When The Pirate Bay launched in the second half of 2003, the World Wide Web looked nothing like it does today.
Mark Zuckerberg was still preoccupied with “Facemash,” the “hot or not” site he launched before Facebook was invented. YouTube wasn’t around yet either, nor were Twitter and Instagram, which launched years later.
At the time nearly everyone used regular computers to access the web. Smartphones and tablets didn’t exist, and high-quality online video streaming was unthinkable on most residential Internet connections. If there was anything to stream at all.
People interested in watching a movie could use the Internet to buy a DVD at one of the early webshops or sign up with Netflix, which shipped DVDs through the mail. There were no download stores yet.
Given this context, imagine the appeal of a website that offered a high-quality archive of digital movies and tv-series to download, for free.
That site was The Pirate Bay.
Remarkably, many of the videos that were posted on the site during the early days remain available today. In fact, quite a few torrents on The Pirate Bay have been around longer than some of the site’s users.
This is quite an achievement, as torrents require at least one person with a full copy of the file to keep it alive. This prompted us to take a look at the oldest Pirate Bay torrents that are still being shared today.
During the early months of the site, it appears that some torrents were purged or otherwise lost. The oldest ones we can find data back to March 2004, which means that they are well over 15 years old today.
An episode of the Swedish comedy show “High Chaparral” has the honor of being the oldest torrent. The file was originally uploaded on March 25, 2004, and although it lists zero seeders in search results, there are still several people actively sharing the torrent.
Many of the other torrents in the list above need some help. However, the Top Secret Recipes E-Books and a copy of the documentary Revolution OS, which covers the history of Linux, GNU, and the free software movement, are doing very well.
While these torrents have survived one-and-a-half decades of turmoil, including two raids, they’re still going strong. In part, perhaps, because some people want to keep history alive.
“To maintain history, I will gladly put this on my seedbox forever,” one commenter writes below the High Chaparral torrent, with another one adding “I will save this torrent for history!!!”
History indeed, as it is clear that things have changed over the past 15 years. In the early days, The Pirate Bay wasn’t just popular because people didn’t have to pay. It was often the only option to get a digital copy of a movie, TV-show, or even a music album. It was a revolution in a way.
This is still the case to a certain degree in some countries, but to many, the magical appeal has gone now that there are so many legal alternatives online.
It’s worth keeping in mind, though, that these legal alternatives were in part a direct answer to sites such as The Pirate Bay.
In fact, if piracy hadn’t existed the world might have looked entirely different today. Piracy showed the entertainment industries that people wanted instant online access to media, a demand that was later fulfilled by iTunes, Netflix streaming, Spotify, and many others.
Today The Pirate Bay remains online. Despite several raids, criminal prosecutions, dozens of website blockades, and other anti-piracy measures, the site continues to thrive. And so do its torrents.