Web Masters Episode #10: Peter Sunde

Below is a transcription of  Web Masters Episode 10: Peter Sunde. To learn more about Web Masters and subscribe, check out the Web Masters podcast page.



The Pirate Bay now lets you stream movies

Peter Sunde:

Sweden has a really weird relationship with a country called North Korea. It turns out that North Korea screwed Sweden over for, I think like 200 million euros. When people thought that North Korea was really, really rich, when they just opened up to trade with the world, Sweden got in there early and wanted to sell Volvo tractors and cars and everything and gave them lots of credit. And then all of a sudden North Korea stopped paying and defaulted on 200 million euros.

Sweden is still trying to claim the money from North Korea. So that’s why Sweden has an embassy in North Korea. So our goal was to have more debt than North Korea in Sweden. When we started having this debt of 15 million, it’s not that far away from North Korea and the interest rates. We have 14% interest rates. They have none. There’s a likeliness that in 50 years, I owe more money than North Korea to Sweden, which is kind of something cool to put on your CV.

Aaron Dinin:

Well, I’ve always admired ambitious entrepreneurs. So I’ve got to give this episode’s guest credit, setting a goal for yourself to own more than 200 million euros to the Swedish government is pretty darn ambitious. What kind of entrepreneur would set such a crazy goal for himself and his company? Well, a pirate. And that’s who we’ll be talking with on this episode of Web Masters. His name is Peter Sunde Kolmisoppi or just Peter Sunde in the American press.

He was one of the co-founders of The Pirate Bay. The world’s most popular, and some might say illegal file sharing search engine. Are you ready to hear his story? Great. Let’s get dialed in.

[INTRO THEME]

Aaron Dinin:

Welcome everyone to another episode of Web Masters. I’m your host, Aaron Dinin. I’m a web entrepreneur. I teach in the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative at Duke University and I study the history of internet businesses. I also happened to be a child of the internet age, meaning I grew up with things like Napster and Kazaa and all the other big file sharing services at the early 2000s.

In fact, I actually started college right around then, which means I was in the perfect demographic of teenagers with limited money, uber fast internet connections, and a lot of free time. Now, I’m not necessarily saying I personally availed myself of any of those services, but let’s just say I knew people. And you know, there was certainly a time in internet history when file sharing was a core part of life online.

And that’s why I’m so excited to share the story of today’s guest, Peter Sunde. He was, without question one of the most prominent people in the file sharing industry. And when I say prominent, I mean the guy went to jail for it. But before you start judging him, you’re going to want to hear his perspective. When you do, you might come away with a different opinion of online piracy. Let’s put it this way. He makes some compelling points, and we’ll get to all of them right after I tell you about this.

Bringing you these stories of early internet businesses entrepreneurs here on the Web Masters podcast wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for our incredible sponsor Latonas. Latonas is a boutique mergers and acquisitions broker. They specialize in helping to buy and sell cashflow positive internet businesses. Examples of internet businesses, by the way, include things like SaaS apps, content websites, Amazon FBAs, domain portfolios, pretty much any other type of work from anywhere company you can imagine.

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So I started this episode by referring to my guest, Peter Sunde as an ambitious entrepreneur. And I stand by that description because when I’m calling someone an entrepreneur, I’m applying a broad definition that’s not explicitly related to building companies.

However, I also know that in the current world, we live in the word, entrepreneur tends to conjure images of young Silicon Valley types, building billion dollar tech startups. And at first glance, Peter might even appear to fit that description. However, not only is Peter not that kind of entrepreneur, he actively despises the concept altogether.

Peter Sunde:

I never liked the idea of entrepreneurship. For me, an entrepreneur is someone who’s built a house. In Scandinavian languages, entrepreneur is actually the building entrepreneur. That’s the same word. So for me, it’s more like I worked for other companies and I never liked the way companies worked. I tried startup things. I tried working for big companies. I worked for municipalities and there’s always the lack of, I would say maybe the social connections, why we do things.

