Pirates Reborn

If you’re into peer-to-peer downloading of large files (e.g. movies, music) from the Internet, you know already know all about it; if you’re not, here’s a quick summary. The most popular program for doing so is called BitTorrent, and for quite some time The Pirate Bay, a site based in Sweden, was the most popular place to go to get the files you might be interested in (you know, like Hollywood movies still in general public release – or even yet to embark upon public release). Naturally, The Pirate Bay came under some considerable legal pressure for its activities, until this past spring the main personnel behind it were sentenced to jail and to the payment of a hefty SEK 30 million fine. (They are appealing the verdict.) In the meantime, the Swedish advertising company Global Gaming Factory X AB has announced its intention to buy The Pirate Bay next month and give it a “new business model” that makes the site’s activities strictly legal. In the meantime, though, some of the people behind The Pirate Bay have formed The Pirate Party – with chapters not just in Sweden but other countries as well – to advance their free-file-sharing political views, which already won one seat in the European Parliament in the early-June elections.

The (eventual) metamorphosis of The Pirate Bay to legality is especially good news for the French government, which has been busy since the beginning of the year trying to come up with legal measures to pass to outlaw the sort of free downloading of copyrighted commercial material that The Pirate Bay did so much to facilitate. After modifying their legislation to meet the objections from France’s Constitutional Court, which had first thrown it out, the French Senate has recently passed it, so that it is close to becoming law. It would empower a state agency – called Hadopi – to detect this sort of activity and, if two warnings to desist are ignored, pass on to French judges information about the offense for them to assign penalties, including fines, jail, and disconnection from the Net.

Ah, but can anyone ever stop truly determined Internet “pirates”? Le Monde reporter Maël Inizan now reports on another site now arising like a phoenix from The Pirate Bay’s ashes to save the cause of free downloading (Illegal downloading: a new site takes up the torch of The Pirate Bay).

This site is called OpenBitTorrent. As you could imagine, the people in charge here have taken precautions against being as vulnerable, whether technically or legally, as The Pirate Bay turned out to be. There is little that is secret about their tactics to those ends, as Inizan point out; you can basically read it all off of the site’s very homepage. “We do not have any content. We are not a bittorrent site, we are just a tracker, we can not [sic] see what content is behind an info_hash.” In Inizan’s estimation, it’s this characteristic of serving as a decentralized index merely enabling people to find out where they need to go to download the bittorrents that they want that should keep it safe from legal challenge: “If it spreads, this system risks rendering the application of the ‘Hadopi Law’ in France even more difficult.”

Oh, and as you might also be able to imagine, there is some heavy circumstantial evidence that the people behind OpenBitTorrent are the same people who originally were behind The Pirate Bay.

The EU Is On the Case!

A national legislature determined to cut people off from the Internet for their downloads; legal assaults against notorious pirate websites; it’s clear that the whole Internet-download question, in Europe at least, has the potential to provide some excitement in the public arena even as the continent otherwise goes off on vacation. This issue is being addressed at the EU level as well, as we learn from the Czech daily Lidové noviny: European Commission wants to enable downloading of songs and films. This word comes from the relevant European Commissioner, namely Viviane Reding of Luxembourg and of “Information Society and Media.” “The European Union needs new rules for the downloading of music, films, and other files from the Internet, without that being pirate,” is the article’s first sentence. In Ms. Reding’s judgment, the way the relevant laws are now, they pretty much force people (mainly the young, of course) to become “Internet pirates” and illegally download copyrighted material. So according to the piece her “key priority” is to set up a “framework that will bring digital content closer on the united European market and at the same time will ensure compensation for the creators.”

There are only a few objections to all of this that the LN article does not bother to go into:

  1. “Closer” (i.e. more available) digital content for consumers, yet reward for creators: that’s certainly the desired Holy Grail here. But those objectives are to a great degree mutually antagonistic, so that it seems Ms. Reding will truly need the Wisdom of Solomon to ever come up with any legal solution that will work.
  2. On the other hand, that’s probably really not her business anyway! Within the European Union it is still the national governments that have jurisdiction over media and Internet questions (as we see reflected, for example, in the widespread attention being devoted to the French legislature’s recent efforts in this regard).
  3. Ms. Reding might well not be Commissioner for Information Society and Media for very much longer! This is by no means any reflection on her competence; rather, the five-year term-of-office for all European Commissioners comes to an end this fall. Sure, it’s possible that she might remain in the post, although that would require 1) That the Luxembourg government again name her, not somebody else, to be a Commissioner, and then 2) That whoever turns out to be the Commission President re-appoints her to that particular portfolio. It’s therefore very possible that she will not – so is she really willing to tackle this complicated question as her “key priority” with only the summer months (vacation time!) and a couple of months after that left to her?

Other than that, we can all look forward to whatever proposals come from Ms. Reding – or perhaps that should be “Pirate Reding” if what she suggests turns out to bear down too hard on those who enjoy freely downloading copyrighted material.

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