Page last updated at 12:07 GMT, Thursday, 16 April 2009 13:07 UK

Countdown to Pirate Bay verdict

By Darren Waters
Technology editor, BBC News website

Pirate Bay
The Pirate Bay lets you search for TV programs, movies and applications

On Friday at about 1100 local time (1000 BST) computer expert Peter Sunde will receive a phone call, e-mail or fax at his home in Malmo, Sweden, which will mark one of the most decisive moments in the 10-year battle between file-sharers and the professional creative industries.

The message will tell him whether he has been found guilty or not guilty of "assisting making available copyright material".

Mr Sunde is one of four defendants facing those charges in the Swedish courts. The charge sounds innocuous but the stakes are high for the global music and movie industries.

Mr Sunde, Frederik Neij and Gottfrid Svartholm Warg are the men the courts have deemed to be behind The Pirate Bay, the world's most high-profile file-sharing site.

It boasts more than millions of members and it is said that half of all BitTorrent traffic in the world is directed via The Pirate Bay.

The fourth defendant Carl Lundstrom, while having no direct technical dealings with the site, has been accused of helping finance The Pirate Bay.

The court's judgement will be one of the most closely-scrutinised decisions since the original file-sharing site Napster was shut down in 2001.

There's no difference between us and Google
Peter Sunde, The Pirate Bay

"Everybody involved is quite okay with it," says Mr Sunde, brushing off any suggestion that he and his co-defendants are under pressure.

"We still don't think we have done anything illegal under Swedish law."

Mr Sunde's defence is simple: The Pirate Bay does not host or store copyright material. It acts instead as a directory which users can employ to post links to and find copyright material.

'Just link'

"We don't share any files we just link to material. We don't say what people should or should not download

"It's open platform, an open technology, for people to find and share content. There's no difference between us and Google."

Mr Sunde believes that if The Pirate Bay is found guilty, then the whole internet is just as damned because it too is based on the premise of links.

He rejects the idea that The Pirate Bay's operators should take responsibility for the types of material that are linked to on the site.

"We think we have a responsibility to not check what people are linking - it's a privacy issue," he explains.

For Rickard Falkvinge, leader of The Pirate Party, which is trying to reform laws around copyright and patents in the digital age, the trial in Sweden has become something of a cause celebre for the younger generation. He believes it is a reflection of a wider battle between industry, politicians and digital natives about the future of content and copyright in the networked age.

Coin toss

"At the lowest court, it is basically a coin toss over whether they will be found guilty.

"People I talk to feel they will be acquitted. But if they are found guilty, then linking on the internet will be found guilty also.

"This is not about detail in copyright law, or a fun toy to take away from kids when they have been bad. This is a catalyst for change to society on the scale of the printing press or written language."

Gottfrid Svartholm Varg (C) and Peter Sunde, (R) from The Pirate Bay
The Pirate Bay founders will receive a verdict on Friday

Mr Falkvinge says The Pirate Bay should be found not guilty because the technology it represents does more good than harm.

"Some people abuse the postal service to hide their criminal activities but we don't think about shutting it down.

"Once you have digital communication, people will use it to copy content and communicate. The Pirate Bay is just a symptom of that capability."

Mr Sunde is adamant that whatever the verdict, The Pirate Bay will keep sailing.

"Nothing is going to happen if we lose. One of the reasons is that the verdict is not final.

"If we lose, we will appeal. This is a criminal court case - and in Sweden you are not found guilty until there is no more appeal possibility.

Public relations

"This is not going to be finalised for a couple of years."

Mr Sunde says the International Federation of the Phonographic Industries and Motion Picture Association of America, who lobbied for the case to be brought, are using the case to generate public relations.

The ultimate realistic aim is to push it to the boundaries in the way shoplifting is to the boundaries in a music shop.
Mark Mulligan, Forrester Research

"They are both abusing the court case to get some media attention and are scared of people like us because we point out flaws in the system."

Mark Mulligan, a research director at Forrester Research, says the industries had no choice but to take action.

"This is first and foremost about PR. I don't mean that in a dismissive way - it sends out a message that the industry will take action; that ultimately there is a price to pay.

"They know they are not going to shut down BitTorrent even if The Pirate Bay closes, which is more of an aspiration than a goal.

"The ultimate realistic aim is to push it to the boundaries in the way shoplifting is to the boundaries in a music shop.

"It goes on, and no matter how many security guards or cameras you have, it will go on. But the majority of people don't do it."

He says defeat for the music and movie industries would be a major blow in the campaign to re-educate people about the implications of illegal file-sharing.

"This is a high-risk strategy because if the courts rule in The Pirate Bay's favour then some people will see this as the courts saying it is okay to file share. But they had to take action."

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