The Pirate Bay celebrates its 20th anniversary today. Founded in 2003 by a collective of hackers and activists, the small Swedish BitTorrent tracker grew to become a global icon for online piracy. The rebellious torrent site has a turbulent history and clashed with law enforcement authorities on multiple occasions. Despite these setbacks, it remains online today.
During the summer of 2003, Swedish pro-culture organization Piratbyrån was making a name for itself; sharing news and educating people on how they could share media online.
What the group’s members didn’t realize at the time, is that the plans they made would create a ripple effect that still has an impact decades later.
Like many other people mesmerized by the unbridled ability to share files over the Internet, the new BitTorrent protocol caught Piratbyrån’s eye. From one thing came another, and Piratbyrån decided to start their own tracker.A Swedish Torrent Tracker
When this idea was first brought up isn’t clear, not even to the site’s founders, but at the end of 2003 The Pirate Bay was presented to the public.
“We have opened a BitTorrent tracker – The Pirate Bay. From there, you can download and share games, movies, discs, TV shows and more,” the short announcement reads, translated from Swedish.
A New Torrent Tracker
One of the group’s unwritten goals was to offer a counterweight to the propaganda being spread by local anti-piracy outfit Antipiratbyrån. The pro-culture group saw sharing as something positive instead, and a file-sharing website would surely bring this point across.
The Pirate Bay first came online in Mexico where Gottfrid Svartholm, aka Anakata, hosted the site on a server owned by the company he was working for at the time.
After a few months, the site moved to Sweden where it was hosted on a Pentium III 1GHz laptop with 256MB RAM. This one machine, which belonged to Fredrik Neij, aka TiAMO, kept the site online and included a fully operational tracker.
The Pirate Bay server
Piratbyrån initially planned to create the first public file-sharing network in Sweden but, in the years that followed, the site grew out to become a global file-sharing icon.
While The Pirate Bay team was proud of this success, it was not without consequences. Initially, various takedown messages from copyright holders were met with mocking responses, but the legal pressure became a heavy burden.
Behind the scenes, the US Government applied pressure on Sweden, urging the country do something about the taunting pirate site. At the same time, the site’s founders noticed that they were being shadowed by private investigators, who smelled blood.The Raid
The pressure eventually reached its first peak when The Pirate Bay’s infrastructure was raided.
May 31, 2006, less than three years after The Pirate Bay was founded, 65 Swedish police officers entered a datacenter in Stockholm. The policemen had instructions to shut down the Pirate Bay’s servers, and that’s exactly what they did.
Footage from The Pirate Bay raid
For most pirate sites the road would end there, but The Pirate Bay was no ordinary site, and it wasn’t planning to cave in just yet.
Shortly before the raid began, Gottfrid noticed some unusual activity. He warned Fredrik who, as a precaution, decided to make a backup. This turned out to be a pivotal moment in the site’s history. Because of this backup, Fredrik and the rest of the Pirate Bay team managed to resurrect the site within three days.
Instead of hiding in the shadows, Pirate Bay’s spokesperson Peter Sunde, aka Brokep, told the world that The Pirate Bay wasn’t going anywhere.
This swift and defiant comeback turned the site’s founders into heroes for many. The site made headline news around the world and in Stockholm, people were waving pirate flags in the streets, a sentiment that benefited the newly founded Pirate Party as well.The Turning Point
There was also a major downside, however. The raid was the start of a criminal investigation, which led to a spectacular trial, and prison sentences for several of the site’s founders.Pirate Bay supporters at the first day in Court
This became another turning point. Many of the early Piratbyrån members cut their ties with the site. Gottfrid, Fredrik and Peter also left the ship, which was handed over to a more anonymous group ostensibly located in the Seychelles.
The outspokenness of the early years eventually gave way to the silent treatment. While the site’s moderators are easy to reach nowadays, the people (Winston) who pull the strings at the top remain behind the scenes at all times.
This was made quite obvious when the site disappeared for weeks following another raid at a Stockholm datacenter in 2014. At the time, even the site’s staffers had no idea what was going on.
The Pirate Bay eventually recovered from this second raid too, but by then something had clearly changed. The torrent site now seems content with just being there.
Over the years the site simplified its setup by removing the tracker, introducing magnet links, and further decentralizing its setup. The ability to comment was also sacrificed at some point, and user registrations were closed for years, although there’s some progress on that front now.The Mods and Admins
Today’s manual user registrations are processed by a dedicated moderator team, which also ensures that the site remains free of spam and malware. This team of volunteers is separate from the site’s ‘operator’ and many have been in that role for over a decade.
Earlier today, Pirate Bay admin Spud17 posted a message in the Pirate Bay forum to celebrate the 20th anniversary.
“Most of the current TPB Crew have been here for well over 10 years, many for much, much longer, and we’re proud to be associated with the world’s most iconic torrent site,” she notes.
“We volunteer our time freely to help keep the site clean, nuking the fakes and malware to kingdom come, and help edit/move/delete torrents as and when uploaders request help in the forum’s Account Issues subforum.”Crypto Miner and Token
After two decades, TPB still manages to make headlines on occasion. For example, when yet another country orders Internet providers to block the site, or when it suddenly decides to ‘deploy’ its users to mine cryptocurrency.
The last major project was announced in 2021 when The Pirate Bay released its very own ‘crypto’ token out of the blue. There was no official whitepaper for these PirateTokens, but the torrent site envisioned the ‘coin’ being used to access VIP content or donate to uploaders.
These plans never came to fruition and the token price soon entered a freefall. After a few months, the official token announcement disappeared from the site as well, leaving token holders with worthless digital memorabilia.
The Pirate Bay itself isn’t going anywhere it seems. The events listed above are really just a fraction of events spanning 20 extraordinary years. The question now is whether the site will survive until its 25th anniversary.
Note: The 20-year anniversary logo was created by theSEMAR.