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Intellectual Property Law: Threat Level
Pirate Bay Verdict: Pirates Win Either Way
By Ryan Singel, Kevin Poulsen, Sarah Lai Stirland, Kim Zetter, and David Kravets
Kerstin Sjoden reports.
A win-win situation. That's what author Anders Rydell, who wrote a book about the Swedish piracy movement, calls the pending verdict in The Pirate Bay trial, due in on Friday. Four men associated with the defiant BitTorrent tracking site are on trial for contributory copyright infringement.
Rydell followed The Pirate Bay for two years and he's certain that no matter what, the pirates will come out on top. If they win, it will be a sign that file sharing is not illegal. If they lose, they'll be martyrs. Wired.com spoke to Rydell about the trial outcome.
Wired.com: What would you say this trial is actually about?
Rydell: On one level it's about a small technical detail, and about how much responsibility a service provider should take for illegal use of the service provided. But there is a wider and more symbolic aspect, where a whole young generation is on trial. This is a generational issue, a conflict between different ways of looking at and spreading culture.
Wired.com: Did anything about the trial surprise you?
Rydell: I was surprised that The Pirate Bay site didn't clearly state their ideals and their view on copyright -- the unlimited spreading of culture and media information. They seemed to hold back and avoid the issue. I think they feared it would be considered proof of intent to facilitate copyright infringement and that they would be judged on that. Personally, I think it was a mistake. The courtroom would have been a perfect arena to express their views.
Wired.com: Instead, they appeared a bit gutless?
Rydell: Yes. I think many people were disappointed, though their motives are understandable on a personal level. They risk being in debt for the rest of their lives.
Wired.com: Musicians and songwriters have kept a low profile. What's your opinion on that?
Rydell: I think it's a huge credibility problem for the record companies that their spokesmen almost always are lawyers. At least in Sweden, they're up against non-profit pirates driven by ideological beliefs. The lawyers are professionals; they speak on their clients' behalf and get paid for doing so. In an argument, the pirates always win the credibility contest. But I think we're missing out on an important aspect: The copyright holders need to start arguing their case.
Wired.com: What do you expect will be the outcome of the trial?
Rydell: Most people think that the defendants will be convicted in the district court. Here, the main focus is usually the question of intent, but the problem is the technical evidence, and to show that there has in fact been a main crime. During the trial, it wasn't made clear whether the BitTorrent files used as evidence actually came from The Pirate Bay.
On a larger scale, the outcome of this trial won't be able to stop the ongoing development. File sharing has made it easier to access culture, and business models are being adjusted to fit the new reality. I'm convinced that the business models will change faster than the laws. In the end, we'll have legislation with no real function, except for scaring people.
Wired.com: What would a conviction mean for The Pirate Bay?
Rydell: Probably nothing, since the servers are not located in Sweden. I actually think this a win-win situation for The Pirate Bay. If they're convicted, they'll be martyrs and the "piracy" movement will continue working for what they believe in, even more strongly. If they win, the signal to the public is that file sharing isn't illegal and The Pirate Bay will basically have achieved its goal. On a personal level, of course, they can lose and be in debt for the rest of their lives.
Wired.com: Do you see any signs of a compromise between the copyright industry and the pirates?
Rydell: It's important not to oversimplify; there is no strict line between two sides. Swedish studies show that half the musicians are file-sharing illegally themselves. Many musicians, filmmakers and artists are annoyed that the copyright organizations tend to speak for all of them, while they themselves may feel closer to the piracy movement. Recently we've seen new services, such as the music streaming service Spotify, that many pirates like and use. But the strong copyright organizations, like American film companies, have no plans to compromise.
Wired.com: Why has Sweden become such a hot spot for piracy?
Rydell: Sweden is historically a country of engineers. We have a long tradition of export-based industry, with companies like Ericsson, Volvo and Saab. In the early '90s the country suffered one of its worst economic crises, and a lot of that industry disappeared. Politicians decided that IT was the thing that would bring us out of the crisis. Millions of Swedes got PCs through their jobs and the government made heavy investments in broadband infrastructure before even knowing what it was good for. So Sweden got a very good internet and communication system early on.
Wired.com: Why did you write your book?
Rydell: Sam and I started working on the book after the raid against The Pirate Bay in 2006, and realized early on that the Swedish piracy movement was unique; it was the first time that pirates stood up for their ideals and expressed a will to change the system.
The Pirates - The Swedish file sharers who plundered Hollywood by Anders Rydell and Sam Sundberg, was released in January 2009. The book is not translated into English.
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