May 31, 2006, was remembered as the day the music died on The Pirate Bay. Suffering only a Phoenix’s death, by June 2nd, The Pirate Bay was back online. On June 15th, the “world’s largest BitTorrent tracker” was once again residing in its home country of Sweden.
While this was a significant event in BitTorrent history, it opened a Pandora’s Box in Swedish politics.
SVT.se, a respected Swedish news organization, first reported
that the MPAA and the US government pressured Swedish Minister of Justice Thomas Brodstrom to take enforcement action against The Pirate Bay. The news caused a firestorm of protest both literally and figuratively throughout Sweden.
Of primary concern was the weakness demonstrated by the Swedish government. Also of concern were reports that the US government threatened Sweden with trade sanctions. Both countries are members of the World Trade Organization (WTO), an entity that offers substantial trade benefits to member countries. A member country can impose trade sanctions against another for violationg specified rules of the WTO, including the failure to enforce global intellectual property rights.
Another serious concern for Swedes was the Justice Ministry's involvement with a specific criminal/civil case. Under the Swedish constitution, the government or ministry cannot become involved with a local police action or prosecution.
Yet The Pirate Bay, along with over 200 other domains, found itself unplugged from the Internet. So what happened behind the scenes?
On March 16, 2006, John G. Malcom, Executive Vice President and Director of Worldwide Anti-Piracy for the MPAA, addressed a letter to Swedish State Secretary Dan Eliasson. The letter articulates
the MPAA’s frustration, specifically that little progress has been made to eliminate The Pirate Bay problem.
“Clearly the complaints that we filed on behalf of our neighbors in 2004 and 2005 with the police in Stockholm and Gothenburg against the operators of The Pirate Bay have resulted in no action. As I am sure you are aware, the American Embassy has sent entreaties to the Swedish government urging it to take action against The Pirate Bay and other organizations operating within Sweden that facilitate copyright theft. As we discussed during our meeting, it is certainly not in Sweden's best interests to earn a reputation among other nations and trading partners as a place where utter lawlessness with respect to intellectual property is tolerated. I would urge you once again to exercise your influence to urge law enforcement authorities in Sweden to take much-needed action against The Pirate Bay. I would urge you once again to exercise your influence to urge law enforcement authorities in Sweden to take much-needed action against The Pirate Bay.”
State Secretary Dan Eliasson responded
to Mr. Malcom on April 10, 2006. He offered consolation by expressing some of the anti-piracy efforts the Swedish government has taken, but the underlining message remained constant. Swedish Ministries are forbidden to interfere with local police or persecution.
“According to the Swedish constitution, it is not possible for the Government of the ministry to intervene in a specific case. I can however assure you that I follow closely the action taken by the police and the prosecutors in respect of copyright infringements on the Internet and I will not, in necessary, hesitate to initiate further measures to improve their effectiveness.”
So what “further measures” were taken between March 16, 2006 and May 31, 2006? According to SVT, prosecutor Håkal Roswall met with high ranking Ministry of Justice officials who “prioritized” the case against The Pirate Bay. At the meeting, Mr. Roswall is informed what exactly is at stake if The Pirate Bay situation is not handled by June 15, 2006. Specifically, Sweden faces trade sanctions imposed by the United States if no action is taken. Although this type of purported back room negotiations would stir an endless tirade of denial, State Secretary Dan Eliasson readily admitted today on SVT.se
and their live broadcast that Sweden indeed was threatened with trade sanctions.
"I know that the USA has opinions on the effectiveness in our system when it comes to copyright and that if Sweden and other countries aren't following their international agreements there are sanction mechanisms in the USA, which have been pointed out from their side."
With the looming threat of trade sanctions, Mr. Rosewall executed the order to strike against 10 PRQ datacenters that host The Pirate Bay’s servers. Over 50 police personnel participate in the raid, who removed all hardware belonging to PRQ and their customers. Three Pirate Bay volunteers were detained, but released later that day.
While the raid against The Pirate Bay succeeded in temporarily shutting down the “world’s largest BitTorrent tracker”, it failed miserably in its overall mission. The Pirate Bay is back in Sweden, and considering the political and public backlash, there’s little the government can or will do to stop them.