Now BTJunkie shuts down: Who needs SOPA?

In the weeks after Internet users and some of the web’s biggest companies rallied around to fight SOPA’s approach to curbing online piracy, filesharing services of all stripes have taken a thrashing. First Megaupload was shut down and its flamboyant owner charged, then the Swedish courts ruled that the founders of the Pirate Bay could not appeal jail sentences handed down in 2009.

Now BTJunkie, another of the world’s largest filesharing sites, seems to have bitten the dust.

The site — a torrent search engine which seems to have been based in Europe — has been running for the past seven years, and at one point boasted at least 80 million users. But over the weekend its pages were replaced by a single blue screen marking its lifespan and a simple message:

“This is the end of the line my friends. The decision does not come easy, but we’ve decided to voluntarily shut down. We’ve been fighting for years for your right to communicate, but it’s time to move on. It’s been an experience of a lifetime, we wish you all the best!”

Although not as well known as some others, BTJunkie was one of the world’s most active torrent search engines, linking to millions of active torrents. That catalog which made it a big deal: in fact, according to data from Compete, it was the 3rd largest site of its kind in 2011.

But unlike Megaupload, which only shut when the police raided the company’s HQ, this closure seems to be proactive on the part of the BTJunkie’s owners. The site was never the target of any direct legal action, but it has been in the crosshairs of entertainment industry for some time: searches for the site are generally blocked by Google, and it became a thorn in the side of the MPAA when a BTJunkie admin was the first to spot that the MPAA was uploading fake torrents back in 2007.

It appears that mounting pressure from recent events has finally broken the resolve of the site’s anonymous owners, with Torrentfreak claiming that one of the site’s owners said the stress and trouble wasn’t worth the effort:

Talking to TorrentFreak, BTjunkie’s founder said that the legal actions against other file-sharing sites such as MegaUpload and The Pirate Bay played an important role in making the difficult decision. Witnessing all the trouble colleagues got into was cause for a lot of worry and stress, and those will now belong to the past.
That said, BTjunkie’s owner still thinks there might be a future for other BitTorrent sites.
“I really do hope so, the war is far from over for sure,” he told TorrentFreak.

That certainly makes this move closer to recent changes by The Pirate Bay, which closed down its .org domain in order to prevent seizure by the American authorities, than a move caused by a direct threat.

In the short term this will certainly be seen as a victory for the content lobby, though in a way it really proves that they don’t necessarily need more legislation to get what they want. But will it make a significant difference to the amount of filesharing in the long term? That seems less straightforward.

It’s unlikely that BTJunkie’s users will simply disappear or stop torrenting: they’ll just move off to other services, or start replacements that take the process back towards square one. But however you spin it, this could be an important moment in the arguments about whether the carrot of better service provision is more effective than the stick of legal threat.