Set to launch tomorrow, if the homepage can be believed, IPREDator is a new virtual private networking service (VPN) created by those behind The Pirate Bay. And if you don’t know what The Pirate Bay is, well, you must be new to the Internet. (Welcome, it’s crazy here.)

With IPREDator’s VPN, you can stay anonymous on the net. Your internet traffic will be encrypted and protected – even beyond what a typical VPN offers. This way, law enforcement can’t catch you when you download the latest episode of your favorite TV show…or when you get involved in other criminal activity, for that matter. And it’s that last bit which is a bit troubling, we have to admit.

The Pirate Bay: Because the Legal Market Didn’t Accommodate

For years, The Pirate Bay has been one of the top hubs for sharing copyrighted files illegally, much to the chagrin of the RIAA, the MPAA, and other content owners who see the site as one of the reasons why their businesses aren’t making money like they used to. That may or may not be the case – it’s just as likely that the content-producing industries have failed to adapt quickly enough to the entity that is the Internet, a global force that leaves no traditional business model untouched and, yes, sometimes destroyed completely.

There are a lot of reasons why The Pirate Bay became so popular. Not only is using the site easy, it also provides digital content for download when it is not possible to locate it legally. For example, in between the time a movie leaves the theater and the time it’s released on DVD, there is no other place to watch it. Enter The Pirate Bay. Or pre-Hulu, if you missed a TV show, there were few places to see it. (And since Hulu is U.S.-only, the rule still applies). Even when legal marketplaces like iTunes arose, content owners still greedily held onto their product, making The Pirate Bay once again the place to find what you could not access through the “proper” channels. Today, that’s still the case as some shows are missing entirely from iTunes and for others, the current season is nowhere to be found. Plus, sometimes the pirated content is even of better quality than the legal download.

Initially established back in 2003, The Pirate Bay quickly became the go-to site for finding any file on the net, many of which are copyrighted. Still, the site’s operators claim what they’re doing is perfectly legal. Now on trial for copyright infringement charges in Sweden where the company’s servers are based (verdict expected April 17th), a Pirate Bay spokesperson Peter Sunde Kolmisoppi has claimed that 80 percent of The Pirate Bay’s downloads are for content that’s legal to share online. The defense for the legality of The Pirate Bay is somewhat like that old saying, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Just because The Pirate Bay provides the infrastructure that points to where files are hosted, are they to blame when it’s used to point to illegal content? That’s perhaps a moral issue to debate at another time, because today’s news is about The Pirate Bay’s new anonymizer, IPREDator.

Going Anonymous with IPREDator

The VPN service IPREDator is being launched tomorrow (according to the homepage) in response to the introduction of IPRED in the E.U., a directive which stands for “Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive.” With IPRED, law enforcement and copyright holders can request the names of suspected copyright infringers which they can then threaten and/or sue.

The easiest way to avoid detection, of course, is to become anonymous and that’s precisely what the IPREDator tool allows for…and does so quite well, too, based on what’s being said about it.

Although the concept is not new – other anonymizers like the onion-router project Tor have been around for some time – a tool provided by and pushed out by The Pirate Bay will likely gain the attention of a much larger swath of internet users than those ever did. Why’s that? It’s simple – The Pirate Bay tracks 50% of all public torrents on the net. In other words, they’re huge. They also announced back in November that they had reached 25 million peers, a number not necessarily equivalent to number of users, but that refers to another computer on the Internet sharing a file you want to download. But again, huge.

Making it Easier for Criminals to Hide, Too?

This is where the copyright witch hunt has brought us: in order to access the content we want, we have to become anonymous and hide our identities. Because people just want to watch a TV show or see a movie, they have to play a ridiculous cat-and-mouse game with the authorities who somehow equate downloading a file with stealing a car.

That’s not to say that some people don’t abuse the system and have gotten into the habit of never paying for anything, but a lot of people just casually use The Pirate Bay and other similar sites. The system arose to fill a void in the marketplace, just like any other black market does. Without a legal alternative, The Pirate Bay could succeed and it did.

Yet here we are, only a day away from the launch of a tool that is surely going to be used for much more than just torrenting. An anonymizer as easy to use as The Pirate Bay itself, affordable at only €5 per month, and made available worldwide will become the scourge of law enforcement everywhere, especially once it’s put to use for much more dangerous purposes than catching up on the latest episode of “Lost.” And how did we get here? A failure to adapt. Instead of concentrating on providing new ways to market, distribute, and sell content, content owners have spent entirely too much time fighting the inevitable future.

So now we have yet another tool that will make things easier for the terrorists, the child predators, and the other online criminals to use to hide behind along with those oh-so-dangerous downloaders. We can’t help but wonder if that’s really a good thing.

It’s strange, too, because in all other aspects, the Internet seems to be moving towards a place of openness and accountability. Thanks to the movement of Web 2.0, social networking has become the norm on many sites and new tools like OpenID, MySpace ID, and Facebook Connect are letting people log in and authenticate with sites as themselves – not with some anonymous handle they can hide behind. This authenticity has been a great thing for net as it becomes harder for anonymous trolls to leave hateful comments that disrupt the normal flow of online discourse. In short, the internet has the potential to become a more civil and therefore, more engaging and productive place.

That’s why being anonymous, especially so anonymous that your IP isn’t even traceable, sounds like we’re backtracking instead of moving forward. Although we understand the reasons behind the IPREDator project (and a bit of the anarchist in us supports it), we have our concerns. Is downloading really that bad of a crime? Will this technology be used for more harm than it is for protection from the copyright cops (just like like Tor is)? Sadly, that is, in fact, possible. And we’re sorry to see that it’s come to this.