British Blockade Pirates

March 3, 2012

A British court has ruled that The Pirate Bay has violated copyright rules, an action that may result in British ISPs receiving a court order to block their customers from being able to access that site. This was an action supported by the British version of the American RIAA, the British Phonographic Industry (BPI). A High Court justice agreed with the industry group that the site encourages users to violate copyrights, but the final decision-and potential court-ordered shut down-may not come until June of this year.

The Pirate Bay bills itself as the “World’s Most Resilient Torrent Site”. The site clams to have over 4 million torrents available in its database, providing sections that offer access to movies, television, music, and so forth. Not surprisingly, this has caught the attention of the entertainment industry, who typically use the Pirate Bay as an example of the worst Internet piracy has to offer. The site’s logo is a large sailing ship with an audio cassette and crossbones logo.

The British case shows that control over the Internet by the government and corporations is being debated, even in nations that describe themselves as free. This has created a situation where users have sought out various means of protecting their anonymity online. ISPs in the United States have voluntarily choked user bandwidth and taken other actions based on the users participating on sites such as the Pirate Bay in the past. Industry claims that the sites do real economic harm to them-a claim that the British judge agreed with-and that limiting access to them is the only way to prevent the theft. Free speech and human rights advocates point out that most Internet file sharing is legal and that restricting speech is not justifiable to protect an industry’s profits.

There have been several different laws debated and sometimes enacted to permit the judges and the courts of various nations to block access to the Internet selectively and based on entertainment industry complaints of copyright violations. The issue continues to be one that is being fought over on many different fronts, including street protests, Internet blackouts and even targeted hacks against industry groups and the government agencies that enforce copyright law. This has created a situation that has gotten more and more intense as advocates on both sides attempt to either restrict or employ the force of government as a way to regulate Internet access.

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