So for me, it’s always been about providing some sort of connection to culture, to society, to something that improve society in a sustainable way. So that was why I started companies. But I would like to not have to start companies, but rather have other types of organizations. It’s only a necessity to have the vehicle, but I don’t find it appealing to do companies to be honest.

Aaron Dinin:

So you’re saying you think corporate structure is more like a vessel for organization, but one you’d prefer, but didn’t exist?

Peter Sunde:

I think the big problem is that you tend to think about businesses as something that is supposed to give you a salary. And some people have the enjoyment of doing work that’s interesting, but for me, there’s the third layer of doing something which improves life. It doesn’t mess life up. It would be good enough for me if people start thinking about what the impact they have on the world with what they’re doing.

We don’t even think about that when we start companies or anything. Very often when I’m out speaking at conferences, entrepreneurial conferences, I just ask the audience for one thing. It’s like just think about your own impact on society. If you’re at an ad tech conference, most people go like, “I just make useless stuff that people hate. Why should I do this?” I think that’s the missing aspect. So I couldn’t be happy with my everyday life if it was focused around making money. I also think that if you’re happy with what you’re doing, because it makes you proud of what you achieve and it’s fun going to work and you feel pride and fulfillment, I think you do a better job and you actually benefit from it financially as well. Some sort of karma, but I just think we work better when we do better.

Aaron Dinin:

I think it’s pretty safe to say Peter has a belief system that’s not at all tied to money and profit. And I wanted to establish this upfront because a lot of his critics over the years would try to betray him otherwise. They often painted a picture of Peter and The Pirate Bay as some sort of high-tech startup scheme to profit off the hard work of others. Maybe that’s true. I honestly don’t have enough firsthand knowledge of the business’s internal finances to contradict that point, but I’ll certainly say nothing about my conversation with Peter indicated any sort of personal profit motive.

If anything, it was the exact opposite. Peter was focused on social and financial equality for everyone, and he seems to think technologists are specifically responsible for maintaining a fair and just society.

Peter Sunde:

Technologists are the new ruling class to be honest. We’ve shifted away from this classical working class, upper middle class to people understanding and controlling technology to the people who don’t. So we only have these two classes really on the internet. It’s very binary. You need to realize the privileges that come with that and the responsibility of having that privilege. And I think we don’t tend to discuss that enough.

We talk a lot about Zuckerberg and all of these people, but everyone working for them also have a responsibility to think about why they’re doing it. And just because all of their friends are nice and they work for Google who have their Don’t Be Evil slogan or did at least, you’re part of a cult, really that’s not doing good and you have a responsibility of not doing that, if so.

Aaron Dinin:

So it’s pretty clear that Peter has some strong opinions about the roles and responsibilities of people who are skilled with digital technologies. And I think it’s safe to assume those opinions are one of the driving forces behind his work with The Pirate Bay, a website that uses digital technologies to make media more accessible. Similarly, Peter also believes that in order for content to be accessible, access to the internet itself should be treated as a fundamental human right, because huge parts of society have moved online.

Peter Sunde:

I think the default in a decent democratic society should of course be equal access to the society. And today’s society has just moved on to the internet. Every phone call you’re making is some sort of internet backend. If it’s not now, it’s going to be the same with all media is moving online. Radio is non-existent in analog form. Everything is moving to be based upon the internet.

So just as obvious it is that we should have equal access to the streets in our cities is the access of the internet. It’s much more important to actually have internet access than having access to our streets for most people if you just think about the psyche and how the world looks like today.

We’re still treating the internet as some sort of optional thing in society. In Europe, we have a discussion about this stupid idea of three strikes and you’re out. I don’t know if you have the law in the US. While you have it for crime, but in advance to have a law that basically, if you get caught of doing something illegal on the internet three times, you got cut off from the internet for a year, which is just like insanity. If you say something, “Oh yeah, you pickpocketed two times, you can’t have access to the streets for a year.” That’s just insanity.

Aaron Dinin:

So you don’t think there should be any regulations in place, no regulations or policing?

