Say what you want, but The Pirate Bay (TPB) is one of the most important websites on the Internet today. For some it is a source of entertainment. For some it represents a certain philosophy. For some it is an inspiration. And for some it is the scourge of the Internet, if not the world. As it celebrates its 10th anniversary in Stockholm, Sweden, where it was born, you would be hard-pressed to find a website which has been run for 10 years just by a bunch of geeks with computers despite attempts by some of the most powerful people, organisations and governments to shut it down.
In these 10 years the site has attracted hundreds of millions of visitors, at one time was responsible for generating 40 per cent of entire Internet’s traffic and is the top 95th website in the world officially; the rank could grow significantly if you count the number of people who visit it from proxy servers. You will also be hard-pressed to find a website whose founders have been jailed, which has been blocked in more countries than you can count and which after all the obstacles is going strong after 10 years and whose three-masted sailing ship logo has almost become an Internet legend.
Established by the Swedish anti-copyright initiative Piratbyrån, TPB offers torrent files and magnet links so users can exchange files using peer-to-peer file sharing protocols. In layman’s terms, it is an online forum for people to share pirated copies of movies, music, books, software and even porn. Organisations like the Motion Picture Association, companies like Microsoft and some of the biggest music labels have been fighting legally for years to remove the content from the website and allege that the site causes billions of dollars of revenue loss and costs jobs.
Some say TPB which even has a page that chronicles all the legal threats it has ever received and contains all the hilarious, sometimes rude responses it has provided, has come into existence in the first place because of the failings of the ‘established industry’—read the likes of Hollywood studios and music labels.
At the start of the century, when the Internet exploded and more and more youngsters were demanding content that can be easily available on the Internet, this established industry, populated by older generations who often had very rudimentary knowledge of how Internet works, failed to meet that demand. Through extortionate pricing models and by making it very difficult to get content onto digital devices, the industry has created a big hole that TPB filled nicely.
The result is: whole generations of Internet users who would rather download a movie from TPB rather than buy it on iTunes.
Ten years later even critics credit TPB with one thing. For waking up the established industry. If songs, movies and software are easily downloadable for comparatively fair prices on iTunes, and if the movie and music industries are engaging with audience with easy streaming services like Spotify and Netflix, most of the credit should be given to TPB. Also, TPB has been a role model for standing up to the establishment and has helped or inspired various information activists like Wikileaks and Anonymous.
In TPB’s history, the next 10 years could prove to be the most fascinating and to some extent the most terrifying.
With the coming 3D printing revolution, blue prints for printing or manufacturing objects will become the hottest commodities, more valuable than the likes of movies will ever be.
Some, like TPB co-founder Tobias Andersson, worry that by allowing the sharing of pirated copies of these blueprints, TPB could single-handedly jeopardise world economies. That is why Tobias talking to the BBC says, “The Pirate Bay should quit after its 10th birthday”.
The writer is a tech geek. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org