! TPB is being sold for a great bit underneath it's (sic) value if the money would be the interesting part. It's not. The interesting thing is that the right people with the right attitude and possibilities keep running the site. If the new owners will screw around with the site, nobody will keep using it. That's the biggest insurance one can have that the site will be run in the way that we all want to."
For a lot of the blog's commenters, the assurances ring hollow. "Good luck, guess 95% of the users will move on to another (BitTorrent) tracker or to Usenet. Time to leave this sinking ship," wrote one former fan. Others have asked the site to install a "Delete Account" button.
The View From Pirate Bay Fans
That's also been the attitude shown to the story on TorrentFreak, a Web site that tracks developments in the BitTorrent world. Many readers feel The Pirate Bay did sell out, but questions remains about what the new owners will do with the site, according to Lennart Renkema, site founder/editor-in-chief who writes as "Ernesto" from his home in the Netherlands.
"There's a lot of uncertainty and confusion," Renkema told the E-Commerce Times. "The company planning to buy Pirate Bay needs to come up with the money to do something legal with it."
The Pirate Bay, Renkema said, did have its fans who believe the Web site was fighting for new ways of looking at content in the digital age. However, others looked down on the site's open mocking of copyright laws.
"[The founders] make it seem like they don't look for alternatives, they just say 'f**k copyrights and we're going to give it away and let everyone share on the site' and not really discuss the future," Renkema said. "There has to be some sort of copyright -- everyone agrees the Internet has changed the model, but in the end, the copyright owners have to make some money. The majority of our readers identify with them or at least were fans, but there were also some critical readers who think there's much more going on and would have liked to see more discretion."
Copyright Law Wins Again
A neutered Pirate Bay will probably follow the example of Napster, which the RIAA sued into submission, according to Lon Sobel, Southwestern Law School professor who specializes in copyright law. The company has come back with new business models but has never enjoyed the same widespread popularity it did in its "pirate" years.
"The question is whether the amount of money [the new Pirate Bay] will offer copyright owners will be sufficient to grant a license," Sobel told the E-Commerce Times. "iTunes pays serious money to copyright owners."
The nature of copyright law in a Pirate Bay world: "In my view, the digital technologies are the most disruptive technologies ever, and copyright is changing to take into account, with a lurch, these new kinds of technologies. The fact that copyright law lurches from place to place and becomes another generation or two more complicated with the technology is not surprising. That's the way it's always been."
Pirate Bay did itself no favors with its attitude, Rob Enderle, principal analyst for the Enderle Group, told the E-Commerce Times.
"The Motion Picture Association of America, through their actions, have made pirated content more valuable than content people pay for," he said. "This is because pirated content has fewer restrictions. But like any crime, bragging openly about committing the crime is a losing proposition because it focuses an industry on fixing you. So yes, you can win flaunting copyright laws if content owners, as the MPAA does, creates incentives that increase the value of pirated goods. But you can't openly promote your activity or they will find a way to remove that profit."