Using Treasure Maps to Explain Technology to Lawyers



What’s the best way to explain BitTorrent to lawyers who may not be tech wizards? One judge went with pirates and treasure maps. 

A recent advisory opinion from an advocate general of the EU’s high court embraced a pirate analogy to describe the file-sharing protocol to lawyers who are often faced with the challenge of applying old laws to never-before-imagined situations in a rapidly changing, global, technological landscape. 

The case at hand revolved around the Pirate Bay, a popular internet search engine that provides metadata files that link to a particular file—often a copyrighted work. The shared files are on the computers of BitTorrent users, instead of on a central server, and the decentralized arrangement helps insulate the Pirate Bay against legal challenges and takedowns and raises questions about liability. 

So how to explain all that? Advocate General Maciej Szpunar, borrowing an analogy from Justice Dennis Cowdroy of the Australia Federal Court, said that “the file being shared in the swarm is the treasure, the BitTorrent client is the ship, the .torrent file is the treasure map, The Pirate Bay provides treasure maps free of charge and the tracker is the wise old man that needs to be consulted to understand the treasure map.” 

In the case of the Pirate Bay, the metadata files would be the “treasure map.” The particular file they link to is the “treasure.” And the BitTorrent users are the “swarm.” Got it? 

Szpunar’s entire advisory opinion, provided in the case Stichting Brein v. Ziggo BV, E.C.J., No. C‑610/15, advisory general opinion 2/8/17, can be found here