Peter Sunde:

The discussion is flawed because we never decided that the internet is valuable, what the internet actually consists of. The control of it has been just handed over. No one had even discussed about taking control of the internet in a way that is democratic. All of these organizations that have been controlling the internet has just popped up from interest groups or companies. It has never been a democratic decision or discussion about how our current and future society should look like.

So I think that’s always why I get annoyed when we talk about what Facebook should and shouldn’t do. What kind of regulations they should have. We shouldn’t talk to them about it. We should just decide ourselves and they have to follow it. I’s weird that we can do this with banks. We can do it with planes. We can do it with trains. We can do it with automotive industry. We can just tell them and tobacco industry, we just tell them, basically, these are society’s laws. But we never did it with big data. That’s still the first discussion we should have. Why are they allowed to not be part of the democratic process? Why are they above that?

Aaron Dinin:

So here we’ve got someone who isn’t motivated by money who believes access to the internet is a fundamental human right, who believes technologists are responsible for creating an equal and just society and who believes technology should work for people rather than people working for technology. Put all those things together and it starts to become clear how someone like Peter could become a digital pirate. There’s just one thing missing from the mix. And that’s the practical component. How does the file sharing technology he dedicated himself to support his higher-minded ideals?

Peter Sunde:

So I have a background of… Most people from my generation when it comes to technology, wouldn’t have courses or anything about how technology works. We’re just classic trial and error, whatever we did. And in order to do that, we of course needed some tools, which was basically the software and games and everything else to learn computers and programming, and coding, and everything.

So I grew up with piracy as part of everyday life as a technologist. I got my first computer when I was eight or nine. Everyone just copied things back and forth. We didn’t discuss if it was good or bad, it was the only way to actually learn anything. We couldn’t pay a hundred dollars for a C programming language, whatever. It’s just out of the question. We didn’t even discuss piracy as a good or bad thing. It was the basis for all education when it came to computers.

Aaron Dinin:

As Peter explains, the early days of the internet and self-taught computer people was largely built around an ecosystem of piracy. It was a big part of how kids taught themselves to understand computers and the web and software in general. Now, for better for worse, there wasn’t much discussion of whether or not piracy was right or wrong. It was just the way millions of people learn to navigate the digital world. It was what it was. Now, that type of education is what motivated Peter to advocate for open access, to information, knowledge, media, and digital resources.

Peter Sunde:

For me, it became very important that other people just not myself and my generation had the possibility of having the same access to information as we did. So I got really interested in the whole topic of file sharing and the whole information wants to be free discussion that was ages ago. For me, it was really, really important giving back somehow the same education that I had. Because my generation, we didn’t have education at all. Really, when it came to computers, it became all of the teachers that work in universities and so on that were really good. They’re probably from my generation because they learn everything when it happened. And it’s a bit different learning by living instead of just learning by reading.

Aaron Dinin:

And here’s the thing, Peter, wasn’t the only person who believed this. In fact, lots of other people believed the same thing. And as you’d probably guess, the internet was a great place for these people to meet and organize.

Peter Sunde:

Then I met on… Of course on the internet, we have the chat room on IRC, which was basically a lot of Scandinavian hackers, philosophers from right to left on a political scale that were interested in these topics. We founded a group called the Bureau for Piracy. It was a wordplay because we had a group in Sweden called the Bureau Against Piracy. In Scandinavian, it’s much more interesting because it’s PiratbyrĂ„n and AntipiratbyrĂ„n is the names of the organizations.

So we remixed it and became the original because there had to be anti us. It was very directed against us, the way the naming was. And it was just sort of a prank and we started having a lot of demonstrations going out, preaching that we in welfare countries, we need to have a hundred megabits internet connection at home. All of these things to make people think about the internet. Then we started talking about the internet as a human rights.

We brought up all of these discussions that we thought were interesting, but no one really had. So one of the things we did was that we started different projects to get people’s attention and Pirate Bay was of course the big one that came out of this organization that became its own life, let’s say it so.

