Today, popular BitTorrent index BTjunkie shut itself down to preempt legal action of the type experienced by the Pirate Bay, Megaupload and others. The seven-year-old site may not have been squashed directly by authorities, but it is nonetheless good news for the RIAA, MPPA and other opponents of online piracy.
The voluntary shutdown of BTjunkie isn't going to single-handedly change the file-sharing landscape, but it's symbolic of a larger trend in the ongoing war over digital piracy. The copyright lobby has scored several big victories lately, most notably the seizure of Megaupload by federal authorities on January 19. Since that day, the aftershocks have been felt across the Web, BTjunkie's closure being only the latest example.
Separately, the Swedish Supreme Court recently upheld the sentences of three Pirate Bay cofounders who were convicted of copyright infringement in 2009.
Battling Piracy in a Post SOPA-World
Apparently by pure coincidence, the Megaupload shutdown came one day after large-scale online protests against SOPA and PIPA, the proposed anti-piracy legislation. The timing of the crackdown raised a few eyebrows, as well as questions about why SOPA would have been necessary in the first place.
SOPA and PIPA may be shelved for the time being, but the war between the content industry and the parts of the Internet that they perceive to encourage copyright infringement is far from over. The next battle may be legislative, or it may rely on civil or criminal law. In some cases, the aftershocks of previous strikes will be enough to shake other perceived enemies from their positions, as happened in the cases of BTjunkie and FileSonic.
The counterstrikes in these battles have come in occasionally dramatic flavors such as the DDoS attacks from Anonymous that followed the Megaupload shutdown. More subtle - and far more powerful - is the mass migration of users from one service to another as authorities engage in what appears to be one giant game of Internet whack-a-mole.
There have been recent successes, but the very nature and structure of the Internet raises questions about the longterm effectiveness of this approach. As we saw with SOPA, any attempt to tinker with that structure will be met with fierce resistance.
Photo by Mike Baird.