On May 25th a lawyer of Pirate Bay co-founder Fredrik Neij told a Swedish newspaper his client seeks to appeal the recent Stockholm District Court ruling which granted the Swedish government control over the company’s domain names “piratebay.se” and “thepiratebay.se”. For those who do not know, The Pirate Bay facilitates the online sharing of data files, including music, books, movies and television shows — for free. Their legal team plans to argue that the domains should be seen as address details rather than instruments of crime. In the meantime The Pirate Bay can still be accessed through its new GS, LA, VG, AM, MN and GD domain names.
While lawyers and courts argue whether a web address should be seen as an accessory to a crime, the rest of us should be asking what crime? All that The Pirate Bay has done is facilitated a peaceful sharing of information among consenting parties. If anything we should thank them for putting the world’s creative content at our finger tips. This has improved the lives of countless people. For example many of us are now able to give a new album a full listen before deciding whether to contribute our money to the artist who made it. For those of us on a tight budget this is quite liberating. It also frees us to explore a wider array of genres and creators, at no additional cost to ourselves. When we are limited to sampling only what we can afford, or find at a local library, our horizon’s our greatly limited. Being able to freely discover new material at no cost allows one to pursue areas of interest with greater intensity.
This is not to say we should not compensate those who make great books, movies or music. I encourage those touched by a work downloaded from the internet to buy a copy as well, if they can afford to. This is a common practice among music listeners, as those who download from sites like The Pirate Bay spend up to 30% more on music than those who do not. Many musicians now have a “name your price feature” on their websites that allows fans to download a release and contribute any amount they choose. As more content is shared, creators reach more people who would never have paid for their work under the old system. Some will undoubtedly pay to see the creator perform live, recommend their work to friends and buy related merchandise as well as their future releases.
While we should thank The Pirate Bay for these positive benefits, we should also thank them for making the obsolete system of intellectual property rights even less enforceable. Patents and copyrights are government granted monopolies that exist only to restrict competition and increase the prices of products. Like other state interventions, they benefit elites at our expense. Copying is not theft and should not be treated as such. Furthermore, the producers of creative content are not entitled to money that was not consensually given to them. For digital content, we now live in the equivalent of a Star Trek style replicator economy. Rather than fight it, to keep obsolete business models running, we should embrace it and let new models more suited for a post scarcity economy develop.