So we were three people from the Bureau for Piracy that split out of the group and founded The Pirate Bay, which the idea basic was that we wanted to use the new technology of BitTorrent, which we felt were much more democratic than the way people shared files. Before BitTorrent, before you had to have access to some archives that you had to be part of some sort of group. It was not very public. And we wanted it to be available for the public to download whatever information and share whatever information they wanted.

It just happened that we had a political stance of why we did it, and most of the other people running other file sharing networks, they were more interested in having fun with it. It was fun technology. But we had the reasoning behind, which I think was why we became so big. We didn’t just do something. We did it for a cost.

Aaron Dinin:

And for the sake of people listening to this who maybe aren’t familiar with BitTorrent or don’t know what a torrent is, can you explain what The Pirate Bay is and the core technology behind it?

Peter Sunde:

So basically Pirate Bay is a search engine where you can search for information that other people want to share with the world. And then if you want to download that information, there’s a link to a torrent file, which basically gives you access to that information from everyone who is interested in sharing that file. So it’s a peer-to-peer file sharing system, but Pirate Bay is just to search a name for finding those peers. So no content is hosted on Pirate Bay, only the metadata of what’s available on the file sharing realm is a decentralized system.

So Pirate Bay and most other torrent sites are just a search engine index like Google but without a cache and without copies of pictures and all of that, which is weird that Google didn’t get sued for.

Aaron Dinin:

Did you catch that not so subtle bit of snark? The Pirate Bay is just a search engine like Google. It literally just points users in the directions of content other people are hosting. The site itself doesn’t store, distribute, or share any of the content owned by other people. Now, in contrast, Google actually caches and stores other people’s proprietary content without their permission. So it’s a bit weird that everyone seems to be cool with Google actually stealing content, but The Pirate Bay, which actually doesn’t, get sued for it as did by the way all the other file sharing search engines. The only difference between those other ones and The Pirate Bay was that The Pirate Bay refused to let it stop them.

Peter Sunde:

It grew quite a lot very quickly because most of the other torrent sites, they shut down when they started getting threatening letters. And when we got our first letters, we decided to make a decision that we’re going to keep this running or are we going to give in to them. So we started sending back letters saying (beep) “You don’t control us. We’re in Sweden. We don’t follow US legislations.” They sent a lot of these Copyright Act letters forcing us to take stuff offline from the internet. And of course, it doesn’t apply in Sweden. So we just told them that, “You have to invade us first.” And we know that people from the United States are very interested in invading countries, but to do it before you try to dictate our local laws.

I sent of a polar bear once to the people from Dreamworks just as a reply to a letter, and they were very confused about the picture and basically wrote back asking, “What the (beep) is this?” Maybe not in those wordings? And I explained this is a guy that was outside my window this morning. I don’t care about copyright because of a polar bear trying to kill me. What’s more important?

They didn’t know how to rect all of these things. We understood that there was PR for The Pirate Bay. It was a big (beep) that there’s a David Goliath thing going on. We had the law on our side. So it was very important for us to have people’s attention to discuss the issues.

Aaron Dinin:

And they definitely got people’s attention. The Pirate Bay became the largest file sharing search engine in the world and is in fact still one of the most visited websites on the internet. And it was never because of their technology, it was always because of their principles.

Peter Sunde:

Pirate Bay grew mostly because we didn’t shut down. Not because it was good technology or we were there first, it’s just because we were the only ones standing. It didn’t shut down the website and still up and running after, I guess, 16, 17 years. And I’m guessing now that it’s probably still growing. It’s always been growing at least 2% every month, as long as I was part of it. The internet just grew as well, but it’s still top 300 websites in the world, I think. For a while, Pirate Bay was over half of the internet traffic in Europe.

