The Pirate Bay: BitTorrent site sails to its 10th birthday


This Saturday fans of The Pirate Bay file-sharing site are set to celebrate its 10th anniversary at a party in Stockholm sponsored by an energy drinks maker.

The event - and the service's very survival - is an irritant to rights holders who have used the courts in the UK, Ireland, Malaysia and elsewhere to make internet service providers (ISPs) block access to TPB's domain.

They want to make it as hard as possible for the public to find lists of torrents - pointers that tell a program where to locate fragments of a file on others' computers that can be downloaded and combined to form a whole.

Earlier this week the UK's Industry Trust for Intellectual Property Awareness warned such pirate websites provided a gateway for children to access adult-rated material.

Another lobby group - the Creative Coalition Campaign - has claimed they have cost jobs as well.

image captionThe site's torrent lists include links to Byzantium, Ice Age, Battle Los Angeles and other movies

"Criminal sites such as The Pirate Bay profit on the back of other people's work whilst reinvesting nothing into new content or contributing anything back into the legitimate economy," Christine Payne, chairwoman of the UK's Creative Coalition Campaign, told the BBC.

"This poses a direct threat to growth and jobs and should not be celebrated or glorified."

TPB might take issue with that. Among its pages is a section offering independent artists a chance to showcase their work. But the point remains, much of its traffic comes from visitors looking for free downloads of copyrighted content.

The main domain is currently ranked the net's 95th most visited, according to Amazon's analytics division, Alexa.

That figure does not account for the fact people are also accessing the service through proxy sites and other means to overcome bans, suggesting its true rank is higher.

To mark TPB's anniversary the BBC asked for a series of views about what its legacy is and where it goes from here.

Tobias Andersson, The Pirate Bay co-founder

Ten internet years is like 100 human years. Just like very few of us get to live that long, very few internet sites get to see such a lifetime.

Despite being run by only a handful of nerds and bullied by governments worldwide and despite death threats from thugs of the entertainment industries, The Pirate Bay has sailed on.

When we started, we never thought our little anarchist/hacker experiment would explode like it did - that hundreds of millions of users would visit every month, that 40% of the entire internet's traffic would be generated by our trackers or that foreign governments would threaten to blacklist Sweden at the World Trade Organization unless it "handled" the pirate problem.

One can learn a lot from these 10 years, but what's most interesting is what's coming.

The 3D-printing revolution hits us any minute - and the sharing of things.

Suddenly, not only music and movie industries will feel threatened, but clothing, weapon and car industries as well - along with nations that depend on them. Everything will change and it'll be fast.

This is partly why I believe that The Pirate Bay should quit after its 10th birthday - to force the world into creating something newer and better, not relying on people sacrificing themselves for "the cause" or on sites being chased from domain to domain.

Future copy-fights will no longer be about sharing a tune or a movie, but ultimately about defining who will have the right to produce and if ideas are to be owned and sold or commonly shared. Everyone will be affected by these fights and too much will be at stake.

We need something new.

Chris Marcich, Motion Picture Association

Although The Pirate Bay remains one of the most notorious BitTorrent file-sharing websites, the recent court rulings in a number of European countries have had an impact on the overall traffic to the site.

Yet, it continues to operate and facilitate infringement of copyright.

If we are to ensure that people have the continued ability to create new ideas and be rewarded for their creation, the status quo of online content theft cannot continue.

Protecting the rule of law online is not censorship and the enforcement of copyright has not impeded the growth of the internet.

A common misconception is that those who created the site did so because they were fighting for a greater cause.

The reality is that these are individuals who have chosen to profit illegally from the hard work and the creativity of the millions of people involved in the creation and distribution of movies and TV shows.

We tend to forget that in addition to harming the creative community, mass dissemination of infringing content on the internet also has a negative impact on consumers who are concerned about their privacy and safe internet use and rightly expect to view shows and movies online through safe and legitimate outlets.

