The Pirate Bay will no longer link to .torrent files. It will use better technology instead. “Today marks the end of an era,” the Pirate Bay blog says. “Sort of.” The famed torrent site will now use magnet links. Magnet links don’t break as easily, and they’re more bandwidth-efficient for people who mirror the linked files.
Oh yeah, and unless a government is willing to shut down a whole Web page using out-and-out censorship tactics, magnet links can’t be stopped. Magnet links hash their contents. They’re effectively anonymous. There’s no file living on The Pirate Bay’s servers; it’s just a link inside a page. You can pass the link around however you want and open it using any compatible application. No one can tell whether or not you downloaded the file.
The only way to stop magnet links is to actually block the exchange of the link in the first place, i.e. forbid access to a part of The Pirate Bay. And even if that did happen, the magnet links could just pop back up somewhere else.
This is a game of chicken against governments who intervene on the Internet to protect copyright holders. There’s already legal precedent stating that The Pirate Bay is complicit in copyright infringement. But by switching to magnet links, The Pirate Bay is taking options off the table for law enforcement agencies short of outright censorship of the site.
Some Internet companies are trying to distance themselves from the opportunities The Pirate Bay provides for illegal file-sharing. Google took it out of auto-suggestion and Google Instant search results for “piracy-related” queries.
But The Pirate Bay is just a list of links. It has perfectly legitimate uses. It even plans to be your one-stop shop for printing out 3D objects, an area of intellectual property of which copyright lawyers have virtually no concept. Could a government really censor it with a straight face?
Past efforts to prosecute online copyright infringement have been able to target the infringing users themselves. But the cryptographic power of magnet links renders that much, much harder. The cat is out of the bag now. The idea that governments will be able to chase down and censor a simple list of magnet links sounds downright laughable.
For now, torrents will remain available for files mirrored by fewer than 10 users to ensure that the files are still accessible.