By Daisy Whitney
The Pirate Bay, one of the world's biggest file-sharing Internet sites, was found guilty by a Swedish court of violating copyright law, giving the television industry a ray of hope in its effort to protect Web content, a key future revenue source.
The verdict in Stockholm Friday morning sentenced four men behind Pirates Bay to pay $3.6 million in damages to companies including Warner Brothers, Columbia, Twentieth Century Fox, Sony BMG and EMI.
"We are obviously very pleased with the court's decision, which is a clear acknowledgement of the importance of protecting intellectual property rights of creative works," said Darcy Antonellis, President, Warner Bros.Technical Operations.
The decision could buttress the foundations of the burgeoning digital distribution business and the investment that studios and networks have made in online content and delivery. The men found guilty also must serve jail time, though the site will not be shut down. The Pirate Bay does not host stolen programming, but links to it instead.
Studios and the Motion Picture Association of America applauded the ruling, but experts don't expect the verdict to stem the tide of TV piracy online. In fact, piracy of TV shows is growing faster on the Web than illegal sharing of movies and music is, said Eric Garland, CEO of Big Champagne, a media measurement firm that tracks piracy.
With more than 14 billion videos viewed online each month and countless more illegally shared across file-sharing sites, there are now more than 60 million Internet users worldwide actively engaged in piracy, he said.
Still, Hollywood embraced the Pirates Bay decision hours after it was issued.
“We welcome the court’s decision today because The Pirate Bay is a source of immense damage to the creative industries in Sweden and internationally," Dan Glickman, CEO and chairman of the MPAA said in a statement. "This is an important decision for rights-holders, underlining their right to have their creative works protected against illegal exploitation and to be fairly rewarded for their endeavors. This decision will help to support the continued investment in talent and in new online services.”
Winning a court battle doesn’t necessarily foretell winning the piracy war. The music industry was jubilant when Napster was shut down nearly a decade ago, but that did not stem the flow of pirated music, Mr. Garland said. The music business has suffered steep revenue declines since then.
"Everyone always gets excited and six months later we are back where we started and the problem will have grown," Mr. Garland said. "This will go on for a long time."
The basic fact of piracy is people who want to obtain content without paying for it will always find a way.
Typing in the name of a TV show with the word "torrent" will lead to many search results for sites that house network and cable programming illegally.