The Pirate Bay was quite possibly the world’s most-loved torrent site before it was taken offline in a police raid. Through thick and thin fans supported the site but now, in a somewhat unbelievable bad dream, the site has gone – possibly for good.
Of course at this point there will be some shouting at the screen while furiously pointing towards various domains where the site has been supposedly resurrected. To be clear, TPB hasn’t been brought back to life yet, on any domain. All these other sites are clones.
But aren’t 30 Pirate Bays better than one? Isn’t it now 30 times more difficult for law enforcement to disappear the site? Hasn’t that single point of failure been taken away?
There are many arguments in favor of having multiple Pirate Bays but when examining the situation from a user perspective, they don’t really add up. In fact, by having so many clones everything that made The Pirate Bay such a success has been critically watered down.
A pirate Pirate Bay is not as good as the original
It’s a truly great irony that The Pirate Bay cannot be successfully copied by outsiders. Sure, millions of torrents and magnet links can be put into a searchable database and most will probably work as advertised, but clones are missing several key components.
While basic torrent indexes are undoubtedly useful, one of Pirate Bay’s strengths was its community. It’s true that not many of the site’s users took the time to participate on its Suprbay discussion forum, but the comments section attached to every torrent was an unrivaled source of information.
At any point, one could jump into a pool of torrents dating back 10 years, pick one, and get an idea of what it was about and how it had been received by the community. Were better versions available? The comments would have link. Was the download poorly seeded? Potential peers could be found. Anything interesting or topical about the torrent would also be noted.
No cloned Pirate Bay has yet managed to fully recreate the comments section of the site (although one is trying). And since no clone has access to the genuine TPB database, every user account has disappeared. In some cases names exist, but logins are impossible. That’s bad because……
Sharing is caring (and getting thanked is awesome too)
To dismiss the importance of genuine, active, verifiable user accounts is to misunderstand the mindset of uploaders and those who appreciate their work. Despite the claims of some anti-piracy companies, many uploaders do what they do not for money, but for recognition – and fun.
With the disappearance of The Pirate Bay, thousands of recognizable uploader accounts (many of them verified ‘VIP’) have simply gone. Worse than that, the pages of historical uploads regular users see when they click on these names has gone too. The work of these ‘famous’ uploaders has been wiped from history – and much of their kudos with it.
Another issue relates to those same valuable uploaders. Where are they now? Some are indeed present on torrent sites such as Kickass.so and a number of others, but bringing them all back together under one Pirate Bay-branded roof that’s not the real thing could prove impossible.
It’s unlikely that any of the current clones has the standing to assure uploaders that they’re the single site worth supporting, which leaves the prospect of a release force scattered in dozens of locations. As a result, the largely single-location competition between these players could easily wither away.
What The Pirate Bay offered that it’s clones largely do not is a team of human beings prepared to wade through every single uploaded torrent in order to check it for authenticity. Fakes, virus and malware-laden files had short lives on the real Pirate Bay and as a result the site gained a reputation among users.
The little colored skulls on Pirate Bay uploads meant that users could click and forget, safe in the knowledge that their chosen torrents will perform as expected. That entire system was destroyed when the site was raided early this month and any ‘clone’ site will struggle to emulate it.
Reputation and trust
While they may not have stayed with the site until the end, in the eyes of millions the three most recognizable names behind The Pirate Bay have remained associated with the site. In fact, Gottfrid Svartholm, Peter Sunde and Fredrick Neij are the only world-famous torrent site celebrities around today.
Through years of news, Pirate Bay users have built up a trust with not only these guys, but by proxy whoever they handed the site over to. With that level of respect gone, copy Pirate Bays will struggle to relive the dream.
Sure, Pirate Bay’s advertising ethics got a little bent up in recent years, with soft and even hardcore porn appearing when it should not, but the feeling remained that the site would never completely sell users down the river to the highest bidder. One can never be so certain about many of the faceless clones popping up today.
Fragmentation is not the same as decentralization
Finally, an anecdote. One night more than 20 years ago, a nightclub frequented every Saturday by myself and by association hundreds of friends, unceremoniously burnt to the ground. For the previous five years it had been not only our dance music mecca, but also our home. We were devastated.
Several other clubs stepped in to recreate the experience – one even took the name of the now-destroyed venue. Homeless and desperate, a group of us went around testing the ‘clone’ clubs. Some were OK, but didn’t have all the DJs we’d been used to. Others had the music right, but lacked half our friends who had chosen to go elsewhere.
Before the fire we’d been a powerful, well-developed community in a venue we knew and trusted, coming to the same place at the same time every week to do what we loved. The fire hadn’t just destroyed the place where we met, but also the unfathomable something that had been holding us all together.
Sure, our club was a dump with badly functioning bathrooms and carpet your feet stuck to. But it was our club with a community we’d built. Without it we drifted apart.
Dozens of Pirate Bays might look like defiance, but the long-term outcome will be a lot less glamorous unless something can be done to play to uploaders’ sense of pride and achievement.
From a technological standpoint, decentralization or a multi-location clone setup is clearly much more difficult for authorities to deal with, but fragmenting the community and key uploaders is perhaps an even bigger problem waiting for a solution.
Make no mistake, a solution will be found. But dozens of sites that look the same and offer a watered down version of something already in need of repair probably won’t be it.
See everyone back here, February 1.