Shared responsibility


The significance of the Pirate Bay’s trial goes far beyond the intellectual property law. Here, on Russian soil, similar processes take off and similar issues are being considered, yet from a somewhat different angle.

A year ago a district court in Stockholm, Sweden, found four owners of The Pirate Bay - an Internet portal which offers thousands of movies, TV shows, or tracks of music for download – of helping to illegally distribute copyrighted material.

The case, praised by intellectual rights lobbyists and lambasted by the Web crowd, brought to light serous legal problems lying at the heart of today’s Internet and may challenge the way we see its future.

The defendants, who have cultivated an image of rebellious outsiders, argued that they were acting legally. The Pirate Bay, they said, does not host copyrighted files but links to pieces of material - known as torrents - hosted elsewhere on the Internet. As such, it does not infringe copyright and the portal is, essentially, no different from Google. It is the users who share material and break the law. And they, not the site owners, should have been punished.

The argument was partially successful and the prosecutors had to drop some of the charges: as a result, the Swedish quartet was found guilty not of stealing, but of helping others to do so.

The verdict, therefore, hinges on the principle of accessory to crime, so that ‘responsibility for assistance can involve someone who has only insignificantly assisted in the principal crime’. From the common sense perspective, the verdict is right and ludicrous at the same time: the one who committed the crime walks free - and probably never will be prosecuted - while those who helped go to jail.

So, who should be targeted: those who share files or those who help the partners in crime find one another?

In February Russian law enforcement agencies expressed interest in a domestic file-sharing service RU-Centre, a national domain registrar, at their request discontinued the domain delegation.