Some of the most sought after publications are those hunted by students since the paper-based textbooks they are forced to buy in order to conduct their education are notoriously (some would say artificially) costly.
Inevitably, though, where there’s a cost to be cut, pirates have a cutlass, and in March 2008 a new website called Student Bay appeared, aimed at making students’ lives less expensive.
“In Sweden, education is claimed to be free of charge. Despite this students are forced every term to spend thousands of kronor on books necessary for their education,” the site owners said in their launch press release.
“Student Bay does not publish the course books as a whole, rather we divide them up in chapters, so that one can download them for personal use,” they continued.
While having reservations about the site’s legal status, the Swedish National Union of Students said they thought Student Bay had every chance of becoming successful, adding that the fact that the site exists should be a signal to publishers that they need to do more in the digital domain.
The Swedish Association of Educational Publishers, FSL, were less enthusiastic and said that the development of a market place should not be driven by criminal activity.
Since the site had things in common with another very famous file-sharing site – not least its name and logo – it wasn’t long before Student Bay attracted the wrong sort of attention. Within days of the site appearing online people began making connections to The Pirate Bay’s Gottfrid Svartholm (aka Anakata). He publicly denied having anything to do with running of the site.
During December 2008 the Swedish Association for Educational Writers (SLFF) finally reported Student Bay to the police but despite his denial, prosecutors confirmed that Svartholm remained a target in the investigation along with another individual.
“The funny part is that [SLFF] also decided to press charges against Anakata because they claim he is part of this site,” Pirate Bay said in a statement. “We don’t really know why. Our suspicion is that this is because Anakata used to run the ISP which hosts The Student Bay.” Student Bay had indeed been hosted at PRQ, a so-called “bullet-proof” host previously owned by Svartholm.
But while Pirate Bay is free for anyone to use, Student Bay was not. Users not uploading material to the site were required to subscribe via a $3.00 premium SMS to access content, much of which was stored on file-hosting sites such as RapidShare. Pirate Bay openly disapproved of the approach and said that they hoped Student Bay would remove the requirement as it was against Pirate Bay “ideals”.
It isn’t clear if Student Bay fulfilled the request to go completely free but under pressure the site closed in May 2009.
Yesterday, nearly 3 years after the initial complaint, prosecutor Frederick Ingblad confirmed that a 23-year-old man has been prosecuted for founding and running Student Bay. He is charged with violating and assisting in breaches of copyright law between August 2008 and May 2009, and charged with “regularly receiving and assimilating payments” from site users, which appear to total around $8,000.
Gottfrid Svartholm is mentioned nowhere in the complaint and earlier requests from The Pirate Bay for a formal apology for the wrongful accusations appear to have gone unanswered. Meanwhile, attempts at breaking the textbook monopoly continue.