The Pirate Bay is likely one of the most infamous websites in the world. Since it was launched in 2003, the Pirate Bay has been one of the top places to pirate movies, software, and games. As you would guess, this has enraged copyright holders and prosecutors who have been trying to shut down the site and punish pirates. But, despite how many times they take it down, it seems like it’s always just a matter of time until the site is back up and running.
Considering this, you would think that the key to solving the issue is addressing the root problem by taking down the founders.
But, prosecutors have tried this as well. They’ve chased the founders across the world, thrown them in jail, and charged them with every copyright infringement charge you can think of. Yet, the Pirate Bay still lives on. One of the founders is happy to do jail time to keep the Pirate Bay alive. So, here’s how the Pirate Bay came to life, what happened to the founders, and why prosecutors have struggled to take it down.
About The Pirate Bay
Taking a look back, the origins of the Pirate Bay date back to a Swedish organization called Piratbyran, which means the Piracy Bureau. As the name suggests, the organization focused on legalizing piracy through political connections, petitioning, and lobbying. Most people at the organization felt that information should be allowed to spread across the internet freely and questioned intellectual property. Some would even argue that piracy is helpful to companies because it gets expensive software and games into the hands of people who would have otherwise never tried it. And once they get addicted to the said game or software, they’re much more likely to buy it the second or third time around.
Now, I would never argue that piracy is moral, but there’s no doubt that software like Windows, Adobe’s Creative Cloud, and even Grand Theft Auto wouldn’t be nearly as popular as they are today without piracy. This line of reasoning was the framework of Piratbyran, and in September of 2003, they would decide to take it to the next level.
Three Piratebyran employees named Peter Sunde, Gottfrid Svartholm, and Fredrik Neij launched a file-sharing website called The Pirate Bay. The idea was inspired by BitTorrent, which made its debut a few years before this. Initially, the Pirate Bay was run out of servers in Mexico.
Gottfrid convinced his employer, who had servers in Mexico, to help them run the site. But, it didn’t take long for his employer to back off. So, the founders were forced to bring the site back home, and Gottfrid ran it using his Pentium 3 laptop, which only had 256 megabytes of RAM. Despite the basic setup, given the limited number of file-sharing sites back in 2003, it didn’t take long for pirates to flood in. By the end of 2004, the Pirate Bay saw 1 million users and 60,000 files being shared.
As the site grew, the trio expanded their operations by getting servers and databases, and they transformed their laptop service into an international hub for file sharing.
And by 2006, everything under the sun was being shared on the site, whether that be music and movies or software and games. And to make things worse, the Pirate Bay wasn’t even trying to distance themselves from these activities. Some other popular piracy sites are like Mega.NZ tries to put up a good guy persona to minimize trouble with the law.
But that wasn’t the case with the Pirate Bay. These guys were proud to enable free information sharing across the internet, and they had no intention of hiding behind some fake persona.
And this attitude became highly apparent to authorities after they sent out dozens of copyright infringement and cease and desist notices which resulted in no action from the founders. The police tried to ignore the new site for many years, but as the site grew in popularity, they started to receive more and more pressure to take it down. And in 2006, they finally decided to crackdown.
Pirate Bay Backfire
I’m sure the founders always expected trouble with the authorities given the nature of what they were doing. But I’m not sure if they expected the force at which prosecutors would hit back. On May 31, 2006, 65 police officers raided the Pirate Bay’s data center and shut down their servers.
None of the founders was arrested, but it was clear that the site should not be restarted. As you would guess, though, the founders ignored these demands.
They got new servers in an unspecified location in the Netherlands, and the Pirate Bay was back up and running within just three days. Not only did the raid not take down the website, but it led to more people using the website.
You see, the police raid became international news, and even the New York Times ran a story about it. Aside from driving more users to the website, these news articles fueled a global movement amongst internet nerds. One hacker went ahead and hacked into Sweden’s national police website, Polisen, and took down the website.
And, just as the police website was restored, the government website was taken down. These were highly irresponsible moves, but they made a statement. Shortly after the raid, the Pirate Bay grew to be the 465th most visited website globally, and some lawyers even jumped onto the founders’ side. The lawyers accused the police of unfairly impounding every server’s insight during the raid.
You see, the servers that were impounded weren’t only responsible for running the Pirate Bay but also responsible for running dozens of small websites and businesses. So, police had wronged all these businesses in the name of taking down one website. The lawyers also argued that the Swedish police didn’t have a justifiable reason to conduct the raid in the first place. They accused the Swedish government of giving in to American political pressure instead of carrying out law and order.
The government, of course, vehemently denied these charges, and these cases didn’t go anywhere.
But, the government had a nightmare dealing with all this unexpected negative PR. Initially, they expected that they would be hailed as the heroes fighting against piracy, but instead, they were made out to be villains. The thing is, most people have pirated media or software at some point during their lives. Statistically, 52% of online users have watched pirated videos even though 59% are aware that downloading and streaming pirated videos is illegal. And that’s just the people who admitted to it.
