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01 Jun 2009

As the legal battle over the Swedish file-sharing site The Pirate Bay rages on, so does the backlash.

The site’s four owner-operators were recently found guilty of helping to make copyrighted content available  online. The Swedish court sentenced them to a year in jail and set damages at 30 million Swedish krona  ($NZ6.2 million). The site, which is still operating, allows Internet users to search for material such as audio and video.

The companies which brought breach-ofcopyright charges – Warner Bros Entertainment, MGM Pictures,  Columbia Pictures Industries, 20th Century Fox Films, Sony BMG, Universal and EMI – had sought about $NZ25 million in damages.

The Pirate Bay claimed it was not breaching copyright because it was only assisting in searches for material,  and was not itself hosting any files.

An appeal is under way, but meanwhile, The Pirate Bay is rallying  support. Its Web site (thepiratebay.org) has a ‘legal’ page that encourages users to click links that send automated replies to threatening emails received by various copyright holders.

The Pirate Bay provides lists of locations of BitTorrent files – the means by which audio and video is shared  online. The site currently boasts: “0 torrents has[sic] been removed, and 0 torrents will ever be removed”.

While some online organisations have supported the court’s ruling (Facebook has blocked access to all Pirate  Bay links), others are reacting against new European copyright laws stemming from the Pirate Bay case.

Several Internet service providers in Sweden have vowed to stop logging users’ IP addresses in order to  preserve user privacy and anonymity. This follows new anti-piracy directives that allow copyright holders to  request the IP addresses of users from ISPs as part of investigations into alleged breaches of copyright. ISPs  say they are responding to the concerns of their customers.

The Pirate Bay has set up another site that encrypts the information of users, to get around similar European  Union regulations.

But something which has even wider implications for Internet privacy and freedom of  information has been going on in private for several years.

Negotiations on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) have been under way since 2007, and New  Zealand is among the participants.

“The goal of ACTA is to set a new, higher benchmark for intellectual property rights enforcement that  countries can join on a voluntary basis,” says a posting on the Ministry of Economic Development’s Web site.  “The discussions represent a cooperative effort by the governments to respond to the increase in globaltrade of counterfeit goods and pirated copyright protected works.”

It seems the parties to the talks have been debating severe criminal penalties (including prison) for copyright  infringement, information disclosure that could override local privacy laws, and liability for ISPs.

The negotiations have been held largely in secret at the insistence of the United States, on “national security”  grounds. After pressure from the European Parliament and Canada, a terse summary of the negotiations has  been released. Read it at tinyurl.com/qz6pky (Adobe Reader required). An analysis of ACTA’s implications is at tinyurl.com/d8rm9k and Wikileaks has more detail at tinyurl.com/5pgvvc