Swedish police are expected to decide later this week whether a criminal case is warranted against 10 major music and movie companies over their alleged efforts to disrupt the Pirate Bay, one of the largest file-sharing search engines.
If Swedish police decide to pursue a criminal complaint, the Pirate Bay will be spared the time and expense of pursuing its own civil suit against the companies, Peter Sunde, one of a small circle of volunteers in Sweden that runs the Web site, said on Tuesday.
The Pirate Bay, with an estimated two million daily users, is a search engine for torrents, or small files used to trade content between computers via a peer-to-peer (P-to-P) network. Media companies say the site is used mainly to enable the illegal trading of copyright files and have sought its closure.
But the Pirate Bay struck back last Friday, filing a criminal complaint in Sweden against content companies that hired MediaDefender Inc., a company that specializes in disrupting P-to-P networks. The Pirate Bay alleges that MediaDefender attacked its operations by distributing fake torrent files and other methods.
It is charging the media companies, which include the Swedish subsidiaries of Twentieth Century Fox, Universal Pictures and Sony BMG Music Entertainment, with infrastructural sabotage, denial of service attacks and other hacking and spamming offenses, according to its blog.
The complaint followed the damaging release of thousands of internal MediaDefender e-mails, which described in part how the company tries to foil file-sharing services. MediaDefender uses a software program that sets up fake user accounts and then distributes fake torrent files, which are designed to reduce the volume of copyright files being traded, Sunde said. The source code for that software, as well as the internal e-mails, are now being widely circulating on file-sharing networks.
The software can read "captchas," the strings of distorted numbers and letters designed to ensure that real people are using a Web site rather than an automated program.
The Pirate Bay says it matched IP (Internet protocol) addresses for some of the fake torrents to some of the internal e-mails, providing compelling evidence that MediaDefender was sending out fake torrents, according to Sunde.
The Pirate Bay blacklists IP addresses associated with fake torrents and also shares those lists with other torrent search engines, Sunde said. "We are very proactive when it comes to spam handling, but it's still a problem when they [MediaDefender] do it," he said.
Despite complaints from media and content companies, the Pirate Bay has continued to operate in Sweden. In May 2006, Swedish police seized at least 25 servers after a raid on five locations, but have yet to file charges. Swedish prosecutors have until Oct. 1 to file a criminal case, but Sunde said he expects the government attorneys to file for an extension.
Sunde maintains that the Pirate Bay is just a search engine and doesn't actually store any files, merely directing users to where files are located. "We are quite sure the Pirate Bay is legal in Sweden," said Sunde, who is based in Malmo, in the south of Sweden, and also runs a Web site consulting business.
As a precaution against future police action, Sunde said he knows the location of only one of the 40 or so servers currently powering the Pirate Bay. Some of those servers are now in countries outside of Sweden, he said.