Page last updated at 10:47 GMT, Friday, 17 April 2009 11:47 UK

Q&A: Pirate Bay verdict

Pirate Bay's Peter Sunde, speaking on his website: 'We cannot and wouldn't pay'

Four men behind the Swedish-based file-sharing website The Pirate Bay have been found guilty of breaking copyright law.

Frederik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, Carl Lundstrom and Peter Sunde were each sentenced to a year in jail.

They were also ordered to pay 30m kronor (£2.4m) in damages.

We look at the case and its implications for consumers and producers of entertainment.

What exactly is The Pirate Bay?

It is described is the world's most high profile file-sharing website. It was set up in 2003 by an anti-copyright organisation, Piratbyran, but for the last five years it has been run by individuals.

The site is essentially a forum for people to post music, movies, computer games and other forms of electronic media so that other people can download them without having to buy their own copies - or to pay the copyright holders for them.

The site itself does not actually contain the copyrighted material, but provides links so that it can be found elsewhere.

So how does that work, then?

It's all possible thanks to a piece of software called BitTorrent, which allows a number of people to download the same programme at the same time.

The key is that as soon as you have downloaded even a small fraction of an album or a TV programme, someone else can download it from you, without waiting until the file is complete.

The more people sharing the file at any given time, the easier and quicker it is to obtain.

A popular programme can take between five and seven hours to download, while a film can take twice as long and a more obscure programme up to a whole day.

But for broadband internet users, this is no deterrent: it costs nothing more to stay online for 10 hours than five minutes, so many BitTorrent users leave their computers on overnight or all day.

So what does The Pirate Bay actually do?

It is basically a search engine for BitTorrent files, commonly known as torrents. These are small files which allow users or "peers" to download the pirated material directly from other users or "seeders".

There are plenty of other such sites on the internet, but not all of them are as popular as The Pirate Bay, which has an estimated 22 million users.

Its sheer success has made it a particular thorn in the side of the music, TV and film industries, which have seen this case as an important step in stamping out the illegal sharing of copyrighted media.

But if there are other ways of finding these files, what difference does this case make?

Well, the four guilty men are basically saying that it makes no difference to them and that their site will continue to operate.

One of them, Peter Sunde, has already said in a Twitter posting that the case is "just theatre for the media" and that nothing will happen to The Pirate Bay.

But even if the site is closed down, there are plenty of others to take its place. Since they are not based in Sweden, this case does not set a legal precedent for clamping down on them, as the battle will have to be waged in other countries' courts.

So this case may make it harder to find pirated movies and music on the internet, but it will be far from impossible.

However, John Kennedy, chairman of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) - the global music industry body - says the case "will send out a message, even to kids, that what they thought was OK, isn't".

He says the verdict will also give a boost to legal internet music services such as Spotify, which also provide free access to music, but within the law.



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SEE ALSO
Pirate Bay founders found guilty
17 Apr 09 |  Technology
How The Pirate Bay sailed into infamy
16 Feb 09 |  Technology

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