We are currently living in a historical moment which will define and shape digital rights and information freedom on the internet for generations to come. It’s one of those rare moments where the issue is black and white and where the two opposing camps can be identified without over-simplifying the issue. On one side, there are those fighting for the information revolution’s culture of sharing, co-operation and the public commons. On the other side is a powerful, industry cartel who would stomp out the commons to salvage proprietary information that they can buy and own.
It’s for this reason that the global free and open source software community has been paying close attention to specific battles which could have significant ramifications within this overall conflict. Right now, one of those battles involves a website operated in Sweden called The Pirate Bay. The website’s founders Peter Sunde, Fredrik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm & Carl Lundström have recently been found guilty of criminally providing “assistance to copyright infringement.” They were sentenced to one year in prison and have been fined $3.62 million USD. Their website, like hundreds of thousands of other websites, provides a search interface for files available using the peer-to-peer BitTorrent protocol, designed by Bram Cohen of San Francisco, California in 2001.
The trial against The Pirate Bay has highlighted a number of important issues related to digital freedom. It has shined a light on the corruption between corporate lobbyists and the judicial systems that decide the public’s fate — just after the trial ended, the defense found out that the judge, Tomas Norström, is a board member for a Swedish association which has lobbied for stronger copyright laws and also belongs to a couple other copyright-oriented organizations. The defense has filed a request for a new trial based on the judge’s conflict of interest.