So the verdict is in. After being indicted in February for copyright infringement and the promotion of illegal file-sharing, The Pirate Bay has finally – maybe not so surprisingly – lost its case against the Swedish government. That means one year imprisonment for the four leaders of The Pirate Bay, and a load of cash – 3 millions dollars or so – to be paid back to the plaintiff.
To the phonographic industry, this sentencing is a sort of a victory. It means that the legal dispositions are there for the legal pursuit of internet piracy, and that these tools and dispositions can lead to a successful – for the phonographic industry – outcome. Still, I am not sure at all this will affect fundamentally the extent of file-sharing worldwide. As The Pirate Bay’s leaders commented, in their ironic and very sms times sense of reply, “Stay calm – nothing will happen to TPB, us personally or filesharing what so ever. This is just a theatre for the media.”
And indeed, it was a theatrical play that was showed off to us. On the one hand, The Pirate Bay gloried itself as an expression of an increasingly popular habit of diffusing for free otherwise payable cultural productions through the hosting of search engines and organised libraries of torrents to download. On the other hand, the phonographic industry played out the awful suffering of its creative work. At the end, neither the defendent, northe plaintiff seemed particularly appealing, however, to the everyday man and woman.
The creative artists and authors find enraging to see their cash potential disappear through file-sharing, and, to them, The Pirate Bay founders are geeks jeopardising their likely survival on the market. As for the consumer of the productions of the phonographic industry, (s)he finds it quite OK to, once in a while, if not regularly, sneak out for a free movie or music album from the big moguls of the phonographic industry. There is often a realisation of the financial consequences for the other less paid workers of that industry. But the temptation is massive: leaked materials are everywhere to be found, as with The Dark Knight, for instance, and hearing the palmares of Hollywood best paid actors and actresses sometimes makes us wonder why they earn so much for so little.
What fascinates me in that story of The Pirate Bay trial is that after 30-40 years of computer communications and hacking, the popular imagination as regards to the pirates of the virtual remains virtually unchanged. Those behind The Pirate Bay, Kazaa are all but attractive pirates of the modern electronic ocean, such as Angelina Jolie in Hackers or young Micah Sanders in US hit series Heroes.
And where there is pirate, there is a flag too, supporters of The Pirate Bay manifesting at the door of the trial bearing pirate flags. And they were judged like pirates too. The fluidity and unregulated nature of the technology was advanced to support Pirate Bay. But this unregulated – unregulable maybe? – nature also led to a certain legal fluidity too, with charges changing according to technical issues discussed between experts and expert advice sought for by the prosecution.
I understand the financial and cultural need of curbing on-line copyright infringement. But I also think about the need to acknowledge the potential social utility, and cultural and technical inevitability of piracy practices. While some are rightfully hurt at seeing their work diffused without the due financial reward, hacking has got some good points: it also highlights where in expert systems weaknesses lay out, leading out to the diffusion of expert knowledge on how to better secure our own electronic accounts.
Also I am quite happy to know that there are hackers capable to hang in government data bases. If there were some dwindling with the data stored in the electronic chips of my identity and social security cards, only readable electronically the expertise will be there outside to crack in the systems. In other words, before judging, we still need a balanced account as to the actual impacts of on-line piracy, and copyright infringements.