Aaron Dinin:

Now keep in mind The Pirate Bay had half of the internet traffic in Europe, but it was only being operated by three guys, Peter and his two co-founders Frederick Neij and Gottfrid Svartholm. I’m pretty sure I butchered those names. Sorry about that. The reason it was only three dudes is that despite what people might think about running one of the world’s most popular websites, there was no money in it. In fact, there was no way to get money because anyone who came near them with it, would get sued.

Peter Sunde:

Funding was of course awful because we didn’t have funding. We had some advertising on the website, but people advertising on Pirate Bay, they get a phone call after a minute saying, “We’re going to sue you for financing, illegal website.” So the only people that actually paid for any sort of advertising on Pirate Bay where companies selling ringtones or (beep) basically like smiley packs for your cellphone and stuff like that. And they of course paid (beep).

So most of the time when Pirate Bay was done, people thought it was the police coming to raid. It was basically the internet provider saying like, “I’ve had enough of all of this traffic usage and no payment.” So we hopped around finding, to be honest, the next victim of someone who we are going to screw over for money, because we knew we couldn’t pay the bandwidth bills.

At the same time as people were like, “Oh, there’s such a big website. They’re making millions.” And we’re like minus thousand euros from my own pocket last month basically to try to keep things floating.

Aaron Dinin:

So how did you operate like this for so long? How’d you keep The Pirate Bay running?

Peter Sunde:

It was weird. We didn’t have money for servers. So we recoded things all the time. We made kernel modules for the servers so we could push much more traffic. Hard-coded some parts of the actual web server to be in kernel. Lots of fun hacking actually, but it wasn’t really simple. So Pirate Bay was down a lot because of technological problems. Let’s say that. So that was basically it. We had normal jobs all of us, day time jobs. So you worked eight, nine, 10 hours. A new normal job, and then you came home and you worked eight, nine, 10 hours with Pirate Bay, mostly keeping stuff working or my part was mostly dealing with press.

It was always someone who wanted to interview or talk about something or documentary team that wanted to come by, which was hard to deal with as well. It took a lot of time, a lot of lawsuits every day.

Aaron Dinin:

And how’d you handle all the lawsuits? That couldn’t have been cheap either, right?

Peter Sunde:

We had a friend of ours or an acquaintance that helped us on the legal parts who was studying law. Not the most professional guy in the world. He later got arrested for other things. It was very, let’s say Wild West, whoever could chip in with something kind of did. It was very clear when I was part of it, that Pirate Bay was illegal. It is a free harbor for people. If we just facilitate, help people find each other, we wouldn’t be liable for anything. But it turns out that it doesn’t matter if you’re legally right or wrong.

It turns out that you’re messing with the wrong people. They will find a way to (beep) you over. Anyhow we’ve been sued in probably 25 countries that I know of. Some of the lawsuits are also sealed until we end up in one of those countries. I’ll probably get sued in some countries if I just show up. I can’t go to the US not just because of Pirate Bay because of other things. Or I can go, but I can’t leave. That’s a very important distinction. So yeah, there was a lot of these things happening.

Aaron Dinin:

So it’s still affecting your life even though you’re no longer part of it?

Peter Sunde:

Lawsuits are still going on. Even though I left, I think 11 years ago, I’m still getting sued, which is interesting. I still have to go to court every now and then. And basically they didn’t know I’m not part of it anymore. I can use the evidence from the last lawsuit they did against me where they said, “We know he’s not part of it,” as some sort of evidence in the next one.

But it’s always been important for our opponents to show that, “We’re going to (beep) you up for the rest of your life if you don’t do as we say.” They have a lot of money, let’s say that. All of the companies that paid us or hit me and the people I worked with, they’re Fortune 50 companies at least. So they have much more money than my minus 15 million euros I have. I owe 15 million, I think 15 million euros in Sweden, something like that. Great business.

Aaron Dinin:

Yeah. You’re really living proof that being an entrepreneur and building a hugely popular website is a great way to get rich. So to change the subject here a bit, can we discuss the other giant elephant in the room, which is piracy? “The sharing” of people’s intellectual property. Can you talk a bit about your perspective on that?

