The Pirate Bay is one of the world’s largest file sharing sites, giving users access to movies, television shows, music albums, etc. It’s based in Sweden where there are less strict rules governing this kind of company (you can imagine that file sharing sites probably don’t operate in the US too much).
Next week, the website and the owner of the site Rick Falkvinge go on trial. He argues there is much more at stake than just the legality of his website.
On the one side, there is the public. Every human with access to the Internet has received fingertip round-the-clock access to all of humanity’s collective knowledge and culture. This is a fantastic leap ahead for mankind – much larger than when public libraries arrived 160 years ago, and comparable to how society changed with the arrival of the printing press.
On the other side, there are the current people in power, who would like to harness this power to build a surveillance machine – collecting information about regular Joes, and actively preventing the free exchange of ideas – that would make George Orwell look like a cheery, skipping optimist. Many powerful institutions are pulling in this direction.
The trial against the operators of The Pirate Bay, which starts next Monday, offers a glimpse into these two possible futures going head to head with each other. The trial is not about copyright infringement, it is about the power over knowledge and culture as such.
Hopefully, this won’t be a kangaroo court with conviction already in hand. Yes, The Pirate Bay does suffer from copyright infringement problems. But, that cat is already out. Shutting down Napster did little to prevent digital file sharing of music and shutting down The Pirate Bay will have the same affect. This is about having a government not interfering with our online activities or having ISPs provide service and not deciding who gets a faster connection based upon bandwidth usage. The outcome of this trial is important in that regard.
If you don’t think so, then you don’t realize that Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) just inserted a net neutrality-killing Trojan Horse into the latest economic stimulus bill.