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Media Pirates Forced to Walk the Plank

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Conglomerates score short-term victory - but real battle remains unfought.

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Even progressive Scandinavians have to bow to the almighty media conglomerates: The developers behind The Pirate Bay, the popular BitTorrent tracking site, were sentenced to 1 year in prison for "assisting in making copyright content available." Their punishment also includes $3.6 million in damages, to be paid to Sony (SNE), Warner Bros (TWX), Fox (NWS) and others. Though appeals are certainly forthcoming, the ruling may nevertheless slow, if not stop altogether, users' access to media online.

The verdict came after a 3-week trial in which prosecutors embarrassed themselves by their woeful ignorance of BitTorrent's technical aspects and peer-to-peer file sharing in general. John Kennedy -- CEO of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) -- even admitted, on the stand, that he had no idea how either BitTorrent or the back end of Pirate Bay operates. Prosecutors were then forced to drop half of the charges.

But the remaining half stuck, at least for now.

From the beginning of the trial, the tech-savvy defendants were confident they would be exonerated - which is perhaps responsible for their sometimes abrasively arrogant behavior. During testimony, they took digs at Microsoft (MSFT), Twittered updates on the proceedings and even reset the Pirate Bay servers remotely from the courtroom. After the trial concluded, the defendants threw a party to celebrate their impending innocence.

Prosecutors surely rejoiced after the verdict.

Twittering the ruling before it was public, Pirate Bay co-founder Peter Sunde assured supporters that the site wouldn't be shut down any time soon. "Stay calm - Nothing will happen to TPB, us personally or file sharing what so ever. This is just a theater for the media." The entire battle, summed up in under 140 characters.

While the fate of Pirate Bay is unclear, the ruling will allow media conglomerates to continue with their moribund business models, endless lawsuits, and general foot-dragging.

Litigation may be easier in the short term - but the long-term costs of obsolescence (and indifference to consumer needs) can be staggering.

Just ask GM.
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