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Leading article: Partnerships, not piracy

Peter Sunde, the founder of Pirate Bay, was probably right to interpret yesterday's verdict by a Swedish court as essentially an act of theatre. The practical effects of the ruling that the file-swapping site breached copyright law are likely to be minimal as far as its users are concerned.

The ruling will not see site shut down because it is hosted by a foreign server. And even if Pirate Bay were to disappear tomorrow, there are several other sites offering the same service. The music and film companies that brought this case know all this. Their calculation is that this ruling will help to stigmatise copyright piracy and make people think twice before engaging in it.

It is easy to have sympathy for the entertainment companies. Their intellectual property, created with the investment of their shareholders, is being passed around the world for free. And sites such as Pirate Bay are actively facilitating the process.

But the question these companies need to answer is whether it is the best use of their resources to attempt to drive the pirates out of business when the odds against them succeeding are so great. We have been here before. The music industry hoped that the court-ordered closure of the illegal file-sharing site Napster in 2001 would stem piracy. But then the broadband revolution came, making file-sharing faster and easier than ever.

Some argue that it would be more profitable, in the long run, for these industries to adapt to the new environment, rather than resist it. There is certainly still money to be made from music, despite its free availability online. People are still ordering CDs from sites such as Amazon. The iTunes site charges for downloads but is still popular. And the live music scene is booming. The smart music companies are tapping these profit streams. Is not the challenge for the movie industry to be similarly innovative?

There is something in this. But the illegal file-swappers need to remember that unless it is profitable to produce top-quality entertainment, they and their users will ultimately suffer as much as the entertainment conglomerates. Rather than butting heads, both sides should be attempting to shape the new digital world together.