Torrents – Legal? Ethical?

Society & Philosophy 3 Comments

The order of the Swedish court to  fine (30 million SEK) the founders of Piratebay and further impose a one year jail term has come has a shock to many Internet users. Especially the peer to peer and torrent communities have started thinking. A question foremost on people’s mind is if the judgement is actually just and secondly the ethical implications of copyrighted material downloads.

Dealing with the first question  – it is first important to define the case. Piratebay was founded by piratebyran (a Swedish anti-copyright organisation) in Nov 2003.  The site allowed users to search, add and download bit torrent files (files operating under the bit torrent protocol). It performed the role of a tracker and indexer of these .torrent files.

Piratebay Logo

Piratebay Logo

Note: Although not dwelling too much on the technical aspects, it is critical that one must understand that a .torrent file is not the not a film or a song, rather its a collection of meta data which users activate using a bittorrent client and this leads to the download of the actual material.

The site generated income through external/3rd party donation/ funding also from advertising on the websites. On 31st May 2006, the Swedish police raided the piratebay offices in Stockholm. The site went down for 3 days and servers were confiscated. The charge was anti-copyright violations.

in January 2008, formal charges was framed against the founders of piratebay. The judgement for which has been delivered a few day back. According to the prosecution the accused aide in copyright violations. Piratebay is a home to a number of .torrent files which give access to copyrighted material like movies, music, software and games. But also there are many .torrent files which give access to non-copyrighted open source materials. The defence states that piratebay is  just a medium and it by itself has no copyrighted material on its servers. This is technically true as .torrent files is just meta data. And here starts the Legal gray area.

The site is doesn’t violate any copyrights and is not directly responsible for an individual choice of downloading a torrent which will give him access to copyrighted material it is legally on the right side. On the other hand copyright holders like production houses for movies etc. claim to loose a lot of money by people who use torrents to download copyrighted files. here the money lost is opportunistic loss . i.e for example a production house A makes a movie and n users see it on the theater/on dvd and m users see it without paying for it by downloading them. then the loss production house A projects assumes that all the m users who dont pay for the movie will have paid and watched the movie which is not entirely true. a person may watch a movie if its free but may not watch it if one needed to pay for it. Also some users may initially watch a movie free of cost and then if they like it may go to the theater to watch it again and thus paying for it.I

Taking the above into consideration, I think it can safely be stated that prosecutors case is defiantly weakened as (1) there no actual copyright violation (2) the loss is not definable.  However, as the accused are found to be guilty as aides of copyright violation, the charges hold true to a certain extent. Leaving that matter to rest for the moment. Let me dwell on the ethical aspects of it.

Utilising someones material without their consent certainly seems to be ethically wrong. The first to be blamed is the provider of such copyrighted data (the one who initially creates a .torrent file). The next comes the down-loader of the material, who knowing fully well that the he is participating in a copyright violation still downloads and the least ethically wrong of them (maybe not wrong at all) is the owner of sites like piratebay.

It seems like the copyright upholders are jailing the very last person they have to jail. And its a pity that an individual who is neither ethically nor legally obliged is put behind bars just because someone wants to stop something. I think the case is unjust in its decision and if the crackdown has to happen it has to happen on creators of illegal copies of copyrighted materials. Else production houses must see the positive effects of copyrighted material distribution on the Internet like its action as a strong marketing tool and use it to their advantage.

Please take the poll on the issue

3 Responses to “Torrents – Legal? Ethical?”

  1. Roderik Says:
    April 23rd, 2009 at 3:05 am

    Some thoughts: You name: “the provider of such copyrighted data (the one who initially creates a .torrent file)”. However, as you said, meta data is not copyrighted material and therefore the creator of a .torrent file is strictly not a supplier of copyrighted material. Furthermore, as an argument against the case you name (2) the loss is not definable. At least for me this is not a valid arguement. Law should imho in the first place do just instead of acting on a purely pragmatic basis. As if you can handle two cases in a different way just because its effects on society. It might be possible though, but I won’t favour it. If it is needed to act differently based on effect then that should firstly be defined in clear rules. And in this case rather be based on international law than national policies.

  2. Roderik Says:
    April 23rd, 2009 at 3:06 am

    Oh my goodness, add some right padding to the comments please.

  3. admin Says:
    April 25th, 2009 at 4:57 pm

    As to the first issue of the creator of .torrent file, I feel he should be held responsible for the making a file which enables others to download copyrighted material. Like for example A has a movie DVD, B rips it and C makes the .torrent file of the rip and N number of people download it through PB. Then I feel C is the most wrong of them as he is the one who gets the rip to the public B is wrong but he can defend saying that he ripped it for his personal use. Well I still feel that persons A, B, C act as an entity. Hope that sets the matter to rest

    As for the Undefinable loss. I dont think any law should take action before establishing there is an actual loss happening. Who knows torrents may be helping media companies make profits indirectly. Although this seems a bit too optimistic, I feel a in-depth statistical research which crunches out some numbers will help.

    And finally I completely agree with International Rules rather than national policy but to gain consensus on the international scale is an headache in itself.

    ah.. and coming on to the issue of css I hope you ike it better now…


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