Larry Page and Sergey Brin: Wanted in Sweden
The week before last, the folks who run The Pirate Bay were on trial for violating copyright laws in Sweden. The Pirate Bay is one of the largest and most popular Bit Torrent sites. They host millions of torrent files that allow people to connect with each other and share music, movies, video games, and other media. That’s right, they don’t actually have any illegal music or movies on their servers, they’re just showing you how to talk to other people who do. But what, you ask, does this trial have to do with Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google? Read on to find out.
Just to get questions of morality out of the way really quickly, sharing copyrighted material through Bit Torrent is unquestionably illegal and wrong. While I sympathize with the argument that our copyright laws need to be reformed, I don’t believe that file sharing is a good way to do that. However, The Pirate Bay isn’t sharing those files, it isn’t even linking to them directly, it is just giving people a way to find folks who were doing those things. The four guys who run The Pirate Bay were convicted of violating copyright laws and sentenced to some fines and jail time. The problem is that Google and many other companies are doing the same thing The Pirate Bay does or worse. For instance, head over to The Pirate Google, a website created after the trial to prove just this point. You can use Google as a torrent search engine just like The Pirate Bay. Even worse, try G2P which shows that Google links directly to sites that allow you to illegally download music and movies. Literally the only difference between Google and The Pirate Bay is that the vast majority of Google’s links are to legitimate, legal content while the vast majority (but not all) of The Pirate Bay’s links are to illegal content. However, it wouldn’t be surprising at all if Google actually linked to more illegal content than The Pirate Bay does because Google casts a much wider net.
The point is, if the operators of The Pirate Bay are guilty of breaking copyright laws, then so too are Google, Yahoo, MSN, and virtually every other search engine on the web. Surely this can’t have been the intent of the ruling and yet that’s the effect that it has. Of course the RIAA would never go after Google or Yahoo as they have with The Pirate Bay. Not only do they not have the lawyers necessary to take down Google, but it would be a public relations nightmare because the average person on the street has heard of Google, uses them everyday, and probably likes them. The Pirate Bay is, to most people, a sketchy-sounding website they’ve never visited. So there’s also definitely a double-standard at play here. In this case, I think it’s pretty clear that the judge was in error. While it’s fair to say what The Pirate Bay does is immoral and wrong, it certainly can’t be deemed illegal without seriously disrupting the structure of the Web.
Given that the case is being appealed, it’s probably worth pointing out some of the irregularities with the trail. For instance, the judge has ties to a pro-copyright professional organization in Sweden that has taken a stance against The Pirate Bay, but didn’t recuse himself. Furthermore, in Sweden there is a panel of 3 lay people who monitor the judge to help ensure impartiality. The judge had one of these people be removed from their role because they were associated with an anti-copyright group. That makes the fairness of the judgement questionable in addition to other problems it creates.
Apparently an Italian court is also looking to open a case against The Pirate Bay, so it will be interesting to see where this trial goes in the coming weeks and months. Hopefully, though, judges will see the light and make the decision that will help foster growth on the Internet instead of stifling innovation and the free flow of information.