Exchanging E-mails With a Pirate

The Pirate Bay (TPB), one of the world's biggest torrent tracker sites, found itself embroiled in controversy last month, when a link to a torrent containing photographs of a grisly child murder in Sweden appeared on the site.

A torrent is a small file that contains information about another file, such as a movie, distributed using the BitTorrent peer-to-peer protocol. The torrent itself doesn't contain the movie, but acts as a marker of sorts, pointing computers to the actual file.

The torrent of the photographs, which were released by a Swedish court presiding over the case, was not posted online by TPB or its founders, but the site nevertheless found itself at the center of a discussion on the limits of free speech on the Internet, and to what extent Web sites should be held responsible for content posted by users.

The controversy was different from that normally faced by TPB, which has made enemies of the music and movie industries, as well as the U.S. government, over allegations its activities violate copyright law -- charges the site denies, citing differences between U.S. and Swedish law.

TPB's view on the pictures was that anger over their release should be directed towards the court that made them public, rather than TPB. The site refused calls to take down the torrent, citing its general commitment to not censor or remove any files posted to the site, regardless of the circumstances.

The controversy came to a head when Peter "brokep" Sunde, one of the founders of TPB, was invited to appear on a Swedish television show for an interview, under an agreement that the father of the murdered children would not be present. According to Sunde, the television station broke the agreement and surprised him by inviting the father to participate in the show with him.

That experience led TPB to declare an end to all contact with the press. "All future interviews are to be considered impossible. We have no longer any interest in participating in traditional media since it's apparent that they are not trustworthy," TPB announced on its blog on Sept. 12.

Sunde and Fredrik "TiAMO" Neij, another TPB founder, will speak at the upcoming Hack In The Box (HITB) security conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, later this month. Their keynote presentation is called "How to dismantle a billion dollar industry -- as a hobby."

Despite the announced ban on press contact, Sunde agreed to an e-mail interview ahead of the presentation. What follows is an edited version of that exchange.

IDGNS: What can we expect to see in your presentation at HITB? Why did you decide to present at the conference this year? How did that happen?

Peter Sunde: The presentation will probably be a mixture of a tech presentation, some pirate humor and a story about the power of Internet. We usually hold seminars for politicians, so it's going to be very much more interesting doing it in front of people that understand the technology. We will talk about how and why we do what we do! We got in contact with some guys from Hack In The Box who are really good at what they do and they invited us to come over. Going to Asia is never a boring thing so we went for it!

IDGNS: The recent situation in Sweden involving the pictures from the police case and the interview on Swedish television was obviously an emotional experience. The Pirate Bay has said it believes in free speech without restrictions. At a personal level, did this experience cause you to reconsider your stance on this issue?

Sunde: No, we are very sure of what we do. One of the most impressive things for me about TPB when looking back is our consistency towards our goals and ideals. We've always been true to them, even when the winds have been blowing against us rather than with us. And in the end, that's what makes us what we are -- we're honest and have a good ideology behind us. Compare us to our opponents and see what you get -- hint, it's not honesty and ideals.

IDGNS: In an ideal world, do you think copyright should exist? If it should, what do you think is the ideal way to structure copyright laws? What restrictions should be put on consumers, and what rights should copyright owners have?

Sunde: The copyright issue is quite complex -- more complex than just writing an e-mail. But I do see things that can work in a copyright, but for commercial aspects. It's very important to not infringe on personal life due to copyright. Creative Commons and other licenses are a better way than today's copyright laws. However, I do feel that Creative Commons is not reaching far enough.

IDGNS: What do you think is the current state of copyright law and Internet censorship, globally? Are we moving forwards? Backwards? What forces are driving these changes?

Sunde: I think that the people are definitely moving forward. The media industry is fighting, lobbying and bribing their way through the system, which is a really bad thing, both for us and them. In the end, it will show that they are only in this for money and nothing else. What a surprise! It's not good for business.

IDGNS: Can you tell me something about the recent move in Italy to block access to TPB's site? What really happened leading up to when the judge overturned the decision by a lower court to block the site, and what was the ultimate impact from your perspective?

Sunde: IFPI [International Federation of the Phonographic Industry] in Italy -- called FIMA, I think -- decided to sue us personally in a country where we do not live or have any connection. That in itself is not a valid thing in Europe, but the judge however decided to let them do it and to let them win. It was quite crazy. We found some really good lawyers afterwards that helped us with the case and we won it quite easily in the higher level of court.

FIMA had a major setback by that, when even the European Union had rules saying that an EU country is not allowed to block access to a system in another country like that. For some stupid reason they refuse to listen to the judge and the laws (the typical IFPI approach) and have now decided to appeal to the supreme court. It's no chance for them to win but they are losing face if they don't appeal. The interesting part is that we have never done anything illegal, not according to Swedish nor European Union laws. Our opponents have broken hundreds of laws in order to get to us.

IDGNS: What is the latest on The Pirate Bay's other projects, like BayWords and the streaming-video service?

Sunde: Oh yes, we have some projects coming out. A problem is that we're only two to three people in the gang and some are more active than others, so the projects tend to take some time to finish. But we have two very exciting projects that we're working on and we hope to maybe talk more about them at Hack In The Box.

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