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The Pirate Bay's Peter Sunde: 'They can't take my soul'

Daniel Goldberg, Linus Larsson | Feb. 19, 2013
Peter Sunde was the poster boy for the file sharing movemen, then he was sentenced to eight months prison and fined millions of dollars

Sunde dropped out of school in his teens and started working as an IT consultant. He spent his evenings online and soon became involved in piracy, swapping music and films with others on invitation-only servers. Eventually, he was offered a job with the German technology company Siemens which, among many other things, develops IT systems for use in hospitals. A friend had convinced him to say yes: "If you do a good job, that could mean one or two people live longer than they would have otherwise."

Reality proved less glamorous. In 2003, based in Norway, Sunde helped program a system used for registering patients at hospitals. Older systems used fingerprints, and the new one would be compatible with retinal scanners. That got Sunde thinking. He had heard rumors of illegal immigrants burning their fingerprints away on kitchen stoves before visiting a hospital, so they wouldn't be caught and deported. Whether or not this ever happened is up for debate -- none of the experts on Norwegian asylum law we spoke to knew of any such cases -- but the rumor stuck with Sunde. While toiling away on the retinal scanner, all he could think of was asylum seekers poking their eyes out with knives.

He protested to his manager. "There was a lot of complaining after that. I was labeled as negative and difficult to work with," he says.

That same year, Sunde got in touch with Fredrik Neij through mutual acquaintances online. Fredrik needed help with a new project he was working on, a bittorrent-tracker that would eventually grow into The Pirate Bay. Sunde offered to help, started reading up on the file sharing movement, and realized he'd found a new home.

The Pirate Bay was born out of the Pirate Bureau, a loosely affiliated group of Scandinavian activists arguing for the free sharing of information and culture over the Internet. The ideas were far from new, but the group managed to orchestrate somewhat of a tectonic shift in Swedish public debate. Their rhetoric painted software piracy as a point of pride, rather than something shameful. Piracy, they argued, was an act of defiance, something to flaunt in the eyes of copyright holders, whose increasingly aggressive legal teams were putting basic Internet liberties at risk. The group regarded The Pirate Bay, their very own bittorrent tracker, as a physical manifestation of those ideas. The goals were lofty: The Pirate Bay was to become a limitless database of information, free from censorship and regulation, and an ever-present thorn in the side of the copyright industry. The rhetoric, always dressed in black-and-white pirate garb, struck a chord with many, not least with Sunde.


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