Ben Nicholson Berlin

Berlin 2013: ‘TPB AFK’ review

★★★☆☆

Founded in 2003 by “a couple of guys in a [internet] chatroom,” peer-to-peer file-sharing website The Pirate Bay was responsible for co-ordinating half of the world’s bit-torrent traffic by 2009. With an estimated 22-25 million users downloading from the site at any one time, TPB is clearly a principal player. It’s claimed that major motion picture studios suffered $6.1 billion losses at the hands of piracy in 2005. That’s the kind of thing that puts a trio of Swedish tech-geeks firmly in the sights of Hollywood’s big guns. Their ongoing trial is the focus of Simon Klose’s documentary, TPB AFK: The Pirate Bay Away from Keyboard (2013) (watch for free below).

Spanning a period of around 18 months, TPB AFK documents the continuing battle between the state prosecution in Sweden and the site’s runners Gottfrid Svartholm, Fredrik Neij, and Peter Sunde. February 2009 saw the three partners embark on their crusade against the machinery of the movie industry and what they view as stagnant copyright law in the modern information age. The trials (no pun intended) and tribulations of the following year and half take their toll on all three young men in different ways.

The film has – naturally – been uploaded to the net for the world to view for free. With such scrutiny drawn towards the issues in its headlines, it is perhaps a surprise to learn that at its core this is a film about the people; when they are AFK. The court case sees scandalous corruption go unhindered, and subsequent appeals required to stave off prison sentences and millions of dollars in damages. Our wily heroes are not painted as entirely innocent, though. Peter perhaps comes off in the best light as the company spokesman, and idealist, believing in intellectual freedoms and internet copyright reforms.

Watch TPB AFK: The Pirate Bay Away from Keyboard on YouTube below.

Fredrik is shown to relish the technical challenge of running such an enormous website, but also to relish a few too many beers and a hidden life to run away to in Laos. Gottfrid has similarly skipped abroad but his drug-addled exile in Cambodia is troubling and he has the most suspect history of the three with an uncomfortable revelation about taking money from WikiLeaks and history of cyber-warrior hacking attacks. All of this makes for stimulating viewing but regardless of the acronym in its title, there is an unequivocal lack of engagement with the piratical elephant in the room.

Remarks are cast here and there, but ultimately Klose prefers to keep the three amigos as is his subject rather than the pertinent debates raging over copyright and the world wide web. That’s not see say that the film doesn’t make for good viewing without it, but a stronger immersion in the issue might have made TPB AFK: The Pirate Bay Away from Keyboard something quite special.

The 2013 Berlin Film Festival runs from 7-17 February. For more of our Berlinale coverage, simply follow this link.

Ben Nicholson