Peter Sunde:

Yeah. I just go back and forth. But if you look at the history of copyright is actually really interesting it comes to this. So the reason why we had copyright was to make sure that the copy was right. There was an actual copy of the wording that when Gutenberg printed the Bible, you wouldn’t change the Bible and make it say that God is evil. But today it’s protected to make sure that you don’t get access to knowing that God is almighty or whatever you want it to print.

So that’s why we accepted copyright because we wanted to protect the truth and now it’s being used to protect cashflow. One thing I can accept is of course protecting the idea and the value of someone creating work. I totally respect the author’s rights to not be infringed upon what he wanted to produce. Of course with remixing being accepted. But that’s a totally different copyright than what it turned out to be. I don’t think that if we had the idea of copyright as it looks today, we would accept that if it came out of nowhere.

It goes against cultural values to not be able to share with each other. I think piracy is great for that matter. I would say basically it’s civil disobedience against an unfair law that is not in interest of society. Piracy is pushing for decency with civil disobedience.

Aaron Dinin:

Well, and there’s another side of that too, right? Which is that historically people are always blaming new technologies for contributing to piracy.

Peter Sunde:

It’s a never ending story. If you start with recorded music in itself, when you had the first recorded music, artists got really upset because people would record the music and they wouldn’t get paid to play. They tried banning that for a long time. And then it turned out that artists really made a lot of money from that because more people listen to music, it was more accessible and the more accessible it was, the bigger audience you get.

And then history kind of repeats itself all over again. People started listening to radio and didn’t buy music in the same way, but then you had the radio license. Then you have the cassette tapes with people recording from radio. And every time there’s a new shift in technology, people complain from the recording artists to companies, all of that.

Aaron Dinin:

And that’s kind of the irony, isn’t it? Because historically speaking, eventually businesses adapt and that creates newer, bigger, better, more lucrative business models.

Peter Sunde:

Yeah. So people called me maybe 10 years ago and said, “Oh, Daniel Ek from Spotify said without Pirate Bay, there would be no Spotify. Oh, it’s a great salute to your work,” and so on. And I was really upset because Spotify is a great product, but I really hate what Spotify means. Spotify means that we have, again, gone to a centralized location for our cultural heritage with a few companies making more money than ever before without doing the work they at least did before with lending out money to artists and producing something physical.

So in many ways, of course, I do understand that without piracy, there would be no Spotify. There would be no Apple Music. All of these things pushed the record companies to see that they lost that fight, but it just took the step of controlling the world much better now. I didn’t think that there would be a Spotify becoming this insanely giant industry with thousands of employees and screwing lots of record artists out of money because we did some sort of stupid hack in some basement somewhere.

Of course, it’s just part of it, but it all adds up and people think I should be proud of that. I’m seriously upset about Spotify being the outcome. And everyone just accepting this solved the issue of piracy, because for me, it just (beep) it up. We lost and they won and everyone was saying, “Yay, you did something great.” It’s a really bizarre situation.

Aaron Dinin:

In a way. This is another really useful entrepreneurship lesson from Peter. He’s reminding us that our entrepreneurial actions can have huge and unanticipated consequences. So even when we passionately believe in what we’re doing, we can never truly control how the world responds. For some other examples, let’s look a bit closer at a couple interesting and unanticipated outcomes of the kinds of media piracy that Pirate Bay facilitated beyond the creation of things like Spotify and Apple Music. The first example is related to content discovery and the kinds of download trends Peter was able to see as he watched the site’s traffic during his time running it.

Peter Sunde:

The top a hundred lists on The Pirate Bay would be the top 100 most popular thing, but it was 90% of the actual data transfers would be outside of the top 10 list, which is kind of different. It was very much in other languages. So you didn’t have the filters as a lot of Nigerian movies from Nollywood, a lot of movies from Bollywood before it was a big thing in Europe and the US.

