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The Pirate Bay founder Peter Sunde presented at the annual ISPA iWeek conference, discussing the history of the popular BitTorrent website and giving his views on the changing role of intellectual property in modern culture.

Sunde is of the view that copying is an integral part of human nature, pointing to how children learn how to talk by copying their parents.  As a young computer enthusiast Sunde said copying was the only way he could learn as his pocket money of at 11 years old was hardly adequate to purchase the software needed to hone his computing skills.

Sunde’s conviction that access to information and the distribution of information on the Internet is a basic human right paved the way for a career as an activist for the copying – aka piracy – and distribution of content.  Apart from forming the ‘Bureau for Piracy’ he was directly involved in lobbying Government to ensure that uncapped 100 Mbps Internet connections are now commonplace in Sweden.  “An uncapped 100 Mbps connection is minimum welfare,” Sunde joked.

The Pirate Bay

The Pirate Bay – a website which indexes and tracks BitTorrent (.torrent) files – followed, something which made Sunde a worldwide Internet celebrity.  This website quickly became a popular online destination.

According to Sunde The Pirate Bay – which is closing in on 100 000 tracker connections per second – accounts for around 65% of all BitTorrent traffic online.  BitTorrent traffic in turn accounts for up to 82% of all Internet traffic which means that The Pirate Bay may account for up to 48% of all the traffic on the Internet.

This growing popularity of The Pirate Bay and online piracy in general has resulted in a steady flow of legal threats against the website from companies.  When faced with legal threats related to copyright issues, The Pirate Bay is not particularly diplomatic. 

Sunde pointed to a standard response which reads:  “Unlike certain other countries, such as the one you’re in, we have sane copyright laws here. But we also have polar bears roaming the streets and attacking people :-(”  Legal threats from companies like Apple and Dreamworks were even less diplomatic:  “It is the opinion of us and our lawyers that you are … morons, and that you should please go sodomize yourself with retractable batons.”

The issue of copyright infringement involving The Pirate Bay became such a controversial issue that it escalated to a discussion between the US and Swedish governments.  This resulted in the confiscation of the website’s servers, but The Pirate Bay fought back and the site was up and running again within days.

Earlier this year The Pirate Bay founders Peter Sunde, Fredrik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm and Carl Lundstrom were found guilty of assistance to copyright infringement.  A sentenced of one year in prison and a fine of US$ 3,620,000 were handed down, but the defendants appealed against the verdict.

Copyright, profitability and ISPs

Sunde was quizzed about the impact of piracy on artists.  He defended his position saying that copyright only protects a very small portion of individuals and companies, and does not really assist lesser known musicians.  According to Sunde free music can actually assist artists using alternative revenue models like selling merchandise and live shows.

Sunde further suggested a model where the personal use of content like music should be free while the commercial use can be charged for to support artists. 

In the copyright battle Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are often caught in the middle with copyright protection agencies requesting that ISPs join the fray and assist them to fight the distribution and downloading of copyrighted material.  

According to Sunde ISPs are essentially modern distribution channels of information, and should take a stand:  not for or against copyright, but rather for or against the distribution of information.

Copying content and copyright – comments and views

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