Science Interviews


Sun, 10th Feb 2008

Pirate Bay on the Plank

Chris Vallance

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Meera - I’ve met up with our resident tech expert, Chris Vallance to find out what’s going on in the world of technology this month. Hi Chris.

Chris Vallance - Hi there.

Meera - So there’s been news with Pirate Bay. What’s that?

Pirate flag of Rack Rackham (Calico Jack)Chris Vallance - Pirate Bay kind of does what it says on the tin.  Pirate Bay is a Swedish-based website and it claims to be the world’s largest Bit Torrent tracker.  Bit Torrent is a place where people share files.  It’s a file sharing system and the kind of things that people share on Bit Torrent are lots of legitimate things but also copyright content like films, books, music also gets shared.  Obviously this is very controversial. People who own the copyright don’t like this kind of thing: the music industry, the film industry.  Way back in May, 2006 a Bit Torrent [Pirate Bay's offices] was raided.  About 200 police officers raided its offices and we didn’t have any charges but last week four people associated with Pirate Bay were charged.  It’s a very, very political issue.  Not just on the web but in Sweden as well.  Pirate Bay didn’t actually host any of this content.  On their servers you wouldn’t have found films, music whatever.  They were just linking to this peer-to-peer sharing system.

Meera - They claim they’re not doing anything wrong.

Chris Vallance - Yeah, exactly. If you talk to people who support Pirate Bay, they say look, we’re just linking.  In a way what we’re doing isn’t any different from what a search engine would do.  I spoke to Magnus Eriksson.  Now Magnus Eriksson is a spokesperson for Piratbyrån which I think translates as Pirate Bureau.  He explains that in his view what Pirate Bay is doing wasn’t that different from what search engines, forums and other websites do.

Magnus - The prosecution doesn’t have much to offer here. What he’s trying to imply is that the Pirate Bay, just by starting this service is responsible for what its users stuff on it, that they are somehow aiding them in their corporate infringement.  But if this would be a principle that would mean that anyone developing a community site or a forum site or a mail client or something would have to be responsible for what its users do.  I mean, it‘s an open service.  The consequences when people share the things that matter to them.  It seems like that at the moment for copyrighted material.

Chris Vallance - Sara Lindbach is a legal specialist with the anti-Piratbyrån.  She takes a very different view.

Sara - The material from the prosecutors shows reason that they had a daily turnover of $3million and Pirate Bay has been making [it] possible for millions of people to illegally file share material.  They are making a lot of money on the rights holder’s material.

Chris Vallance - For the film and recording industry what really marks Pirate Bay out is the fact that they were making a lot of money.  This is Jo Oliver, a legal analyst with the IFPI, a body that represents the recording industry.

Jo - Pirate Bay has become something of a destination for those who are looking for illegal content and the scale that’s quite staggering.  Pirate Bay claims to have 10 million users world-wide so the steps being taken today to file charges are very important to us.

Chris Vallance - They would say they’re merely linking to torrents that are already there and that they don’t create those torrents.

Sara - As a user you go along to the Pirate Bay and it provides everything you need to get the infringing material.  Around the world similar types of services have made the same argument but in the end the courts found that they were liable for what they were doing.  I think the difference is Pirate Bay is set up to exploit illegal content.  It’s a lot easier to find pirate material in Pirate Bay than it is doing a Google search online.

Chris Vallance - In a way I think what you see emerging is a question about degree.  For the prosecutors what Pirate Bay was doing was so obviously about getting copies of films in their view for people who support Piratbyrån, what they’re doing isn’t so different from what the search engines enable you to do.  There’s definitely a bit of a legal crack down on people who are sharing and engaging in the kind of activity that Pirate Bay does.

Meera - Well, it will be really interesting to see how that turns out.  Is there anything else going on in the world of tech at the moment?

Chris Vallance - Well, I don’t think we could get away without mentioning Microsoft and Yahoo.  There’s a $23billion offer Microsoft has made for Yahoo.  It’s interesting because obviously Microsoft’s main competitor is Google.  But Google and Microsoft are very different business models.  Google sees our tech-future, if you like, as being very much based on the web.  But for Microsoft as a software maker, still very much focussed around the PC.  You have Microsoft producing Office software that will let you do spreadsheets and word processing on your PC.  Google producing Google Docs and Google spreadsheets let you do it on the web.  Two very different philosophies.  If you look at Microsoft’s move for Yahoo, well is this Microsoft trying to get into Google’s territory?  Not just competing on search because obviously Google dominates the search market but it’s more about the direction of our future computer use.  I think what’s interesting about Yahoo, they own some very interesting properties.  They own Flickr,, they own Upcoming, they‘re heavily involved with OpenID.  Also what’s interesting is the reaction from the community of users because you have Flickr groups now saying we don’t want Microsoft owning Flickr, wondering how that’s going to go if Yahoo suddenly becomes owned by a software producer.  Of course, in all of this you’ve got Google who are now trying to snuggle up to Yahoo in an effort to put off that Microsoft bid.  Above that you’ve got the competition regulators and how are they going to view a very big merger between two big companies involved in the internet computing space.  There’s a lot still to play out with this.


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