Internet pirates are moving away from safe havens such as Sweden to new territories that include China and Ukraine, as they try to avoid prosecution for illegal file sharing, according to experts.

For several years, piracy groups that run services allowing music, video and software to be illegally shared online have been using legal loopholes across a wide range of countries as a way of escaping prosecution for copyright infringement.

In the last year there has been a significant shift, say piracy experts, as the groups have worked to stay beyond the reach of western law enforcement.

The change is rooted in the evolution of “bulletproof hosting”, or website provision by companies that make a virtue of being impervious to legal threats and blocks. Not all bulletproof services are linked to illegal activities, but they are popular among criminal groups, spammers and file-sharing services.

Rob Holmes, of the Texas law firm IP Cybercrime, which has worked to close down several bulletproof operations, said successful hosts were now starting to get stronger. “Some of the more popular ones have become more strongholds than they were previously,” he said. “Bulletproof hosting is just a data version of money laundering.”

Late last year a Swedish court found four men guilty of breaking copyright law through their links to the Pirate Bay website, one of the internet’s most notorious gateways for pirated films and television shows.

That decision prompted many piracy services to seek jurisdictions beyond the reach of western law. Pirate Bay moved its web servers to Ukraine, while another popular file-sharing service, Demonoid, which started in Serbia, also relocated.

“Ukrainian communications law, as they paraphrase it, says that providers are not responsible for what their customers do,” said John Robinson, of BigChampagne, a media tracking service based in Los Angeles.

Pirate Bay, after its brief excursion to Ukraine, is now run out of a Dutch data centre called CyberBunker, which is based in an old nuclear facility of the 1950s, about 200 km south-west of Amsterdam. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

Keywords: InternetpiracyCybercrime

More In: Comment | Opinion