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Piracy ruling is just the 1st shot

When Adam Hendricks wants an obscure film that isn’t available on Netflix, he isn’t exactly out of options.

The 26-year-old West Hollywood resident turns to one of the dozens of “torrent tracking” websites that index and make searchable the hundreds of millions of files -- some legal, most not -- distributed on the Web via the BitTorrent file transfer technology.

“It’s really easy,” he said, listing a number of popular sites. “I use isoHunt first and Pirate Bay sometimes. There used to be Mininova and before that was suprNova. It seems like there’s always a new one.”

There may just be an opening for a new one after Friday, when a Swedish court gave four of the men behind Pirate Bay a one-year prison sentence and awarded $3.6 million in damages to major studios and record labels, including Fox, Warner Bros. and EMI.

Peter Sunde, Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, Fredrik Neij and Carl Lundstrom were convicted of facilitating copyright violations for their role in setting up and bankrolling the massively popular Pirate Bay. According to Internet traffic monitor Alexa.com, it’s the 76th most-visited website in the United States.

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But an equally important reason that the Pirate Bay was such a juicy target for the studios and labels that encouraged and assisted Swedish authorities in their prosecution is because its operators have been vocal critics of copyright laws. On their website and in public statements, they have aggressively mocked big media companies and rallied many active downloaders to their cause.

“They were probably the most blatant organizers of Internet piracy in the world,” said Thomas Dillon, who serves as anti-piracy counsel for the Motion Picture Assn. in Europe.

Hollywood’s campaign against them has taken more than four years, with the first complaint filed by studios in late 2004. By 2006, they finally persuaded Swedish authorities to conduct a raid on Pirate Bay’s servers, which shut down the site for just two days. The four operators weren’t indicted until January 2008.

But it remains to be seen what, if any, effect their conviction has on the piracy problem. Just as the closure of Napster in 2001 served as a prelude to rapid growth in piracy, most experts think new options for downloading music, TV and movies via BitTorrent and other technologies will continue to expand.

In fact it’s not even clear yet whether the Pirate Bay site will shut down. As of Friday, it was still operating, and since the 2006 raid many of its servers are stored outside Sweden.

In an insouciant online news conference held soon after the conviction, Sunde dismissed the verdict as “bizarre” and “stupid.”

“There’s a lot of things in the ruling that [are] faulty, and a lot of things which, you know, they decided just to not listen to us at all,” he said while answering questions submitted by Twitter users.

The four men were ordered to pay damages ranging from $54,000 to Sony Music Entertainment to $1.3 million to Fox.

But during the news conference, Sunde scoffed at the idea of handing over a cent.

“That’s the closest they’re going to get to any money from us,” he said, holding up a piece of paper in front of the camera with the handwritten words “I OWE U 31,000,000,” referring to the judgment in Swedish kroners.

Nonetheless, Dillon said that the studios were hoping Friday’s convictions would serve an educational purpose for people such as Hendricks who engage in casual downloading and be a deterrent for those thinking about starting the next Pirate Bay.

“Nobody’s stupid enough to think one victory like this can end the problem,” he said. “But because Pirate Bay made themselves the standard-bearer for their cause, this defeat is a very good thing for anybody who cares about piracy.”

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benfritz@yahoo.com

henry.chu@latimes.com

Fritz reported from Los Angeles. Chu reported from London.


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