Is Online Piracy Really A Crime?

We chat to founder about the law


Ed's Note:

This morning online piracy has been dealt a blow (major... minor... we're not yet sure) by the news that The Pirate Bay founders have been found guilty of ‘assisting in making copyright content available’ and sentenced to a year prison. (Pirate Bay Four Get A Year In Prison, TechRadar).

Last year, Total Film sat down with co-founder Peter Sunde and spoke to him about online piracy, copyright and the service they provide. Take a look below:


Theft isn’t a word used in the offices of The Pirate Bay.

“We’re not anti-copyright,” co-founder Peter Sunde told us. “We just don’t give a damn about it.

"We don’t want people to change the copyright laws. Copyright doesn’t work – that means we don’t have to care about whether we’re for or against it.”

Since The Pirate Bay doesn’t actually hold copies and acts as a vast indexing service, Sunde argues the site isn’t breaking the law.

“[It's] a digital library where you can share anything in digital form.

"Since there aren’t a set number of copies that you can loan to people, we’re creating a library with an endless amount of information.

"This must be good for humanity, otherwise why aren’t we all shutting down libraries?”

There’s a major flaw with that logic though. None of the creators have agreed to put their work into this “digital library”.



"They're not short-sighted. They just don't want to do it."

In Sunde's eyes though, Hollywood is simply afraid of the internet.

“They’re not short-sighted. They just don’t want to do it.

"They don’t want to change because they know how much money they make today but they don’t know how much money they might make in the future.

“If they provided a service where all new movies and all old ones were available online to download for a flat fee every month, they would make so much money and sell their inventory over and over.

"They have the technology to do it. They just don’t have the courage...” 

Sunde's views are reflected in recent history within the music industry. From Napster to Metallica’s lawsuits against its fans to iPods and iTunes, file-sharing changed how we consume albums.

The lessons learned were costly. CD sales slumped and labels folded. Yet the music industry thrives: ticket sales and downloads are up, whilst Prince now gives away his latest album. Music didn’t die, its business model just evolved.

It’s a viewpoint that begs the question: what would happen if users could download a legal copy of Superbad 2 on the day of its cinema release at a lower price than cinema admission?

“Yawn, yawn, yawn,” we were told by Geraldine Moloney, European spokeswoman for The Motion Picture Association (MPA).

“The industry has changed and is experimenting with new services. You can now buy a DVD in Tescos when you go in for a pint of milk or get movies delivered to your door by the postman.

"Legal downloads and streamings are now available from services like Lovefilm and Apple. If you’re saying the studios haven’t embraced
downloads, it’s worth pointing out that until recently the technology hasn’t existed to guarantee easy delivery.

"They need to know that the technology can delive what’s needed to meet consumer expectations. Let’s not forget that there are two healthy business models in theatrical releases and DVD." [page-break]


Theatrical is "the locomotive that drives the whole train"

Paramount Pictures International head honcho Andrew Cripps is adamant that theatrical releases need to be protected, not watered down by simultaneous downloads.

“The success of a movie is set up by how successful it is in its theatrical window. It’s the locomotive that drives the whole train – and DVD at the moment is still the major moneymaker."

“There’s been such a major change over the last year in terms of what you can download now. But is it simultaneous with the cinema release? No, it is not.”


Yet if the industry really is haemorrhaging revenue at the levels it claims, a radical rethink seems inevitable.

If the studios won’t change and there’s no sign of the pirates weighing anchor, there’s only one avenue left: remind these Knock-Off Nigels of the ethics of piracy.

Can it ever be right to take something created by someone else and share it or sell it without their consent?

Moloney from the MPA poses a sharp question: “Surely if something’s worth watching, it’s worth rewarding the people who made it?”

When all’s said and done, that’s what it ultimately comes down to.

WebComics courtesy of HiJinks Ensue and Wired

For more information on the laws of Copyright in the UK, look at


    • fishosaurus

      Dec 4th 2008, 17:56

      "Surely if something's worth watching, it's worth rewarding the people who made it?" WHAT A STUPID THING TO SAY. How do you know if its worth watching until you've seen it? Especially when alot of/most films now are RUBBISH and definately NOT worth rewarding the people who made it (or even worth paying to see).

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    • murphy

      Dec 5th 2008, 4:18

      have to agree with fishosaurus i've bought hundreds of dvds and some of them have been stinkers so these days i'd rather check out a copy first before adding a film to my collection and i don't go to the cinema very often unless it's a film i'm really looking forward to there's been nothing since the dark knight that i've been willing to pay to watch because it's pretty damn expensive at my local cinema

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    • murphy

      Dec 5th 2008, 4:20

      and some of the crappy films that have been out lately they should have been paying me to watch!

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    • chicks

      Dec 5th 2008, 10:32

      How do you know if anything is worth paying for until you've paid for it? You wouldn't expect to get to live in a house for a month before you rented it, or play on a console before you bought it. Why expect that for movies?

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    • murphy

      Dec 5th 2008, 15:20

      well you get to view a house before you decide to rent it and most electrical stores have games consoles set up so you can try them out in the shop before you buy one most people make sure they like something before they hand over the money so chicks do you just purchase things in blind faith?

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    • ashley.russell

      Apr 17th 2009, 14:48

      the fact is cinema is too expensive but I'd rather pay to watch something like Wolverine with all the effects on a giant screen then download a s****y unfinished version. I got more respect for film making than that. 7 or 8 quid for a ticket is rediculous though.

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    • spudmonkeysteve

      Apr 17th 2009, 14:52

      seriously Chicks, you can try most things before you buy them these days and you have the right to a refund if they are not suitable. The film industry is one of the few places where if you don't like what you saw you are not entitled to a refund so why shouldn't you be allowed to view it before you commit to owning it? Why is it any different than borrowing a dvd off a mate? I personally avoid downloading films because I don't like doing it but on the odd occasion where I have watched a downloaded film and it has been good I have recommended it to friends who have bought the DVD and in a lot of instances bought it myself as a result of liking the film. If filmmakers were confident in the quality of their output they would not need to worry about downloading because people would treat it as a preview and those that don't buy it would not have bought it anyway. Too much of Hollywoods output is based around the smash and grab Blockbuster mentality, whereby they get as many people to see it as possible before people start to realise how bad the film actually is.

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    • EthanRunt

      Apr 17th 2009, 14:53

      I've always felt guilty about watching some films online, so much so I go out of my way to buy copies of them, even if they are relative stinkers, Departed, looking at you. With Wolvierine I couldn't care less, summer film I wanted to watch turned into some awful soppy film about hugh making $20 million and the audience will suffer hell. And most of the films this year have been averaging around 4/10, not good at all, It's time we turned our back and let them reboot cinema, until then you can suffer the low quality online, or watch the classics at home on DVD.

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