What is a torrent?
Well, to put it simply, torrent is a certain standard of file-sharing technology, used to transfer a file from one place to another – or many, as it were. The would-be file-sharer generates a “hacked” file that supplies those who want to download with all the relevant information needed to do so. They then run that file through a special program that’s designed to download and distribute torrent files, and start sharing it themselves.
What is Torrent.is then?
It is a web-portal that interested parties can use to share those files that they feel like distributing. Once they upload their torrent files, other users can download whatever takes their fancy and pass it on. Torrent.is is run as a private limitedliability company and owned exclusively by me. I am responsible enough not to waste the company’s funds, and I am not using them to finance the good life for myself, especially since I know that they are made up of contributions to the Istorrent fund. It costs 500,000 ISK to found a limited-liability company, and we used the Istorrent collection fund to finance that. We run an honest operation, and pay all the relevant taxes and fees. At the moment, my sole job is acting as CEO and director of Istorrent Ehf.
Why do you operate Torrent.is?
Because I am interested in the ideal and vision that the web stands for. At first, running Torrent. is was my hobby, but it started taking more and more time out of my schedule until I had no choice except to operate it for a living, instead of working somewhere else and limiting the time I could spend on the site. If I had a 9 to 5 job, I wouldn’t be able to keep the site up.
So, you are an idealist, and your motives for operating Torrent.is are purely idealistic. What is the ideal in question?
It is to encourage the free exchange of files. The internet is a huge thing that didn’t exist in Iceland until around 1986, and we want to… fight unfair censorship. For instance, copyright holders often use copyright laws for vast censorship. There are examples of copyright holders refusing to allow someone to use their work because they don’t agree with their opinions.
Like when the band múm sued the Nike Corporation for illegally using their song in an advertisement, because they didn’t agree with what the company stood for?
Exactly. Do we sometimes kick or ban people from Torrent.is? Only when it is absolutely necessary. We’ve often let people stay even though they disagree with our opinions. Also, those who hold the copyrights for really old material, some of whom demand sky-high prices to let someone use it. There was a group that was making a documentary on the first half of the 20th century, and they were collecting video clips to use in it. The copyright holders of those clips demanded such a high price for their use that they had to make due with using only stock materials, which really affected the quality of the documentary.
Does Torrent.is make a lot of money? How big a salary are you on, as CEO and single shareholder of Istorrent Ehf.?
There’s no profit from running Torrent.is. I manage to pay myself a salary but there’s not a lot left to go around after that, although our capital is slowly growing. That’s to be expected in the early stages of running a company. We recently started selling ads for the web, and that has been taking off more slowly than I’d assumed. My accountant told me that I should pay myself a minimum of 342,000 ISK per month, as I am the CEO.
So, you sell almost no ads but still manage to pay yourself a fairly high-end salary as well as increasing the starting capital of 500,000 ISK. Where is the money coming from?
Many of our users opt to support the operation by donating a small amount of money. We also have the web-store, where people can purchase certain benefits for their file-sharing pleasures. But there’s not a lot of money coming in.
Icelandic proponents of file sharing often justify themselves by pointing to mandatory tolls on copy-making materials, such as CD and DVD burners. However, that toll only amounts to a very slim portion of the retail price of a copyrighted CD, for instance, and it is relatively obvious that musicians stand to make a fraction of what they normally would if you download their music and burn it to a tolled CDR. Do you feel you are justified in using this argument?
Yes. I also think that if musicians don’t get enough money from STEF [the Icelandic association of music-rights holders], then that’s STEF’s problem, not mine. Plus I haven’t seen any official information on how much a musician stands to make from a CD-sale.
I am telling you, they stand to make around 2-700 ISK for a single CD-sale, depending on their record deal.
Assuming those figures are correct, then I must say that they’ve got better deals than foreign musicians. For instance, Toni Braxton only received 35 cents for every CD sold, and then she had to declare bankruptcy because she wasn’t meeting the expectations of her record company. Overseas, if you don’t sell enough copies of your CD, the record company will demand back the money they put into making it.
And then there are many musicians who make the mistake of trying to live off their music. I know that in most cases they work jobs along with their careers in music. They should view music more as a hobby than a career, and they should make it out of their passion for music, instead of the money.
Couldn’t you say the same thing about yourself?
Well, I make a living from running a file-sharing site. There are not a lot of those around, and I know that I can make a living by providing one. I don’t think it compares to being a musician.
Well, it’s hard to put to words. I think it’d probably be interpreted the wrong way if I were to answer that. In some cases, you can make a living from your passion, and in some cases you can’t. I’m not exactly paying myself a full salary.
You’re not? I’d have to work 80 hours a week minimum to make around two-thirds of your salary. And you live with your parents? That sounds like a fairly full salary.
I’ll move out eventually. It’s not as if I’m going to live there forever. The salary I’m on is the bare minimum of what the accountant told me I’d have to pay myself. I would have given myself a lower salary if I’d had the choice.
If users won’t pay for their desired content, who should? Should musicians and filmmakers work for free in your opinion?
No, that isn’t my opinion that they’d have to do that endlessly. There should be an increase in their rewards, I won’t deny that. How? We could envision it as a bonus to what they already make. Not exactly like a tip, but as Radiohead have demonstrated, free donations to popular bands can amount to major sums. They haven’t released the figures, but it’s safe to say that they’ll be getting millions, straight into their pockets. They’re cutting out the middleman. At Torrent.is, we have plans to make it easy for our users to donate directly to musicians, if anybody would agree to that.
I released an album in 2006 that had been downloaded around 1,000 times from Torrent. is at last count. I just made my last monthly 20,000 ISK payment on the loan I had to take two years ago, to record that album. Do you feel it is normal for me, as content provider, to be creating income and capital for you without receiving anything in return?
No, and if you disapprove of your album being distributed on our site you can always e-mail us and ask us to remove it and then ban it from further distribution. We usually respond kindly to such requests.
So, if any copyright holder asks you to prevent the distribution of their material, you will?
Yes, if the owners contact us, definitely.