On the first of September, at the request of rights holders representing Norwegian branches of United States media companies, a district court in Oslo, Norway ordered Norwegian internet service providers to block access to large file sharing websites such as The Pirate Bay. The injunctions will last for five years, and will apply to any new domain names that the companies may move to.
If this story sounds old, that’s probably because these file sharing problems have been around since the early days of Napster. The Sweden-based Pirate Bay was founded in 2003 and has since been a popular target for lawsuits. The organization seems to be in a constant cycle of getting shut down, moving, and relaunching elsewhere, with a few arrests here and there. In May, a Stockholm district court ruled to have two of The Pirate Bay’s main domain names seized due to “assisting copyright infringement.”
The recent rulings do not worry Rick Falkvinge, founder of Sweden’s Pirate Party. His position is that the recent court rulings are “textbook censorship,” and that The Pirate Bay is merely a facilitator of communication between two consenting parties. He claims the internet service providers are only harming themselves by not fighting the rulings.
Many people like Falkvinge worry that restrictive copyright laws are threatening to turn the internet into a “one-way pipeline” rather than the peer-to-peer structure that they feel it was meant to be. Falkvinge confidently contends that the current victories are purely legal victories, and that The Pirate Bay will easily find a way around the problem. In the past it has been as easy as moving the website to a domain host in a different country that has less stringent copyright laws.
This brings up the issues arising out of the nonuniform structure of international copyright law, if such a thing actually existed. Works of authorship protected under United States copyright law do not enjoy the same protection in other countries unless the other country has an interest in acknowledging the copyright. If an illegal copy of an American-made movie is accessible through a server located in an area where the US has no jurisdiction, yet the server is accessible to Americans, it gets tricky to determine how exactly to stop such file sharing through legal means, and doing so usually makes internet rights advocates uncomfortable.
These issues, among a multitude of others, are under consideration in the Trans Pacific Partnership deal. A part of this deal is the potential agreement that several countries will adopt something either identical or close to the United States’s copyright structure and acknowledge copyrights issued by any of the signing countries as valid in the other signing countries. Many advocates of file sharing fear that this could negatively impact peer-to-peer networks globally, and cause internet service providers to block access to websites that are known for facilitating the exchange of copyrighted material. Do the recent Scandinavian court rulings against The Pirate Bay in some way foreshadow this possibility? Will we soon see an “international copyright?”
By Brian Unger