Pirate Bay guilty verdict: Now what?
Setting sail for the Supreme Court
The four men behind BitTorrent tracker website The Pirate Bay were handed stiff sentences of one year each this morning and ordered to stump up $3.6m in damages to the entertainment industry.
The judgment may come as a short, sharp shock for members of the sprawling file sharing community.
But the site will almost certainly continue to operate and the legal battle will carry on for many months - or even years - to come.
The Swedish Pirate Party's top European Parliament candidate, Christian Engström, who will be gunning for a seat in the June elections, told The Register that he was stunned by the verdict.
"I’m really, really shocked by the harsh sentences for assisting in sharing about 30 works. It’s completely outrageous," he said.
Engström claimed the judgment highlighted how politicians were "destroying the internet", by imposing what his party considers to be restrictive legal frameworks to the web.
He agreed that a final verdict could take years to be reached, "especially if we go all the way up to the Supreme Court," said Engström, who added that the Pirate Party was completely independent of The Pirate Bay, even though he kept using the collective "we" in his comments about the outfit.
"It took the entertainment industry three years to get this first verdict. If they think they’re going to make people stop file sharing then they’re living in a fantasy world," he said.
"In the short-term the site will continue to operate… even if today the industry claims a major victory."
And indeed it is, cautiously at least, patting itself on the back today for a job well done.
The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry's CEO and chairman John Kennedy told El Reg: "If we’d have lost it would be difficult to a put a brave face on it."
But he added that today's outcome offered "no overnight panacea for the music industry" and instead meant an ongoing legal battle with the infamous website.
"They [The Pirate Bay] will appeal, they will drag out the process. Even if the co-founders don’t carry on they will hand over the baton to someone else, and if necessary we will take action against those individuals as well," he said.
We also asked Kennedy if the IFPI would consider going after Google following today's potentially landmark verdict.
"The comparison with Google is amateurish," he said. "Whereas The Pirate Bay was set up to make piracy easier, Google, which has many pros and many cons associated with it, will cooperate if we ask them."
Elsewhere, the obvious tech industry suspects have waded in to share their thoughts on today's judgment.
A spokesman for the London Internet Exchange (LINX) told us:
“This verdict is vindication of our belief to pursue the infringers through the court and not hold intermediates such as internet service providers responsible for the actions of third parties.”
The Federation Against Software Theft's CEO John Lovelock chimed in with:
“From a law and order perspective FAST applauds this sentence. By enabling unscrupulous users to find downloads online illegally for free, The Pirate Bay has cost the legitimate economy by taking away revenue for content creators, reducing tax revenue and possibly even costing jobs at these firms.”
But, if the trial would have taken place in Blighty the case against the BitTorrent site would have probably fallen flat on its face, according to law firm Beachcroft LLP.
"Current legislation simply does not address these kinds of online service. Any action against Pirate Bay type services would be doomed to fail under current English law," said Robin Fry, copyright specialist at Beachcroft.
He referred to legislation stretching back to a Musical Copyright Act of 1906, "which only criminalises use of 'plates' or articles (which could now extend to software) but only if they were designed for copying specific copyright works."
Over on the other side of the pond law professor Michael A. Carrier noted that "the [entertainment] industry has not always been at the forefront of adopting new technologies and embracing disruptive innovation," he said.
"It could benefit from devoting as much effort towards innovation as it does to litigation."
For many that has been the sticking point in the case against The Pirate Bay, which first kicked off in 2006 when Swedish authorities raided server sites and confiscated tech gear from several server locations.
But the entertainment industry will remain as bloody-minded as BitTorrent players about who owns its Intellectual Property, and the ramifications of that will ultimately outlive the verdict meted out today. ®