The Piratebay is the formerly very popular file sharing torrent service. I’ll be writing about it, specifically about the two raids that threatened to kill it, and about whether or not it has a future.
Before exploring the ways the Piratebay is connected to the circuit of culture, I am going to break down the history of the two raids that it went through.
The Piratebay is an infamous website founded in 2003 that we’ve all probably heard of, but rarely, if ever, used. As we talked about in class, accessing torrents can be risky, we can end up getting strikes against us and our internet services shut down.
Dozens of countries have ordered internet service providers to block The Piratebay’s IP addresses, making accessing the torrents more difficult, but in the end actually boosting the popularity of the site.
The special thing about the Piratebay is that it’s tiny. The website does not actually have any of the copyrighted content on it, instead it uses a modified Peer-2-Peer filesharing system, where users can ‘seed’ a torrent, and other users can download from that seed. So if multiple people are seeding the same movie, a user can download from these seeds and receive little bits of information from all of them. With this system of decentralized downloads, users had fast download speeds and the site itself did not have the content on it.
The Piratebay was raided for the first time in 2006, when 65 Swedish police raided a server room in Stockholm. There were arrests made and the site went down.
There was a massive public outcry to save the Piratebay including a very surprising political movement, the Pirate Party in Sweden, which advocated for the freedom of information and the reformation of copyright laws. Currently the pirate party has very few members and no representation in the Swedish government.
The Piratebay website was back up in 2 days, it seemed like a miracle, but the founders understood that the site needed to be adaptable, for the next several years, they would move their servers around, shutting some down and starting some up whenever necessary to keep the website up everywhere.
In 2012, the founders of Piratebay bragged that the site was now completely untouchable because they moved most of their functions to the cloud.
Two of the founders fled to Southeast Asia, where they lived for a few years before being found or deported. However, even after serving jail time, they never lost faith in the Piratebay as an idea, or gave up on keeping it alive.
Information about the piratebay, the raids, and the legal cases against them, are difficult to come by, it seems that no one was really able to catch them red handed doing really illegal things. All the resources I’ve come across are very vague with how the Piratebay has been able to avoid permanent shutdown and more severe legal consequences. It seems like while the website allows for the passage of illegally acquired material, by not hosting the files directly on the website, the Piratebay has avoided most legal backlash.
The idea That Piratebay was untouchable on the cloud was unfortunately incorrect, there were still servers functioning to run the website, and legal issues the website could run into. So the piratebay was raided and taken down a second time
In 2014, Sony Pictures Entertainment was hacked, This was around the time their movie ‘The Interview’ was coming out so some people suspected North Korean interference, but when some of the movies stolen in the hack ended up on Piratebay, another set of server rooms were raided in Stockholm, and the site was taken down for two whole months. Many users were concerned it would never come back, that this was the final nail in the coffin, with most of its founders in deep legal trouble or jail, The future of the website was uncertain. When it came back, it was not as strong as its 2006 comeback, users reportedly found download times to be worse, and there was no strong outcry to bring back The Piratebay like there had been in 2006.
Streaming services are a part of most peoples’ lives, especially in 2020 as life has been so disrupted by the Coronavirus pandemic. It is important to most people to have an easy way to consume the content they want. Piratebay was always a way to do that, but when Netflix announced they were starting an online streaming service in 2007, this began to change. The streaming industry began to grow, with other services that are now household names. The services can become a large expense for the average consumer, along with having to keep up with what program is on what service. Over time the market became oversaturated with streaming services, and consumers are becoming fed up. It seems are though streaming is no longer the easiest way to get all the content you want.
The Circuit of Culture and The Piratebay:
In regards to the circuit of culture, The Piratebay has an interesting relationship to every part of the circuit as it stands outside of the legal realm of internet production and consumption. The modern Piratebay is at a pivotal moment in its life. With the increasing costs of streaming services, and the general inability for consumers to easily access the content they want, Piratebay is again becoming an attractive option.
For The Piratebay, it doesn’t need to focus on its representation that much, it never has, because piracy has always been hushed on the internet. Almost everyone knows that some people pirate content, and the small but tightly-knit group of pirates are able to spread the site’s reach through word of mouth.
There is no such thing as bad press when it comes to an illegal but easy-to-use service. Every time the Piratebay pops up in the news, more people are exposed to it, so surprisingly a lot of the representation for the website comes from the very people trying to destroy it.
The idea of this community of pirates, spreading content, meshes well with the identity of The Piratebay. There is a strong sense of community among people who believe that copyright and intellectual property laws should be changed. These people work together, seeding torrents, downloading, sharing, whatever your moral opinion is on piracy you cannot deny that it has an incredibly supportive community.
The Piratebay further supports this trust by showing certain stats on their site. Users can see if a torrent is trusted or safe relatively easily. Community is a critical part of identity, and the Pirate Party in Sweden is the another example of both identity and representation, or perhaps how identity creates representation. Likeminded people literally formed a political party to voice their platform.
The production aspect of Piratebay is secondary in a lot of ways, the founders seem to have just hosted a site for users to do all of the contribution to the service. The site has to be run and maintained, but once again, the real pillars of the service are the community.
The lines between production and consumption are blurred with the users doing both. Seeding torrents is an act of charity in a way, a person has a copy of a file that they distribute to others on their own time.
Consumption is an aspect of Piratebay that seems fairly straightforward, but was threatened by the rise of streaming services. When Netflix launched its streaming service, many consumers believed that this would satisfy their need for easy-to-access content. Consumption of pirated content went down, paying for Netflix was normalized, and most people no longer felt the need to pirate. However, the rise of other streaming platforms, as mentioned before, began to oversaturate the market, alienating consumers who in general do not want to pay for several services to make sure they have all their content.
The topic of the raids on Piratebay delves pretty deeply into regulation. Torrenting content breaks many copyright and intellectual property laws, which the Piratebay founders have managed to mostly avoid by not personally distributing the content. At its core, the Piratebay is not regulated except by its community. As mentioned in the Identity section, trust is an important part of community, and Piratebay regulates itself by having users confirm that torrent seeds are trustworthy.
Outside regulation is always trying to stop the Piratebay, from internet providers blocking their ISPs to governments constantly looking for law violations. But the concept, the dream, of Piratebay is to be free from this regulation, to have a community that regulates itself.