A great era on the internet is coming to a close. Yesterday Brokep of The Pirate Bay announced that they would be selling the site to a Swedish internet cafe chain, Global Gaming Factory X. The news echoes the final days of Napster (somewhat before my time), when it went legal and soon faded into insignificance. GGF say that they plan to make the site legal by finding a way to pay rights holders for the files downloaded by users.
Predictably, the decision has angered a great many of the users of the site. The Pirate Bay blog has been deluged with negative comments and there already seems to be a boycott movement forming. It seems to me that the rats are rapidly leaving this sinking ship.*
Of course this is hardly surprising. The Pirate Bay is supposedly one of the top 100 most visited sites on the 'net, and their rebellious, underdog attitude has won the crew untold millions of fans around the world. For them to suddenly sell out to a legitimate company is about the most shocking thing they could ever do.
The crew's reasons (at least the ones they talk about) are sound: They were unable to handle the sheer success of the site and the accompanying financial burden of running it. It is clear that the four were never interested in making money (whatever the prosecution would have you believe), and unfortunately it is probably this that led to their downfall. They say that the substantial fee from the sale of the site will be put towards the same kind of pro-internet campaigning that they are famous for. I for one am very interested to see what will happen now that they have some pretty serious money behind them.
Behind the scenes, it is likely that the pressure of the court case and other legal threats were also getting to be too much. It would be unfair to say that they've caved in to Hollywood's demands, more likely they are simply fed up of being constantly hunted. One can hardly blame them for wanting a break!
Now, the future of the site is very uncertain. I don't believe it will survive this change, certainly not in its current form. Like Napster eight years ago, It is doomed to fade into obscurity. Not that it will disappear, after all, legal Napster is technically still a successful business. But its time of influence has passed – in a nutshell, nobody cares.
Whatever its immediate fate, The Pirate Bay will go down in the history of the internet. I just hope that the new owners treat it and its remaining users well enough that it grows old gracefully, rather than crashing down in infamy. That would be an ignoble end to one of the most important places on the internet in recent times.
Whatever happens to TPB, life (and piracy) will go on. The beauty of the internet is that like a population of creatures, it evolves to overcome new challenges. Brokep hints at this in his recent Twitter interview, where he says that it is time for The Pirate Bay to evolve to ensure the survival of Bittorrent as a whole. The brutal fact about evolution is that in order for the species to improve, some individuals must die - The Pirate Bay was once the 'fittest' in the world, but times have changed seems that the time has come for a younger site to rise up and take the top spot.
The next year will be one of big change in the P2P world, but we'll all come out stronger for it. The Pirate Bay has had an inspiring run, but new protocols are appearing that are in many ways superior to Bittorrent, so I wouldn't be surprised to see some kind of leadership battle arising soon.
It is hard to see the end of The Pirate Bay as a positive thing, but in the long run, I think most of us will come to appreciate that it had to go, and this was the best way.
I'll be proud to say that "I was there" during the golden age of The Pirate Bay. I would also like to thank brokep, TiAMO, anakata and the rest of the crew for their awesome work over the life of The Pirate Bay, and wish them every success with their future campaigns. They are ordinary people who rose up to become some of the Internet's bravest defenders, and I don't believe that will change, even though they are leaving this particular project behind.
*The Pirate Bay invites the most wonderful nautical metaphors. Another reason I'll miss it!