Child porn allegations: New tactic in fighting file sharing?

The Pirate Bay, a site accused of encouraging copyright violations, said Swedish authorities were preparing to accuse the site of distributing porn. Site operators suspect this was just the latest attempt to close them down.

There has always been plenty of bitterness between copyright holders and the file-sharing community, but some now contend hostilities have sunk to a new low.

Swedish authorities last week were preparing to shut down The Pirate Bay, according to Peter Sunde, one of the site's founders. Was the site facing closure for helping users find bootlegged music or video files, as the film and music industries have long alleged? No, The Pirate Bay was being accused of distributing child pornography, Sunde said.

The accusation was nothing more than a backdoor attempt to kill off The Pirate Bay since both Sweden and the United States have failed to close the site for allegedly violating copyright law, Sunde claimed in a phone interview with CNET News.com on Monday. Following a wave of media attention over the weekend, Sweden's government has apparently backed down. Sunde quoted from an e-mail sent by a government official that notified the site's operators they would not be accused of distributing porn.

"The government is angry at us because they can't shut us down," Sunde said. "Now they are trying to ruin our reputations."

Sunde called the allegations against the site "unsettling." He worries that the incident might signal a new willingness by the forces warring against copyright infringement to use smear tactics. Swedish authorities could not be reached for comment.

Regardless of whether Sweden was actually trying to close The Pirate Bay, the incident illustrates just how much the file-sharing community distrusts and fears the lobbying groups that represent the film and music industries. A torrent site can't be slow to load anymore without users suspecting Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) sabotage.

Some of the paranoia may be exacerbated by the entertainment industry's string of recent victories over file sharing.

TorrentSpy, a U.S.-based BitTorrent search engine is fighting a court order to turn over user information to the MPAA. The site's owners have indicated that they would cease operating in the U.S. rather than hand over the data. In what was seen by many as a capitulation to the MPAA, TorrentSpy and competitor IsoHunt both agreed last month to filter copyright material.

At the request of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the U.S. government's efforts to convince Russia to close AllofMP3.com, a music site that sold unprotected music files without the authorization of record labels, appears to have worked. The site went dark last week, although the operators have apparently reopened under a new name, according to reports.

Another factor is the allegation made by TorrentSpy in a lawsuit filed against the MPAA last year. TorrentSpy claims that the group hired a hacker to crack the company's servers and steal TorrentSpy's trade secrets. The MPAA has denied the accusation.

These are the kind of things that keeps file sharers and some site operators looking over their shoulders.

"I'm very concerned about the (child porn accusations)," Sunde said. "But I'm not frightened. People know this is only a tactic on their part to hurt us.

"I don't think it stops here," he added. "I think it's only going to be worse. We have a fight coming."

UPDATE

Reuters is reporting that Sweden's Justice Ministry proposed legislation on Monday that if passed would give copyright holders the right to demand that Internet Service Providers turn over names of suspected file sharers.

 

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