Most BitTorrent sites operate in the shadows, with operators who rarely speak in public and guard their identities closely. Mininova is not one of those sites and in a new interview, company directors Erik Dubbelboer and Niek van der Maas reveal a little more about running one of the world’s biggest BitTorrent sites.
Most visitors to Mininova will be completely unaware that this is not your regular torrent site. Unlike many private torrent sites – operating on the fringes of legality and trying to keep a fairly low profile (whilst gathering donations in order to stay alive) – Mininova is a very successful and fully-fledged tax-paying business with a revenue of well over a million dollar a year.
Operating out of its new offices in Utrecht, The Netherlands, Mininova and its five company directors go about their daily business with unparalleled openness. In a new interview with ORF.at, they further peel away the mystique usually associated with running a huge torrent site.
Mininova’s new office (photo richard.pyrker)
Erik Dubbelboer, President of Mininova told ORF that although some people believe that The Pirate Bay is the largest torrent site, in truth Mininova is quite bigger in terms of page views. The site is commercially-driven now, however, it hasn’t always been that way. Erik explained that in the beginning there was no plan to have Mininova operate as a company. “We wanted to make a cool website and experiment with the exciting Bittorrent technology,” he told ORF
But of course, the site was a huge success and now receives a staggering number of visitors. Managing Director Niek van der Maas explained that this substantial traffic is used to drive the site’s main source of revenue – advertising, including deals with companies like Yahoo.
The increased popularity of the site has allowed the Mininova team to grow. “We have turned Mininova from our hobby into a profession,” said Erik. Indeed, the site now has five young employees (average age of 24) who are all studying computer science.
Mininova’s Erik and Niek (photo richard.pyrker)
While other torrent site admins choose to stay in the shadows, Mininova’s owners operate openly as they believe that under current law in The Netherlands their operations are entirely legal. Unlike other large ‘open’ sites, such as The Pirate Bay, Mininova does not operate a public tracker, and unlike their Swedish counterparts they operate a proper copyright takedown request system. If a copyright holder wants a torrent removed, they can write to the site and the necessary action is taken promptly.
Unfortunately, even this isn’t enough to keep anti-piracy outfits at arms length and like The Pirate Bay before them, Mininova also faces legal action. BREIN, the prominent Dutch anti-piracy group (which has already run many torrent sites out of The Netherlands) had been in secret talks with Mininova for over a year, ostensibly trying to reach a negotiated settlement.
But it wasn’t to be. BREIN wanted Mininova to proactively filter their search engine, something the site was not prepared to do. At the time, Erik told TorrentFreak that Mininova will not cave in to pressure from BREIN.
“We will proceed to court with full confidence. We operate within the law, as we maintain our ‘notice and take down’ policy. That is, we remove search results if a copyright holder asks us to.” The court showdown with BREIN will take place May 20th. Mininova is being defended by lawyer Christiaan Alberdingk Thijm, who is known for his legal victory while representing KaZaA in The Netherlands.
Erik told ORF that he believes the first major process in the case will try to determine if the type of service operated by Mininova is legal or not. He noted that there are key differences between their case and the recent one involving The Pirate Bay – the action in The Netherlands is a civil suit, while the case in Sweden was a criminal trial directed at the individuals, not the site itself.
Erik went on to say that he’d spoken recently with Peter Sunde about the TPB case, one which Peter firmly believes they will win. Erik says they speak with Gottfrid too on technical issues but other than that, there is no cooperation between the sites. When asked how he felt the court would rule in The Pirate Bay case, Erik said it was too difficult to call.
One of the reasons that sites like Mininova exist is due to the changing viewing habits of tech-savvy individuals, something which torrent sites have embraced while mainstream media continue to lag behind. “I would like to see content when I have time for it – not only at the time when it’s broadcasted,” Erik told ORF. “Some companies are starting to think and rethink, asking us how they can benefit from our “content distribution” model. They recognize that the fight against file-sharing is hopeless,” he said.
In a further indication that BitTorrent is able to move from the PC screen to the living room, regular visitors to Mininova will have noticed the recent addition of a link labeled ‘New: Devices Overview‘. Listed here are various BitTorrent-compatible ‘set-top box’ type devices recommended by Mininova. Erik Dubbelboer says that at the recent CeBIT trade show, several manufacturers showed an interest in having a ‘Powered by Mininova’ logo/license for their devices, including Hauppauge who are perhaps best known for their PC TV tuner cards.
Mininova is very interested in experimenting with new business models for content creators, Dubbelboer said. He said that most people download copyrighted files because it’s so easy and convenient, not because they’re free. One thing is certain, BitTorrent is a great distribution model which allows many artists just setting out to get their work in front of millions of people.
Silence is Sexy is one band that has teamed up with Mininova to distribute their latest album for free, with great success. They even put up a ‘Powered by Mininova’ banner at one of their latest concerts.
Mininova’s banner (photo richard.pyrker)
This year will be an exciting one for the Mininova team. On the one hand they are still experiencing a substantial increase in visitor numbers as well as interest from content producers and device manufacturers. However, the legal battle with MPAA’s affiliate BREIN may ruin this party if the worst case scenario becomes truth. Let’s hope for the best.