So a lot of people discovered other cultures, other nations cultures in a way because you didn’t get served a lot of these top list of things, that are most popular because it’s a blockbuster movie whatever. It was more like random accidents where you run into different content. I found a lot of music on Pirate Bay just by random because it wasn’t some great search algorithm. If you like this music, you would also like this. So it was more like here’s some other music. That’s just it. There’s some other music as well. There’s no AI to this, which is probably the greatest AI is not having AI, because if I like this type of music, I probably don’t listen to other types of music that I should, because I could like them more.

Aaron Dinin:

According to Peter, The Pirate Bay was, and still is a hugely influential content discovery platform. And according to him, that’s not necessarily taking money out of people’s pockets. After all, if you discover, say Bollywood movies, thanks to the pirated ones you download it on a site like Pirate Bay, and then you eventually purchase more Bollywood content in the future, that’s actually better for creators than if you never discovered you loved Bollywood movies in the first place because you didn’t have access to the pirated copies.

Now, that in my mind is certainly an interesting counterpoint to the blanket assumption that piracy harms creators. Again, I’m not saying piracy is good or bad, but I think Peter is making a really interesting point here. Similarly, Peter describes another outcome of media piracy that I hadn’t considered at all, but it actually seems entirely beneficial to the creators. So let’s hear a bit about that one.

Peter Sunde:

The best discussion I had about content on Pirate Bay and piracy was actually with Richard Stallman from the Free Software Foundation. And his biggest problem with piracy was that as long as you have piracy people will download copyrighted, licensed operating systems and programs such as Photoshop or Windows, because it’s accessible for free. Whereas he would like that to be banned so that you can’t download copyrighted software because then you would have to go over to a free alternative, which I totally agree with.

Windows and Photoshop, all of these should be banned for that reason. Especially Adobe, they know that people download a version of Photoshop for free illegally, and then they learn how to use the tool. And then of course, when they start working, they know the tool and their employer will pay for it. That’s been a part of their business plan all along. So that’s why they never really sued anyone for illegally sharing Photoshop.

Aaron Dinin:

How about that? Adobe uses software piracy as a way to train people on their software because many of those same people will eventually get jobs and ask their companies to buy expensive professional licenses. I’m guessing more than a few of you listening to this are suddenly feeling a bit manipulated, huh? More importantly, I think these examples speak to the complexity of online file sharing and piracy to label it as an inherently a bad thing or a good thing, overlooks the much more nuanced role that plays in the larger technology ecosystem.

And that’s something Peter and his co-founders of The Pirate Bay seem to understand in a way that other file sharing facilitators didn’t fully appreciate. And that’s why The Pirate Bay continues to be one of the most heavily trafficked websites in the world long after countless other file sharing websites have come and gone.

Peter Sunde:

I think that we did something right, which was, first of all, we decided that we’re not going to shut down. So we took that decision, which was great that we had a plan of how to do it. We needed to not hide our identities. It was really important because we wanted to make sure that people understood that this is not something you should be ashamed of. When I started with discussing piracy in the media, people had their faces pixeled when they were in the press like, “Oh, this guy is illegally file-sharing,” which is just the bizarre thing if you would see someone do that today, you would just laugh about it. Right? So that was the decision we made.

Pirate Bay honestly has always sucked as a platform. It’s been really crap website. It’s been really crap search engine. It’s been really crap the way it was dealt with on a support level. All of the moderation has been crap. Everything is just crap. Except the attitude. Even the logo, the font, everything just sucks. The name is awful.

We should have called it the Ninja Bay or something that’s less just stupid and ugly looking. But I think that the attitude saved everything. Like Craigslist, it looks awful, but people use it because it’s always been there. Right? And Pirate Bay became the same thing. We grew not because we were good as we sucked, but we grew because we didn’t shut down.

Aaron Dinin:

Well, Peter says The Pirate Bay sucked and only grew because they didn’t shut down. After speaking with him and hearing his story, I’d say he’s being a bit modest here. He’s undervaluing the importance of conviction in entrepreneurial activity. And regardless of whether you think what Peter did was right or wrong, I think we can all agree that he’s certainly a man who knows what he believes and that played an enormous role in The Pirate Bay’s worldwide influence.

