Friday, April 17, 2009
BOB GARFIELD: In Sweden, on Friday, a court found the four cofounders of the popular file-sharing website The Pirate Bay guilty of assisting the distribution of illegal content online. Convicted essentially of aiding and abetting in the wholesale theft of intellectual property, the four were sentenced to a year in jail and fined 3.6 million dollars. Some were surprised by the verdict, as Pirate Bay doesn't itself post or store illegal content, but rather links those who wish to illegally download songs and movies with those who possess them, much in the way some states ban radar detectors because their only purpose is to evade speed limit laws. Mats Lewan, a Swedish technology writer, was one who marveled that the prosecution prevailed, despite any evidence linking Pirate Bay to the stolen property itself.
MATS LEWAN: And that’s what makes this case so particular, that the prosecutor can make it believable that these guys helped the filesharers so much that they should be convicted, even though no files were stored on their site.
BOB GARFIELD: Before we get to the larger ramifications of this case, what does this verdict mean for filesharing in Sweden?
MATS LEWAN: What’s kind of particular with the Swedish population is that it’s very homogeneous, and when something is coming up in Sweden, a kind of new way of behaving, you will see everybody moving the same direction. In this case, I suppose that people have been scared of being spotted at doing filesharing, so everyone stops at the same time. On the other hand, you can say that those who have stopped are probably just common people, could be parents filesharing files to have movies for their kids, doing just a couple of things a month, maybe. All those people have stopped. But the real bad guys, those who upload lots of movies and download lots of movies, they can go on for themselves because they wouldn't care about such a decision. So you left the field open for the bad guys [LAUGHS], if you could put it that way.
BOB GARFIELD: What do you think this verdict will mean globally?
MATS LEWAN: I don't think that filesharing will go down that much. In the first place, we can see that Pirate Bay, the site, is still live, and it will probably go on being live, even if these guys go to jail. They have so many ways of keeping it up. On the other hand, when legislation comes after this kind of technology it actually accelerates the interest of those persons involved to find new ways to use the technology that would not be reached by legal forces, anyway. And one example is this, that they already have a second generation of BitTorrent technology called OneSwarm, and it preserves the filesharers’ privacy so you couldn't see who actually shares what file.
BOB GARFIELD: Are you suggesting that the Pandora’s box is now so wide open that not only do businesses have to change the way they do business, but laws –
MATS LEWAN: Yeah.
BOB GARFIELD: - have to change to accommodate what is now possible?
MATS LEWAN: That’s my belief, actually. I believe in copyright, but I think that when you have such a strong technological development changing so many things, I think that the copyright that was designed in a completely different environment, where everything was physical, actually, it will have to change in some way. But I don't know what. That’s the big question.
BOB GARFIELD: Mats, thank you very much.
MATS LEWAN: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Mats Lewan is the IT and telecom editor at the Swedish magazine Ny Teknik. He’s also a fellow with Stanford University’s Innovation Journalism program, and you can read his reporting on the Pirate Bay trial at Cnet.com.