Friday, April 17, 2009

The Pirate Bay Conviction

In February, I wrote an entry about The Pirate Bay, the torrent tracker on trial for providing easy access to illegally copied files. Today, they were convicted. Will this win media companies such as the IFPI reduce the number of people using torrents to access games, movies, television and music?

My guess is no. It might deter a few potential users, but it will attract more.

As I said in detail in my February post, The Pirate Bay is one of the least of those responsible for the chain of file sharing. There are many .torrent sites who are far more responsible for making file sharing possible: members of "The Scene" who provide the actual rips, members of Topsites, and private .torrent sites who provide much more hands-on service than The Pirate Bay does. None of these people will be affected by this conviction in any way.

Nor will it affect the consumer. As many people have pointed out, searching for torrents on Google is just as effective. Even if The Pirate Bay goes offline (which it may not, even with its owners in jail) there are many other torrent sites, although few as classily designed as The Pirate Bay, around.

The Pirate Bay was an easy target. It is large, well-known, has a provocative name and logo and arrogant young people running it. One of the people, convicted Peter Sunde, said this:
It's serious to actually be found guilty and get jail time. It's really serious. And that's a bit weird.
I think Sunde is feeling pretty weird about being convicted. I'm not surprised: what he and his three friends do probably doesn't feel like crime at all. They effectively run a specialized search engine. There are no dark corners in their world: no vast amounts of money being accumulated, no violence, very little sneaking around (if any!). No other criminal activity runs like this. Sunde goes on:
The court said we were organised. I can't get Gottfrid out of bed in the morning. If you're going to convict us, convict us of disorganised crime.
It was probably a bit of a shock to realise that they are doing what the world might call "organized crime". This trial gives new meaning to the phrase. And yes it is kind of bizarre (although not entirely incorrect).

So what do the spokespeople for the prosecution say? They must have known that The Pirate Bay is just a flag for any number of operations that they could never ever hope to quash completely. The Chairman of the IFPI, John Kennedy, provides some answers:
There has been a perception that piracy is OK and that the music industry should just have to accept it. This verdict will change that.
I'm sorry, Mr. Kennedy, but I don't think it will. I think you're sort of missing the point. People don't download illegally because they think it's legal, they do so because it's so overwhelmingly convenient compared to other methods of getting media. Illegal media is unparallelled in its variety of content, size, quality and format, in its ease-of-use, and, of course, in its cheapness.

This is not, I think, the case of illegal vs. legal that the IFPI thinks it is. I think it's a case of supply and demand; product and consumer.