THE PIRATE BAY: It's web piracy for dummies

In December 2008, I wrote an article about the mysteries and uncertainties of what is known as the Dark Net or Deep Web. I have since taken a dive into the murky online waters and have been astounded to discover how easy it is to become a web-pirate. It was like jumping into a dark lake fully expecting to sink deep, only to discover that the water barely reached my ankles.

Over the holidays, I heard of a Swedish-run website called The Pirate­ Bay (www.thepiratebay.org). The popular site has mimicked Google by offering an easy-to-use search bar on its homepage. In place of the comforting Google logo is a pirate ship and just below the search bar is a link to a step-by-step guide on how to download movies­, music, games, TV series, applications and more.

The Pirate Bay 2009 homepage

Pirate Bay 2009 Homepage (image: www.hipmag.ro)

Pirate Bay 2009 Homepage (image: www.hipmag.ro)

How The Pirate Bay works

Websites such as The Pirate Bay are known as BitTorrent trackers. BitTorrent is a file-sharing protocol whereby computer users are able to upload and download (‘share’) computer software with one another over a network. Each individual is allowed complete anonymity and does not need to register to participate.

However, there is a shared understanding among Pirate Bay users — a sort of pirating etiquette — that an individual should make a certain amount of their own content available for others to download if they wish to download software themselves. But this is not an enforced requirement.

There is no cost involved for those wishing to download content and the website earns its revenue by displaying adverts alongside torrent listings. In an investigation in 2006, Swedish police concluded that The Pirate Bay was generating roughly $150 000 per year from advertisements. This figure is likely to have tripled since.

The Pirate Bay is still primarily funded by advertisements, but users also have the option of donating money towards the pirate cause. There are also Pirate Bay T-shirts available for purchase — which, in effect, spreads pirating awareness.

I’m confident that anyone who might consider themselves as technologically incompetent would be able to engage in such activity. You only need to be able to read, write (search) and click a mouse.

Who's involved in The Pirate Bay

Initially established in November 2003 by Swedish anti-copyright organisation Piratbyrån (The Piracy Bureau) The Pirate Bay has operated as a separate organisation since October 2004. The website is run by Gottfrid Svartholm (aka anakata) and Fredrik Neij (aka TiAMO), who have both been charged with assisting in making copyrighted content available due to their involvement in The Pirate Bay.

The members of The Pirate Bay represent a broad, global spectrum of file sharers and there are currently more than four million registered users. However, because registering is optional and not necessary to download content, the total number of users is likely to be higher than this figure.

The site gets huge influxes of frequent traffic, so much so that the service is often unavailable at certain times. However, the site claims this never lasts for more than a few seconds.

Pirate Bay legal issues

The thing that I find the most astounding about The Pirate Bay is its completely fearless attitude. The creators have faced several lawsuits and have been to court on more than one occasion. Their argument is that no illegal material is stored on The Pirate Bay server. Rather, it operates as a tracker — providing users with the correct paths to find content on other users’ PCs and download directly from them.

According to their disclaimer (if one can call it that) “only torrent files are saved at the server. That means no copyrighted and/or illegal material is stored by us. It is therefore not possible to hold the people behind The Pirate Bay responsible for the material that is being spread using the tracker. Any complaints from copyright or lobby organisations will be ridiculed and published on the site”.

This last line really illustrates my point about their fearless attitude. They have received several legal threats via e-mail from companies such as Microsoft and DreamWorks, which have been published on the website along with their cheeky responses for all Pirate Bay users to see. It appears that their trump card is claiming that U.S. infringement laws to not apply in Sweden, and they seem to have Swedish lawyers on their side.

Pirate Bay rebuttal of legal threats

To illustrate, here’s what was written in response to an e-mail by DreamWorks:

“As you may or may not be aware, Sweden is not a state in the United States of America. Sweden is a country in northern Europe. Unless you figured it out by now, U.S. law does not apply here. For your information, no Swedish law is being violated. Please be assured that any further contact with us, regardless of medium, will result in:

a) a suit being filed for harassment; [and]
b) a formal complaint lodged with the bar of your legal counsel, for sending frivolous legal threats.

"It is the opinion of us and our lawyers that you are … morons, and that you should please go sodomise yourself with retractable batons."

This next snippet was part of an e-mailed response to Sega after they threatened to sue The Pirate Bay in 2006:

“Please sue me in Japan instead. I’ve always wanted to visit Tokyo. Also, I’m running out of toilet paper, so please send lots of legal documents to our ISP — preferably printed on soft paper.”

The Pirate Bay shows no signs of slowing down and remains the world’s largest file sharing server to date. I leave you with a snippet from The Pirate Bay’s 2009 Christmas letter to its users.

“We believe that we have changed something. Not just us, but all of us. The Pirate Bay has always been something extra … We wanted it to mean something. And you, our users, have helped us with that. The history of the bay is still being written. It’s way too early for a conclusion."

Shiver me timbers.

IMPORTANT NOTICE

The downloading and distributing of copywrite software IS illegal, despite what websites such as The Pirate Bay might say. The use of such websites is done at your own risk and can lead to a criminal record. Ye have been warned.

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DEEP WEB: The darkness that lies beneath ...

According to QI researchers, more than 90% of the Internet is comprised of spam, while less than 1% is pornography. One might have expected there to be far more nooky than Viagra adverts on the Web.

In truth, there is actually very little known about the ever-changing world that is the Web as new discoveries and developments are forever being brought to the table. In fact, it is almost impossible to even predict what the Internet will be like in ten years time, let alone the distant future.

