The men behind the internet’s most popular piracy hub, the Pirate Bay, have had a particularly bad week, which is not too out of the ordinary for a group of hackers who are acutely aware of law enforcement troubles, international manhunts, prison time, solitary confinement, and telling Hollywood to go fuck itself.
First there was the Halloween sentencing of one of the Pirate Bay’s co-founders, 30 year-old Gottfrid Svartholm-Warg. He was sentenced to three-and-a-half years behind bars in Denmark. He was found guilty of hacking into the Danish wing of a company called the Computer Sciences Corporation. CSC is also in the news right now for allegedly developing billing fraud schemes, alongside the City of New York itself, that may have defrauded New York State’s Medicaid system. Across the pond, Svartholm was accused of hacking into CSC’s Danish databases, which a court in Copenhagen found to have included “criminal records and drivers’ license records.”
Svartholm-Warg had been previously hiding out in Cambodia, but was extradited to Sweden, where he was held in solitary confinement before facing trial in Denmark. Svartholm-Warg was running from a one-year prison sentence the Swedes hammered down on him for his role in founding the Pirate Bay. Those original Pirate Bay-related charges sparked a massive protest movement in Sweden.
I spoke to Rickard Falkvinge, the founder of the Pirate Party, about the legal nightmare of the Pirate Bay crew. On the subject of Svartholm-Warg’s extradition from Cambodia, he told me, “For some reason [the authorities] were throwing everything they had at a computer repair guy out in the rural parts of Cambodia, and it certainly had nothing to do with an extra 59.4 million US dollars in foreign aid from Sweden to Cambodia that was handed over at the same time.”
At the time, his extradition to Sweden caused plenty of undesirable attention for both the Swedes and the Cambodians. Within Wikileaks’ extensive documentation pertaining to Svartholm-Warg’s case, the Swedish Foreign Ministry’s press director is quoted as writing: “We are getting a lot of questions from all four corners of the Earth regarding [Svartholm-Warg]. Many journalists are personally involved, is my impression. I think the pressure on the embassy [in Cambodia] will diminish now that he’s coming to Sweden.”
In Sweden, Svartholm-Warg faced similar hacking charges to the ones he was recently convicted for in Denmark. He was accused of both hacking into Nordea, a Swedish bank, and Logica, an IT firm. Only the charges pertaining to Logica stuck, but Svartholm-Warg has maintained his innocence throughout, stating that someone nefarious had accessed his computer remotely to carry out the hacks. Svartholm-Warg was then deported to Denmark, despite his best efforts, arguing that he was being tried for the same crimes twice. This is a perplexing argument given that the Danish charges pertained to his alleged hack of CSC, not Logica or Nordea, for which the Swedes went after him.
In Denmark, Svartholm-Warg used the same defense, namely that he was framed and his computer was hacked. The prosecution dismissed this argument, but Svartholm-Warg’s legal team called in Jacob Applebaum, noted computer security researcher and Tor developer who testified to the contrary. His lawyers also presented “an antivirus scan of his computer showing that 545 threats had been found on it, some of which were capable of providing a hacker with remote control of the computer.”
Svartholm-Warg’s argument is plausible, in that he has certainly made plenty of powerful enemies simply from running the Pirate Bay. Wikileaks has also pointed out that he played a role in the infamous “Collateral Murder” project, wherein Wikileaks released previously classified video footage of an American Apache helicopter mistakenly bombing journalists.
As if Svartholm-Warg’s multinational, convoluted legal woes weren’t enough, one of the other Pirate Bay founders, Fredrik Neij, who had fled to Asia after being charged in Sweden, was arrested in Thailand earlier this week. According to Falkvinge, “Fredrik had been one of the tech guys running the site, and according to clips from the movie TPB AFK, he was basically planning to wait out the statute of limitations in the wonderful climate.”
Neij had been living in Laos, and reportedly was a frequent traveler to Thailand. While he has not yet been sent to Sweden to serve time for his copyright infringement charges, it’s expected that will be happening sooner than later. Neij was the last remaining Pirate Bay founder to evade incarceration.
The third founder of the Pirate Bay is Peter Sunde, a man Rickard Falkvinge describes as “mediagenic.” Sunde expects to be released from prison this month. Falkvinge told me Sunde’s role in the Pirate Bay was very minor, in a lengthy statement written for Falkvinge’s blog published after his plea, he states his conviction came about after “having sent an invoice for advertising on the Pirate Bay once in April 2006 (almost a year after the events on trial started).”
He also claims he was advised by police to get a cheap lawyer, discusses how Stockholm Police’s “lead interrogator” on his case took a job with Warner Brothers during the trial, and how he once felt as if he were “the most hated person in the power corridors of Hollywood.”
Sunde is likely to take on new entrepreneurial projects upon his release. I spoke to him in July 2013, about an encrypted message app he was working on before being imprisoned that would combine the security of encryption with the beautiful graphic interface of, say, the iPhone.
The Guardian caught up with Sunde recently, where he discussed his newfound friendship with a cocaine smuggler who bakes vegan muffins, the poor treatment he receives in jail outside of said muffins, and how he was able to encrypt all of his computer systems through a keystroke on his smartphone at the moment of his arrest, which understandably infuriated his arresting officer.
Despite having its three most prominent organizers in custody (along with a fourth man—the supposed financier Carl Lundström, who currently sports an electronic ankle bracelet in Switzerland) the Pirate Bay is alive and well.
Yesterday, according to the Pirate Bay’s own statistics—which are published on its homepage—the torrent tracker had over 48 million connected users, sharing nearly 7 million torrents. In his post-plea statement from 2012, Sunde bragged that “The Pirate Bay was back online [immediately after the initial raid]. It’s an easy service to copy, and with no advanced functionality. That was one of the major features with the underlying technology, being smart and easily maintained to that level. It was so easy to maintain, nobody had practically touched it for a year at the time of the raid.”
According to Falkvinge, the four men’s “real crime was talking back at Hollywood monopolists, which embarrassed the Swedish establishment.”
In the face of international pressure, the Pirate Bay is infamous for its clever maneuvers that keep it online. At one point, the site’s administrators were considering placing its servers onto drones that would float above international waters to curve anti-copyright legislation written in pesky landlocked nations. And, just recently, the site began using its advertising space to promote a free VPN, which allow users in countries like Iceland (which have recently banned access to the Pirate Bay outright) to access the site safely.
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