Ages ago, unsavory characters would roam the Caribbean and other warm-water seas, plundering gold from unsuspecting vessels. These men would pillage, rape, and destroy anything in their paths. They were vicious, played by no rules, and were general a-holes to everybody else. They are nothing like what Hollywood, and the internet, display them as.
Over time, the pirates lost their free reign, and their ability to plunder the free world disappeared. The Spanish Armada took control of the Spanish Main and stopped the ragtag sailors. There were no safe ports, no hidden islands, and nowhere to run. The era of piracy was over, and ships filled with gold could sail the seas again.
But it was not over, only hidden, only delayed. With the birth of the internet, a new era in piracy began. Though these heathens considered themselves to be pure, unadulterated, and perfect, they were not. They thought that they were just sharing and opening the world, but they were stealing. The internet allowed these new pirates to share wares, songs, and files across continents. It was the golden era of piracy all over again, but much larger, and much more dangerous.
Out of this ware swapping, a site emerged, The Pirate Bay. The Pirate Bay promised to allow users to find rare games, share movies, and read e-books all over the place. It was to be a giant community of thieves, each one helping the next, and each one sticking it to The Man. Nobody would be harmed, they said, as only the big companies lost sales, and physical products were not being stolen. The Pirate Bay, along with similar file sharing companies, quickly became the standard form of piracy.
But people were harmed. Software piracy alone costs the industry more than $50 billion. It is estimated that Fox lost over $7 million when X-Men Origins: Wolverine was released on file-sharing networks. No matter how much anybody wants to argue, it is clear that piracy is not only harmful, it is dangerous. Just think of the tax money that governments lose through these millions of instances of illegal file sharing.
Just as in the golden days, modern-day piracy is highly illegal. Copying anybody's work, be it intellectual property or not, without permission or specific exemptions (fair use, most notably) is illegal – period. Various laws, both nationally and internationally, protect copyrighted and patented items. This is essential for both capitalism and progress. If there is no protection over what you invested time and money into, then why should you have invested it in the first place? Clearly, development relies on the protection of the developers' rights, and so the laws are crafted accordingly.
With the law behind them, the RIAA and other major property holders decided that it was time to launch a new Spanish Armada. Instead of ridding the world of drunken, syphilis-filled men, they were going to rid it of everybody who even touched a copyrighted work without permission. They started small, suing college kids and housewives. The new armada won battle after battle, and finally they were ready for the big dogs.
After sinking many legal defenses, the holders perused the larger ships. They went after big companies, like Napster, Pirate Bay, and Kazaa. One by one, the courts found that the sites were indeed liable for the content they provided, and that they needed to close down. Not a single court found that stealing was legal, and so the era of the pirates quickly faded.
After sinking the other big fleets of the era, there remained only one for the armada to go after – The Pirate Bay. Early in 2008, The Pirate Bay was sued. This was a huge deal, and many people were upset by it. Pirate Bay argued that they merely provided links between people, and therefore were not liable. The plaintiffs argued otherwise, stating that the primary purpose of Pirate Bay was to infringe copyright and therefore it was not exempted. The courts agreed and ordered the four founders to pay lots and lots of money.
Just as with Kazaa and Napster, the owners of Pirate Bay were unable to pay the fee. Thus, they decided (today, June 30th) to sell the site and make it 100% legitimate. For the selling price of a mere $7.8 million, a private company now has access to over 20 million users and is able to sell stuff to them – or, as I would do, sue them for breaking copyright.
With the Silicon Age of Piracy dying, college kids everywhere are crying. This is a big deal to them, and it forced them to – gasp – actually pay for their music. This attitude is something that I do not understand. I am happy that Pirate Bay was shut down. I am sick and tired of people just frolicking around, happily breaking thelaw. Seriously, for the most part, it is illegal to download copyrighted materials (in America) without permission, so why should we go and do it? Also, it is clearly bad for the economy and for progress. People need to wake up and smell the roses – stealing an idea is still stealing.