Pirate Party membership in Sweden has plummeted by around 50 per cent as erstwhile supporters fail to renew their alliance to the party.
The outfit saw a surge in interest this time last year when the four co-founders of The Pirate Bay had just been found guilty in a Swedish court of being accessories to breaching copyright laws.
Since then, the issue of illegal file sharing on the web has gone from being a hot to lukewarm political potato and free membership of the Pirate Party, which stood at 50,000 people in the spring of 2009, has now slipped to around 25,000 in Sweden in the last few days.
Meanwhile, TPB remains the poster child of the BitTorrent generation, and enclaves of the Pirate Party have sprung up in parts of Europe and Canada in an effort to somehow slay the copyright beast.
The case against The Pirate Bay started in 2006 when Swedish authorities raided server sites and confiscated tech gear from several server locations.
Some have argued that the outcome of that trial represented a turning point of sorts, while others think the fight isn't over yet and that instead, last year’s verdict was just the opening shot in a long and messy war.
In the meantime the TPB co-founders Peter Sunde, Carl Lundström, Frederik Neij and Gottfrid Svartholm Warg sit on their hands awaiting an appeal, which Swedish courts have set a tentative autumn 2010 date for. In effect it’s pretty much business as usual for the site.
Swedish Pirate Party MEP Christian Engström told The Register last year that the judgment against The Pirate Bay highlighted how politicians were "destroying the internet", by imposing what his party considered to be restrictive legal frameworks to the web.
"It took the entertainment industry three years to get this first verdict. If they think they’re going to make people stop file sharing then they’re living in a fantasy world," he told us at the time.
But a year on, and Engström has admitted that his party has failed to sustain interest in pro-file sharing issues among its now dwindling membership.
"I'd guess we'll lose even more over the coming week and will drop to somewhere around 25,000 to 30,000," Engström told the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper, according to the Local.
At the same time, The Pirate Bay lives on, serving up torrents for users wanting to illicitly grab some software code, the latest Hollywood blockbuster or a Coldplay song, despite repeated efforts by various courts to get service providers to block the site.
Meanwhile, record labels continue to grapple with diminishing sales, while film companies make ever beefier movies that require cinema goers to slip on some 3D goggles, perhaps in the hope of also outfoxing illegal downloaders because of the file size.
The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry’s CEO and chairman John Kennedy is convinced that TPB’s appeal will be rejected and that government intervention will nullify the site.
"The environment for digital music services has transformed in the last 18 months. The Pirate Bay verdict and the introduction of stronger copyright laws have coincided with the dramatic growth in legal music services, spearheaded by Spotify," he said.
“There has been a clear shift in the mood of the debate on how to tackle piracy, both in Sweden and internationally, and The Pirate Bay trial played a part in that,” he told The Register.
He pointed out that while TPB is still operational, it has been legally challenged not just in Sweden, but also in Danish, Irish and Italian courts.
“Before the blocking order in Italy, 2.3 per cent of The Pirate Bay's users came from that country, now the number is negligible,” argued Kennedy.
"In the UK, the Digital Economy Act will allow the authorities to block access to sites like The Pirate Bay. Policymakers around the world now recognise that the creative industries cannot be ransacked forever without damaging consequences for future investment in talent."
It's unsurprising to see Kennedy express such forthright views about the Digital Economy Act, but suggesting authorities will have the power to cut off the likes of The Pirate Bay is - at best - a stretch. The outgoing UK government has invited telecoms watchdog Ofcom to put together a P2P code for ISPs and copyright holders that won't be put into practice for a year. During that time UK.gov will be hoping lots of new music services will appear, and that casual infringement will fall.
Meanwhile, the Pirate Party is keeping quiet. We've asked UK party reps and Engström about their thoughts on The Pirate Bay verdict one year on. But while last April's trial outcome may have galvanised the issue of illegal file sharing on the net, no one from the party has gotten back to us with any fresh comment. But then it does have some serious membership problems to deal with. ®