10 years after Napster, online pirates alive and well

Illegally traded music is still with us in big way.

ByABC News
June 23, 2009, 9:46 PM

— -- A file-sharing fine against a Minnesota woman that mushroomed from $220,000 to nearly $2 million last week is just the latest evidence that illegally trading music and videos online is still with us in a big way.

In the spring, while pirates off the coast of Somalia were getting all the high-seas attention, four Swedish pirates of a totally different sort were being sentenced to pay more than $3 million in fines and serve a year in the brig. Their crime: running The Pirate Bay, one of the Web's most-visited file-sharing communities.

The Pirate Bay is part of the trend of peer-to-peer technologies used to illegally swap music, videos and applications. Public sites such as Pirate Bay, IsoHunt and Mininova index and track BitTorrent files, which allow computers to connect and download content. People go to these sites to search for and grab music or videos.

Private "torrent" communities, such as PassThePopcorn.org, What.cd and Waffles.fm are so popular that there are many websites devoted solely to gaining entry to these cyberguilds. What.cd, for instance, has more than 96,000 registered users.

The legal ramifications of peer-to-peer file-sharing are still being worked out, but copyright infringement is a crime. Anyone who widely distributes copyrighted material runs a risk of being fined or worse. Part of the appeal of peer-to-peer file-sharing is that it is difficult to shut down because pirated files are never kept on a single server that can easily be targeted by law enforcement.

Websites such as The Pirate Bay argue that they don't actually take part in the transfer of illegal content, they simply help users who are looking for the same files get connected.

File-sharing clubs

While The Pirate Bay and other public sites get the most news coverage, the momentum now is toward the private torrent communities: Websites that are accessible by invitation only, have strict rules about sharing and etiquette and usually focus on a single type of pirated content, such as music or films.