Peter Sunde:

Most people don’t have to actually talk about what they believe. They just talk about numbers or like a scale or finance or a business plan or all of these things. And I think that the missing part is what do you want to do with your life? You want to look yourself in the mirror every morning, because you’re proud of yourself. You’re happy with what you’re doing. You’re doing something which you believe in. You don’t really care about the money. Maybe you even lose money from it.

But I’ve been to prison. I had to go to prison because of Pirate Bay. I set in rooms next to serial killers. I hung out with them for months and months, weird people. They were super nice. They liked me because like what I did. Some people called me Jesus because I had to go to prison for their sins, for their downloads.

Prison guards had to ask me for autographs for their kids. Very bizarre situation. But I’m also getting love letters all the time. People that I’d never met before, they just like me or for what I represent. Maybe they’d only know me as a person. For a lot of people, purpose has been really important to their own development.

Aaron Dinin:

Out of curiosity, what ways have people told you that you helped them?

Peter Sunde:

Every time I go to some country, every city, every place, there’s going to be someone during a week, that’s just going to tell me their story about how Pirate Bay affected their life. For instance, downloading Photoshop, to be able to come and to sign or downloading some programming language documents or seeing that movie that pushed them to do this thing, that they couldn’t have access before. There’s been all of these different stories. Super nice. I don’t deserve all of that credit, but the penalty that I’ve been paying for all of this is much less than the value I get out of it on a personal level.

Yeah. It’s a (beep) up situation, but I’m also super lucky. Most of my friends, they tried to pay off their student loans. I will never be debt free in the rest of my life. There’s no possibility. So I don’t even think about that. That’s the way to be rich, because I don’t have to think about that because it’s so extreme. It’s not in your mind of becoming rid of it. So I just do things that make me happy.

I can’t do anything to make money. The focus has shifted in a way that I’m super happy about. So I feel great with myself every day because I only do things that are fun. I only do it for the right reason. I can’t complain about it. I meet these startup founders all the time. They’re stressing so much. They want to have the right outfit. They want to have the right clothing. They want to have the right people that they work with, the right investor, all of these things. I’m just like (beep) “I just want to have fun and I just want to have a good life.” It’s much better than having so much money on the bank and having this photo op with some Bono at some startup conference. I don’t really care. That’s fake. I have a real life. So that’s much nicer.

Aaron Dinin:

I have to admit as someone who spent a lot of years being one of those startup founders stressing about everything from his outfit to his investors, Peter’s version of life seems, well, pretty compelling. Regardless of whether you agree, I hope you found his story as fascinating as me. And if you did, well, you know what I’m going to ask you to do. Make sure you press the subscribe button on your podcasting app of choice. And while you’re there, why don’t you add a nice review? That’s not too much to ask, is it? I’d like to thank Peter Sunde Kolmisoppi for taking the time to share his story with all of us.

You can find him on Twitter. His handle is @brokep which seems appropriate. I want to thank our sound engineer, Ryan Higgs for all his work, putting together this episode. And I want to thank our sponsor Latonas for supporting this podcast.

If you’re interested in buying or selling an internet business, be sure to visit latonas.com. If you’ve got any comments, thoughts, or feedback on this episode, you can reach us on Twitter. We’re @WebMastersPod where you can reach me directly on Twitter. I’m @AaronDinin. That’s A-A-R-O-N-D-I-N-I-N. And if you’d like more stuff about entrepreneurship and startups, I’ve got lots of articles on medium.com. Just search for my name over there. And you know what, feel free to steal all my articles and post them to The Pirate Bay because honestly I create that stuff for people to read. So the more people who read it, the better.

And you know what, that’s true for this podcast too. Share it with everyone you know. I don’t really care how. I just think more people should hear these incredible stories, which is why I can’t wait to share the next one with you. That’s coming in just a few days. But for now, well, I guess it’s time for me to sign off.

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