A Showdown in Sweden Between Pirates and Police

By Frank Ahrens
Sunday, June 4, 2006

It looks like there's a war brewing between Internet movie and music pirates and authorities in Sweden, of all places.

Last week, the Motion Picture Association of America -- the trade group of the major Hollywood movie studios -- announced that Swedish authorities had shut down Pirate Bay, http://thepiratebay.org/ , one of the largest BitTorrent trackers on the Web.

Translation: That makes it one of the Web's most popular places to share files or -- in the view of the entertainment industry -- steal movies and music. It's based in Sweden but anyone, anywhere with an Internet connection can use it.

Unlike the original Napster -- which was shut down by the U.S. government for copyright infringement in 2001 and stored digital files in a central location-- BitTorrent is a peer-to-peer (P2P) system, meaning files reside on the computer hard drives of all of its users, making it harder to shut down.

The studios have seen digital copies of their new releases available for free download almost as soon as they are released in theaters. To combat a threat to their business, studios are hunting for worldwide pirates, doing their own investigations and urging local authorities to conduct raids. Strategically, they have begun releasing blockbusters on the same day around the world, to prevent pirate copies from one country flowing to others where the movie has yet to open. The rise of slippery P2P services has made the job harder.

But one place where P2P services are vulnerable is at their servers, and on Wednesday, the Swedish National Police seized Pirate Bay's servers on charges of copyright violation.

The site immediately posted a defiant, if somewhat optimistic, message, saying, "Site down -- will be up and fully functional in a day or two."

Maybe the site's administrators are gearing up for a move to another country such as Russia, which is considered the second-biggest source of pirated music, film and software in the world after China. The country's turn-the-other-cheek attitude toward piracy was in the news last week for not shutting down http://www.allofmp3.com/ , a site that allows visitors to download albums for less than $1.

But first, could they have maybe plotted a payback?

It appears the Swedish cops' Web site was shut down on Thursday when it was overwhelmed with a flood of traffic sent from an unknown origin. The Swedes did not rule out the likelihood of a return volley from Pirate Bay.

"It is quite possible, but that is only speculation," police spokesman Lars Lindahl told the AP yesterday, saying a criminal probe is underway.

Some P2P advocates call the big movie and music companies evil price gougers who are trying to stop the free flow of information and standing on the wrong side of history. And the entertainment industry has been slow to embrace the massive distribution and promotional capabilities of P2P networks.

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