Why Sweden rules the web
10 March 2009Phone calls, movies, music, TV – Stockholm has emerged as the epicentre of an online revolution, giving us all what we want, instantly, for free.
The courthouse at the corner of Scheelegatan and Fleminggatan is hardly what you'd call a marvel of modern Swedish design. Red-brick, nondescript, it's the last place in Stockholm you'd go looking for a party. But if you had been there a fortnight ago, that's exactly what you'd have found.
For the last two weeks of February, room nine of the city's district court played host to the trial of The Pirate Bay, a Swedish website that compiles links to BitTorrent files – a particularly efficient form of file-sharing – from across the internet. As the world's largest BitTorrent "tracker" site (and the 108th most popular site on the web), The Pirate Bay boasts almost 3.5 million registered users, a further 21.5 million unregistered users, and a billion page views per month. But many of the files the six-year-old site tracks and indexes are illicit versions of copyrighted material, and the film and music industries brought the site to court in the hope of making it an example to pirates everywhere.
However, proceedings did not go quite to plan. Instead of coming quietly, the three mischievous young men who run The Pirate Bay turned their trial into a sell-out show. Their friends from the anti-copyright think-tank Piratbyran ("The Pirate Bureau") turned up every day in a brightly painted campaign bus. Student bands played for supporters outside the court and, at the end of the trial's first week, the defendants threw a party at a nightclub in central Stockholm, offering free champagne to every guest.
So confident are the trio that they set up another website to cover the trial independently of the mainstream media. They named it Spectrial, a combination of "trial" and "spectacle". Tickets for half a day in the courtroom changed hands for €60 (£55) each on the black market, more than most rock concerts. The trial concluded last week, and both sides now await the verdict of the judging panel, due in April. But, to their fellow file-sharers, Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, Peter Sunde Kolmisoppi and Fredrik Neij are already folk heroes.
Meanwhile, on the other side of Stockholm, a new internet company has turned this demand for free media into a viable business model that the music industry seems willing to stomach. Spotify, launched in October last year, is a piece of music software that looks not unlike iTunes, yet allows you to listen to a vast, growing catalogue of streamed tracks for free – as long as you are prepared to endure around a minute of advertising per hour. A premium version, costing £9.99 per month, suppresses the ads and offers exclusive content. Listeners can exchange their favourite playlists with one another online.
This internet jukebox's global user numbers reached a million this week and are increasing by 20,000 a day, while its catalogue of tracks grows at a similar rate. At least 250,000 Spotify users are in the UK, where the service recently became freely available for download. And, in February, it executed its first big industry coup, giving users the chance to hear U2's new album a week before its physical release.
Spotify has harnessed a voracious appetite for sharing free culture online to create a legitimate alternative to online piracy. But it's a model that would never have been embraced by the entertainment industry without the likes of The Pirate Bay
Much more at: The Independent