As a result, when the news came out that The Pirate Bay had been taken down, it was not like the average person was jumping up and down in excitement.
The more realistic reaction was probably, oh well, it was nice while it lasted. Considering this, only a tiny portion of people went out of their way to support the Swedish government’s actions. And, without sizeable public support, the government couldn’t just raid the Pirate Bay again cause that would increase its popularity even more. So, they decided to address the root by taking down the founders.
On the Run
On April 17, 2009, the three founders, Peter, Fredrik, Gottfrid, and the server provider Carl Lundstrom were found guilty of assistance to copyright infringement and sentenced to 1 year in prison. They were also ordered to pay an acceptable worth 30 million Swedish kronor or $4.3 million. The squad appealed the verdict arguing that Sweden gave in to political pressure. This decreased each sentence by a few months, but it increased the fine to 46 million kronor, or $6.6 million. This didn’t matter to the founders, though, as they had no intention of paying the fine. During the press conference, Peter held up a sign that followed the verdict, which said I owe you 31 million kroner.
He followed up this statement by suggesting that this was all the government would get. He claimed that he didn’t have any money, and even if he did, he’d instead burn everything and not even give them the ashes.
Carl and Peter didn’t resist the arrest much further, and they gave in. But, the same could not be said about Gottfrid and Fredrik, who went on the run. Gottfrid ran away to Cambodia, which had a no extradition policy to Sweden.
But, despite the policy, the Cambodian police arrested Gottfrid on August 30, 2012, and deported him back to Sweden. There’s been speculation that Sweden and Cambodia had an inside deal to extradite Gottfrid.
Six days after Gottfrid was arrested, the Swedish government announced a 400 million kroner grant for Cambodia. So, it is suspicious, but all we can do is speculate. Once Gottfrid was back in Sweden, he served his jail sentence at the Mariefred prison, but the police didn’t just stop right there. They also piled on hacking and fraud charges which led to a total 3-year sentence. But eventually, in September of 2015, Gottfrid was released.
And finally, as for Fredrik, he could evade the police for even longer than Gottfrid. He had fled to Laos/Thailand, and he built a life in both countries.
Honestly, I don’t know why he didn’t just choose one or the other, as this dual life resulted in him crossing the border regularly. And during one of these border crossings in November of 2014, he was arrested and deported. Fortunately for Fredrik, his prison sentence was far less severe than Gottfrid’s, coming in at ten months.
Fredrik claims that prison wasn’t even that bad and well worth it for the Pirate Bay. He was the only one in jail for a virtual crime. So, the guards weren’t as tough on him. He says that he could smuggle in USB sticks with movies on them and watch them on his prison TV. He did miss his friends and family, but he received dozens of letters from fans of the Pirate Bay, which he says helped him get through the ten months.
Now that all of the founders were behind bars, the police could finally shut down the Pirate Bay once and for all, or so they thought. UNSTOPPABLE LEGACY: On December 9, 2014, the Swedish police raided the Pirate Bay once again and impounded all of their servers, computers, and equipment.
This must be the end with the founders out of the game, right? Well, just four days after the Pirate Bay was taken down, a torrent site called Isohunt launched a website called oldpiratebay.org, which mirrored all the content on The Pirate Bay.
And this is when the prosecutors realized that they had lost the game forever. Here’s the thing, the Pirate Bay doesn’t host any files themselves. They connect with peers from around the world using links. So, all the Pirate Bay is storing is links. The contents of the entire website can be stored within a gigabyte, if not less, and there are thousands of people making copies of the website daily.
So, even if authorities take down one copy of the site, it’s not very difficult to upload the gigabyte of data to a new server and get a new domain. And that’s why it’s impossible to take down the Pirate Bay truly. Considering this, prosecutors have given up on taking down the Pirate Bay as there’s simply no single person to hold accountable. In the meantime, copyright holders have shifted their efforts to working with internet service providers to cut internet to pirates. But, this has just led to pirates using VPNs.
Anyway, as for the founders today, Peter founded a Patreon-type service called Flattr. Instead of donating to creators, though, the service contributes to websites and projects that better society and reveal corruption like WikiLeaks. Aside from Flattr, Peter has also given several speeches and interviews regarding his various views on the world. Gottfrid and Fredrik, on the other hand, don’t have nearly as big of a public image. They have no public presence, and they disappeared into the depths of the internet.
After Fredrik was released, he said that he would get an IT job and settle in Laos.
So, that’s presumably what he’s doing now. And that’s what happened to the Pirate Bay’s founders and why the Pirate Bay can never be taken down. Do you guys think piracy is moral? Comment that down below.
Also, drop a comment if you’ve ever downloaded something you shouldn’t have.