There is, however, one quite interesting dark side of the Internet that has existed for some time, yet which very few people know about. This is something known as the Dark Net or Deep Web.

The Dark Web, also known as the deep web, invisible web, and dark net, consists of web pages and data that are beyond the reach of search engines

The Dark Web, also known as the deep web, invisible web, and dark net, consists of web pages and data that are beyond the reach of search engines.

What is the Deep Web? How did it come about?

Once upon a time (during 1995) in Edinburgh University, an Irish teenager named Ian Clarke produced a thesis for his computer science course proposing a revolutionary new way for people to use the Internet without detection.

He called his project a “Distributed, Decentralised Information Storage and Retrieval System”. The idea was that by downloading Clarke’s unique software (which he intended to distribute for free) anyone could chat online, share files or set up a website with almost complete anonymity.

To cut a long story short, Clarke’s tutors weren­’t too impressed, but this didn’t stop the student from going ahead with his project. He released his software, called Freenet, in 2000. Since then, at least two million copies of Freenet have been downloaded, which is also now readily available on several websites.

Entering the Realm of the Deep Web

After downloading the 10 MB file, installing the software takes barely a couple of minutes and requires minimal computer skills. Then you enter a previously hidden online world where you can find resources such as “The Terrorist’s Handbook: A practical guide to explosives and other things of interest to terrorists”. Freenet is also the portal to accessing pirated­ copies of books, games, movies, music, software, TV series and much more.

What perhaps started as a seemingly innocent project has today become a means for a plethora of online criminal activity. From creating and sharing viruses to accessing and distributing child pornography (all anonymously of course) the Deep Web has created a subculture of Internet users.

The Internet has always been associated with openness and is often labeled as the ultimate form of freedom; a place where free speech, free access and lack of censorship have prevailed. Yet where do we draw the line when it is simply becoming easier to engage in online criminal activity without been traced?

To put it into better perspective, the Dark Web has grown so fast that it is estimated to be at least 500 times larger than the surface web.

How is the Deep Web different from the Surface Web?

To put it very simply, the web is defined as a collection of hyperlinks that are indexed by search engines. In other words, the pages/content that appear when we do a Google search, is the Internet as we know it, and is called the Surface Web.

The Dark Web, also known as the deep web, invisible web, and dark net, consists of web pages and data that are beyond the reach of search engines. Some of what makes up the Deep Web consists of abandoned, inactive web pages; but the majority of data that lies within have been crafted to deliberately avoid detection in order to remain anonymous.

According to Wikipedia, Michael K. Bergman — who first coined the phrase “deep web”, describes how searching on the Internet today can be compared to dragging a net across the surface of the ocean. A great deal may be caught in the net, but there is a wealth of information that is deep and therefore missed.

In 2001, Bergman published a paper on the Deep Web that is still regularly cited today. “The Deep Web is currently 400 to 550 times larger than the commonly defined World Wide Web,” he wrote.

“The Deep Web is the fastest growing category of new information on the internet … The value of Deep Web content is immeasurable … Internet searches are searching only 0,03% … of the [total web] pages available.” - Bergman

How deep does the dark net go?

No doubt the Internet has changed significantly in the past eight years, yet researchers today have only just begun the plunge to the depths of the Deep Web. The bottom line is that there is simply too much data available for any search engine to index the entire deep web.

Coupled with this issue is the deliberate use of invisible web space by individuals who do not want to be found. This is the origin of groups of criminals who sent out millions of spam e-mails suggesting that you have won the international lottery before quickly disconnecting. No matter what developments are made toward catching such crooks, they will always find new ways to remain hidden.

Craig Labovitz, chief scientist at Arbor Networks - a leading online security firm, was quoted in an article in the Guardian saying, “In 2000 dark and murky address space was a bit of a novelty,” says Labovitz. “This is now an entrenched part of the daily life of the Internet."

"Defunct online companies; technical errors and failures; disputes between Internet service providers; abandoned addresses once used by the U.S. military in the earliest days of the Internet — all these have left the online landscape scattered with derelict or forgotten properties, perfect for illicit exploitation, sometimes for only a few seconds before they are returned to disuse … it just takes a PC and [an Internet] connection." - Labovitz

Is there any light to the darkness?

Surely it was not young Ian Clarke’s vision to create a breeding ground for online criminals, which is sadly the predominant direction that the Deep Web seems to have taken. He merely wanted to offer free software to those seeking anonymous online communication.

There are secretive parts of the Internet that were specifically designed for U.S. secret service field agents and law enforcement officers to surf questionable websites and services without leaving tell-tale tracks. However, these merely seem to be more to the advantage of the crooks been sought after.

Perhaps the domain of the Dark Net would make sense in oppressive regimes such as China­ where the government goes to farcical extremes to censor images that contain large expanses of supposedly naked flesh. It could certainly have a positive impact in countries such as Iran — allowing people to rally support against oppressive governments without fear of being apprehended.

It’s a shuddering thought that due to the immense size and growth of the Deep Web there is virtually no way to stop it. It may not all be bad but there is a large enough criminal aspect to it to warrant concern. Clarke even admits that child pornography exists on Freenet, yet claims that it would be detrimental to try and put a stop to it.

“At Freenet we could establish a virus to destroy any child pornography on Freenet — we could implement that technically. But then whoever has the key [to that filtering software] becomes a target. Suddenly we’d start getting served copyright notices; anything suspect on Freenet, we’d get pressure to shut it down. To modify Freenet would be the end of Freenet.” - Ian Clarke

Perhaps for the meantime it's safest to stick to Google.

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