Art and Entertainment

Scanpix Sweden/Bertil Ericson/AP
Pirate Bay founders Gottfrid Svartholm
Warg and Peter Sunde.

Accused File-Sharing Pirates Face Legal Charges in Sweden

February 17, 2009 03:03 PM
by Rachel Balik
The popular BitTorrent site The Pirate Bay is on trial for helping users to download copyrighted material, but there’s already a hole in the prosecution’s case.

Entertainment Industry Tackles Swedish File Pirates

The owners of one of the Internet’s most trafficked Web sites are fighting a lawsuit in Sweden for violating copyright laws. The Pirate Bay provides users with links that enable them to download music, movies and other media for free via the peer-to-peer file-sharing application BitTorrent. On Monday, Frederik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, Peter Sunde Kolmsioppi and Carl Lundstorm faced charges of copyright theft. The BBC reported that the official accusation is that they are “promoting other people’s infringements of copyright laws.” The site’s owners argue that since they do not personally host illegal content, they are not responsible.

Half the charges have already been dropped since the prosecutors can no longer use torrent files as evidence, PC World explains. The four men face up to 2 years and a fine of $143,500 if convicted. In addition to the criminal charges, the court is also hearing civil claims. Various major media companies, including Universal, Warner Bros, MGM, EMI, 20th Century Fox, Colombia Pictures and Sony BMG, seek $14.3 million in damages from Pirate Bay. However, The Pirate Bay founders have stated that they couldn’t afford to pay those damages if the court rules against them.

Background: The Pirate Bay’s Stormy Past; Industry Attempts to Curb File Sharing

Swedish authorities attempted to shut down The Pirate Bay in 2006. The site temporarily relocated to the Netherlands. The unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material was outlawed in 2005, but media companies expressed anger that there were no Swedish laws banning file sharing.

But after the site returned to Sweden, the Motion Picture Association of America, the Swedish Anti-Piracy Bureau and the U.S. government all demanded that the site be shut down. In response, site founders tried to buy the island of Sealand, a former British naval base now considered an independent “micronation.”

Related Topic: Music industry

Media companies have tried numerous strategies to find recompense for unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material. Desperate to recoup terrible financial losses and generally unable to successfully win lawsuits or stop piracy, Wired reported on a March 2008 proposal by the music industry to collect a surcharge from ISP addresses. The idea was to charge a five-dollar fee per user, and distribute the funds to artists, music publishers and record labels.

Reference: The Pirate Bay, Music Downloading

The Pirate Bay allows users to browse for specific music, TV shows, films, software and games. The site does not host any material on its own; rather, it offers links to torrents, small files that initiate a file-sharing protocol designed to ease the burden of downloading large files. Torrents aren’t illegal either, PC magazine explains. They can be used in a professional context for sharing material that isn’t copyrighted.

For a full explanation of the difference between legal and illegal downloading, as well as information about where to download legally, see the findingDulcinea Web Guides to Downloading Music and Downloading Movies. You’ll also find background on the legal cases filed by the media industry, and information about the types of technology in question.

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines