Today's Pirate Is the Entrepreneur of Tomorrow

Before the Super Bowl on Sunday (a frigid Monday morning in Beijing), the FBI prepared for the TV event by closing down more than 300 Internet domains that streamed sports events and sold NFL merchandize. At the same time, the US Department of Justice was prosecuting by proxy the Megaupload boss Kim Dotcom. Meanwhile, the three entrepreneurs behind file-sharer Pirate Bay were denied appeals and will sweat it out behind bars for up to 10 months, in addition to paying millions of dollars in fines.

Their crimes were copyright infringement, and the sentence is commercial death.

Mr Dotcom is a fascinating figure, a German for whom the epithet "larger than life" is entirely appropriate. He and his minions had settled themselves in enviable luxury at a lavish villa complex in New Zealand, where they drove around in Mercs, Rolls-Royces and Maseratis with license plates boasting they were "MAFIA" or "CEO" and "GUILTY" - which was obviously a red rag to a bull.

Here, the buccaneers ran a file sharing and hosting site that was formerly the Web's 13th most popular, with 50 million visits daily, and that employed 150 people.

US prosecutors charge that Dotcom and his merry men had earned $175 million from pointing people to sites and servers where they could download PC games, music, films and software. Prosecutors neatly characterized the business model as a "mega conspiracy".

And the heat is being turned up even further by the US government, with a series of proposed regulations that have two things in common: acronyms and zero tolerance for copyright infringement worldwide. They are SOPA, PIPA, ACTA and now TPPA, which have all been rolled out to stop the pirates and benefit the copyright holders.

The owners of these file-sharing websites are operating anywhere but the US in an attempt to flout the country's copyright laws.

But they have discovered the tentacles of US law enforcement are long and strong. The Pirate Bay privateers were sent down in Sweden, while Kim Dotcom is behind bars in New Zealand.

The US is patrolling its Internet empire in full-offensive mode. It built the Web and wants to retain ownership. Furthermore, it depends on it for much of its economic well being, since manufacturing is no longer its strong suit.

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