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The Pirate Bay in Legal Hot Water

The Pirate Bay in Legal Hot Water
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Feb 5, 2008 11:00 AM PST    Text size: 
STOCKHOLM — The founders of popular file-sharing torrent website The Pirate Bay, have been charged by Swedish prosecutors with conspiracy to break copyright law.

Launched in 2004, The Pirate Bay boasts roughly 2.5 million registered users and nearly 10 million file-sharing peers, that use the site to share close to a million, often-copyrighted music tracks and videos.

The Pirate Bay has so-far successfully skirted legal issues over copyright violation by not actually hosting the material, but merely providing a searchable directory of torrents hosted by individual users that are available for download by other users.

While many copyright holders have expressed their displeasure to The Pirate Bay, the site typically ridicules them and publicly posts their threatening letters; regaling in their defiance of legal teams the world over.

Now, alleged owners Hans Fredrik Neij, Per Svartholm Warg, Peter Kolmisoppi and Carl Lundstroem have been charged by Haakan Roswall, a senior public prosecutor, with "promoting other people's infringements of copyright laws."

The charges are the result of pressure from companies such as 20th Century Fox, Columbia Pictures, MGM, Sony BMG and Warner and come in relation to 20 music files, including The Beatles' "Let It Be," nine videos, including "Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire," and four computer games, including "World of Warcraft - Invasion" which Pirate Bay users allegedly have been trading.

The Pirate Bay has been repeatedly closed by law enforcement, including a much-publicized raid in 2006 when its computers were seized, but attempts to permanently close the site have been unsuccessful to date. Indeed, the raids appear to have increased the site's popularity.

If found guilty, the men could face up to two years in prison and be forced to pay damages of 1.2 million Kronor (about $250,000), which is the minimum amount that the men profited from the site and its illegal activity, according to prosecutors.

While The Pirate Bay's owners claim that they do not make a profit from the site and re-invest all ad revenues into paying for the site's expenses, some observers disagree.

"The operators of The Pirate Bay have always been interested in making money, not music," John Kennedy, chairman and chief executive of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industries, said. "The Pirate Bay has managed to make Sweden, normally the most law abiding of EU countries, look like a piracy haven with intellectual property laws on a par with Russia."

"It is very satisfactory that the prosecutor shares our opinion that Pirate Bay's activities are illegal," Ludvig Werner, head of Ifpi, a Swedish recording industry trade association, said. "Sweden has received a reputation as a sanctuary for Internet pirates and that is not flattering."

The site's operators have stated that they will simply move the site's servers to a different jurisdiction in order to stay ahead of the law.

"We're not doing anything illegal," Peter Sunde, a spokesman for The Pirate Bay, said. "In case we lose the pending trial there will still not be any changes to the site. The Pirate Bay will keep operating just as always. We've been here for years and we will be here many more."

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