Internet traffic in Sweden dropped nearly 40 percent immediately following the April 1st implementation of a new law which gave prosecutors and copyright holders increased powers to track down suspected file sharers.
After April 1st, broadband traffic in Sweden fell from an average of 160 gigabytes per second down to about 100 gigabytes per second, according to figures from Netnod, a company which operates internet exchanges in five cities in Sweden.
The company's statistics serve as a generally accepted barometer for measuring Sweden's internet traffic, and many viewed the initial dip as a temporary phenomenon due to uncertainty about the new law.
But more recent figures reveal that Swedish internet use in April has stayed 30 to 40 percent below levels recorded before the law went into effect.
“The huge reduction in traffic shows that ordinary users have cut down on illegal file sharing,” said Henrik Pontén, a lawyer for Sweden's Anti-Piracy Agency (Antipiratbyrån – APB), in a statement.
While the Netnod figures don't provide specific details about individual internet users' specific web surfing or file sharing habits, other observers agree there is likely a connection between the drop in internet use and the new law.
“The easiest explanation is that many file sharers are in a wait and see period,” Erik Arnberg of website monitoring company Pingdom told The Local.
The Anti-Piracy Agency, however, has seized on the persistent drop to tout what it sees as the law's chilling effect on Swedish file sharers.
The law which appears to have Sweden's illegal file sharers on the run is based on the European Union's Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive (IPRED) and allows courts to order internet service providers (ISPs) to hand over details that identify suspected illegal file sharers.
The bill narrowly passed in a February Riksdag vote and two weeks before the IPRED law went into effect, a poll by the Sifo polling company revealed that only 32 percent of Swedes supported the measure.
According to Pontén, a major source for pirated movies in Sweden, the underground file sharing network The Scene (Scenen), had been “very careful” since the law came into effect and had shut down a number of its servers or moved them to other countries in the Nordic region.
“The month of April has seen a break in the trend of pirating movies in Sweden,” said Pontén, noting that the number of pirated movies released by The Scene has been cut in half during April compared with March.
In addition, the agency claims that every major Swedish bitTorrent tracker site with the exception of The Pirate Bay has been shut down.
But Arnberg contended that it wasn't so easy to say exactly why Sweden's internet traffic has remained so much lower in the wake of the IPRED law, or if that drop means that less illegal file sharing is taking place.
“Part of it may simply be that Swedes like to follow the rules,” he said.
Another possible explanation, according to Arnberg, is that Swedish internet piracy has moved off shore, with file sharers downloading more material from sites located outside of Sweden – activity which wouldn't show up in the Netnod statistics.
“But I'm a bit skeptical, frankly,” he said, adding that it was “hard to believe” that nearly one third of Sweden's internet traffic simply shifted overnight to sites overseas and stayed there.
Despite a month of consistently lower internet traffic, Arnberg said it's still too early to assess the overall effects of the IPRED law or to know if or when Swedish internet traffic may eventually bounce back.
“Everyone is being very cautious right now,” he said.
In the eyes of Stockholm University IT-law expert Daniel Westman, however, the measure has failed to achieve its intended goal.
“I'd say that the law has been partially successful in that it appears to have stopped people from sharing files illegally,” he told The Local.
“But the point of the law was to get more people to use legal file sharing sites and if it had been truly successful, we wouldn't see this drop in internet traffic, but simply a shifting of traffic from illegal file sharing sites to legal ones.”
Arnberg is also concerned about the long-term effects of a measure which appears to have so little support among the Swedish public.
“Maybe the music industry is happy for the moment, but the rule of law is based not on the risk of sanctions, but on the perception that laws are just,” he said
“There are a lot of people out there that don't think the laws are just, and that's not a good situation.”