The internet continues to be a revolutionary communications tool and as consumers demand premium content sooner and across multiple devices, the film industry is responding by increasing the choice of legitimate avenues to watch films and TV shows.

We want an internet that works for everyone, that is a place for investment, innovation and creativity.

Bendert Zevenbergen, Oxford Internet Institute

Over the last 10 years, The Pirate Bay has shaken up the cultural and creative world and has forced it wake up to demands of the modern consumer.

The website filled a gigantic gap, which was left wide open by the established industry - access to cultural and creative works via the internet.

The Pirate Bay users are people who grew up with the internet and those who use it extensively as part of their life.

They understand the complexity and the dynamics of this new information environment, and also the huge potential it offers for the cultural and creative industries.

When their demand to access music and films on their digital devices was not met, they found their own way, often via The Pirate Bay.

Current policy makers and judges are often not frequent internet users themselves and therefore don't understand that the complexity and dynamics of the net make services such as The Pirate Bay resilient to simple traditional legal enforcement measures.

Extensive legal conflicts, seizures and restrictive internet policies have made The Pirate Bay one of the most well known services of its type today, while these measures are having negative consequences for the internet as a whole.

The digital consumer is now rejoicing at the chance to access to global libraries of music and films through paid-for subscription services such as Spotify and Netflix.

We have The Pirate Bay to thank for waking up the cultural world to the opportunities for digital music and films distribution, not restrictive but futile copyright enforcement measures.

Ernesto van der Sar, Torrentfreak

The Pirate Bay is exemplary of how a small group of rather disorganised individuals can have an enormous impact on several multi-billion pound industries. The site is certainly not the first to facilitate unregulated sharing of information among the public, but it is much more resilient than their predecessors.

The fact that the site is still around today, despite numerous lawsuits, is fascinating and shows how large the power of a few can be.

I believe that The Pirate Bay has set an example for others who have challenged the establishment by opening up information via the internet, including Wikileaks, Anonymous and to a certain degree Edward Snowden.

The power, reach and influence of these small groups or individuals is enormous, and was unthinkable a decade ago.

Without opening up the discussion about the potential harm The Pirate Bay may have inflicted on the entertainment industries, I believe that its existence has motivated and sped up the development of many new legal alternatives.

Through The Pirate Bay, consumers have greater control and as a result many have sent signals to the movie and music industries that legal alternatives are lacking or simply unavailable.

For example, when The Pirate Bay was founded many UK citizens used it to download MP3s because the iTunes store and other legal alternatives did not yet exist, and unlimited streaming services such as Spotify were still a mere speck on the horizon.

While it may be impossible to defeat piracy entirely, the challenge for copyright holders is to make The Pirate Bay obsolete with superior products and services.

Peter Bradwell, Open Rights Group

The Pirate Bay saga is certainly a long, drawn out affair.

Despite being the target of sustained enforcement action, with various court decisions against the site and its founders, The Pirate Bay hasn't gone away. It is not clear that enforcement has had much of an impact on it's popularity.

One of the important lessons to take from this story is about how website blocking powers are used.

We're no fans of website blocking. It is mostly pointless and dangerous. But it is possible for copyright owners to seek an injunction forcing ISPs to try to block access to websites for copyright infringement.

UK ISPs were ordered to try to block access to the Pirate Bay last year. We've been trying to engage with this court process but have found it extremely difficult. It is not transparent enough and so far has only involved ISPs and copyright trade associations.

This matters because blocking affects other rights such as freedom of expression and privacy. Currently the orders, containing detail such as the lists of blocked URLs [web addresses], are effectively secret and there seems to be no clear process to review or correct mistakes.

To be clear, we do not think people have a right to access free stuff.

We care about who decides what we are all allowed to look at or distribute online.

That is a significant power. It should be exercised in an accountable and transparent way via rigorous due process.

Mistakes or abuses of that power can easily lead to sites wrongly being subjected to enforcement action.

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