If justice prevails, The Pirate Bay will sink. The four men on trial in Sweden for running the site, which makes money by enabling Internet piracy, should be found guilty of making copyrighted material easily available to those who wish to download it. This should happen despite Tuesdayâ€™s setback, when the prosecutor in the case was forced to drop a second charge alleging that Pirate Bay assisted in copyright infringement as well.
No, Iâ€™m not a card-carrying member of the RIAA, nor am I a fan of the recording industryâ€™s past strong-arm tactics to fight piracy, including last yearâ€™s RIAA lawsuit when a Minnesota woman was found guilty of copyright infringement for sharing a measly 24 files on Kazaa. (The judge later vacated the verdict and granted the defendant a new trial.) And Iâ€™m aware that even if Pirate Bay is shut down, illegal file sharing will not go away.
The Pirate Bay makes its living off piracy, and thatâ€™s bad. It allows millions of Internet users to steal music, movies, games, and so on. A January 2009 report by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry claims that 95 percent of online music downloads are illegal. While that figure sounds suspiciously high, thereâ€™s no doubt that online piracy is rampant. (Critics dispute the study and counter than just 10 percent of illegal downloads result in a loss of sales.)
Only two groups truly believe Pirate Bay and its ilk are on the up and up: The loony, all-content-must-be-free crowd, and copyright violators hoping to apply a dubious, Robin Hoodesque moral code to their own particular brand of thievery.
On the plus side, Iâ€™m actually glad that Pirate Bay has been around to stir up trouble. Its looming shadow has led to positive developments over the past year, as media conglomerates realized that they needed to find creative ways to fight piracy. Three examples come to mind:
* Music industry drops DRM -- finally. Apple announced in January that the iTunes Store would offer songs without copy protection, thereby cementing a DRM-free trend that music labels had started earlier at iTunes competitors including Amazon, Napster, and Rhapsody. Would this have happened if the industry hadnâ€™t felt the need to fight the pirates?
* The movie industry is easing up too. Macworldâ€™s Christopher Breen states it very well in his article on DVDs and DRM:
The movie companies are starting to get it. Studios issue select DVDs that contain digital copies of the movie along with the traditional burned-to-DVD copy. With that digital copy you unravel the bond to the DVD player, as you now have an additional copy that plays on portable media players such as the iPod and iPhone, on a set-top box like the Apple TV, and on your computer.
* Finally, there are easy ways to share music without winding up in court. Music-sharing sites such as Last.FM and Lala.com are two good examples of how to do it legally.