[As 2023 winds down, 5 Mag is looking over some stories that deserved more attention this year and which will likely be pivotal stories in 2024.]
With the reanimated corpse of Napster dressed in second-hand suits and compelled to hawk NFTs, the record industry’s second most hated platform from the turbulent days of the early internet is also marking a milestone.
The Pirate Bay debuted on September 15, 2003. Few in the music industry celebrated its 20th birthday. Unlike many of its peers from the first waves of internet file sharing platforms, The Pirate Bay is still alive and kicking.
Founded by Peter Sunde, Fredrik Neij and Gottfrid Svartholm and funded by Swedish right-wing financier Carl Lundström, The Pirate Bay used a then-novel technology called BitTorrent. Unlike previous file sharing protocols, BitTorrent enabled users to download files from parts saved on a network of computers in a decentralized manner. The Pirate Bay provides an indexed, searchable database of small text files called “torrents” with metadata about files uploaded using BitTorrent. (Rainberry, the company that maintained BitTorrent software, has also been pimped out to crypto jagoffs of late, and is currently being sued by the SEC for fraud in their sale of “BitTorrent tokens.”)
Today it’s no longer clear who actually runs the pirate bay. One of the founders has suggested it would really be better for everyone if it vanished from the internet altogether.
Despite the resilience of The Pirate Bay itself, its founders are among the few notorious pirates of the era to serve time in jail for acts related to copyright infringement, sentenced to short jail terms in the mid-2010s.
Today it’s no longer clear who actually runs The Pirate Bay. Sunde, the most loquacious of the founders, has suggested it would be better for it to go defunct altogether. Nearly a decade ago Sunde was lamenting the copious ads on the site — that “somehow when it felt unimaginable to make these ads more distasteful, they somehow ended up even worse.”
It’s easy to see why one might not feel much pride over what The Pirate Bay has become. The site’s admins, whoever they are, have been installing scripts that use visitors’ computers to mine cryptocurrency, which the site then banks and, presumably, sells for a profit. The operators also launched — wait for it — their own crypto token, which quickly became valueless. Apparently nobody really wants to put real money into a site dedicated to downloading content for free.
The site also became a leading vector for the dissemination of malware and trojans through infected applications, to the point that the admins blocked new user registrations for nearly four years.
To the general population (and to a new generation that grew up with Spotify and Netflix) nothing would seem more irrelevant than internet piracy in 2023. Yet the music and film industries still have their eyes on The Pirate Bay. Many ISPs and several whole countries block the site; visiting without an adblocker is probably suicidal and downloading copyright material without a credible VPN will often get a stern letter from your internet provider.
One by one the survivors of the file sharing wars are throwing in the towel, unable to compete with industry’s own legal version of “free.” Somehow the Pirate Bay keeps lumbering on, still hostile to the guardians of the industry but increasingly hostile to their own users as well.