Tuesday, 7 February 2012

What wave? Time for a rethink?


It has started. With the capture and arrest of millionaire Kim DotCom, and the shutdown of Megaupload, shockwaves have been tearing through the contemporary (illegal) filesharing world. A large number of sites have started nuking links, revoking accounts and cancelling user subscriptions while simultaneously re-writing the terms of service agreements. It all smells a bit like Nazis in the basement shredding documents even as the end of the war crashes down around them.

The current post-P2P (Napster, WinMX, DC++, Kaaza, Emule, Winny etc), IP based filesharing trend always inhabited a legal grey zone while brashly flaunting its services. It was as simple as upload content and post links to friends, on blogs and on forums. Entry level use, that is for the casual day-to-day pirate, was in most cases free and bandwidth limited but not so much as to be overly inconvenient. Serious pirates for whom warez as well as popular cultural media (movies, music, text), could pay a small fee and receive unlimited access to these services including multiple, parallel downloads and no bandwidth or data usage caps. Essentially a subscription-based, in-browser P2P piracy experience.

This large scale, enforced as well as self imposed shutdown comes amid debate about SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act) and the arrest of Kim DotCom in his luxury mansion in New Zealand this last weekend. Both acts appear to have lost much of their original support after a flood of online protest and have shown to be disproportionately huge in their power to prosecute a situation which requires finesse rather than fire-bombing. SOPA/PIPA have (had?) the potential to change the very shape of the internet and how it works. Indeed, the reason I write is a reflection of the effects already set in motion. Hundreds of thousands, millions even have already come out in opposition of these acts but there is an important question that goes unsaid. Would it really be that bad if the way the internet works was changed? Would it be so terrible if there were greater potential for legal recourse against those who under the guise of “free information” have ingrained theft as a primary component of contemporary internet use?

Many people are worried that these types of acts could censor and silence broad swathes of opinion and significantly stymie the flow of all kinds of information, knowledge and news. They are right. But there remain questions worthy of further debate: if law is actually capable of changing how things work online and the internet becomes highly regulated, would this be such a bad thing anyway? In other words, the internet while still relatively new did not always exist. It has not been in place for most of human history. And while it has facilitated an explosion of knowledge and creativity, it has also allowed a similar scale of hate, violence, depravity and wasted time. Second, again, although relatively young yet somewhat mature, people on the net have shown time and again that restrictions lead to workarounds. Frequently, it is these workarounds that lead to new ways of doing work, lead to innovation and foster the development of engineering and programming communities. I believe that the response to this wave of shutdowns had contingencies in place well before all of this happened, after all, invisible, grey zone, legal limbo communities have to think quickly, constantly.

Are we seeing a reconfiguring of the filesharing landscape and the movement toward new technologies and methods or is this merely a minor glitch with a workaround patch to be deployed in a few days or so? What is my position? I have benefited from the free flow of information and media on the internet. I have had the opportunity to engage with artisitic works at an intimate level that would have been impossible if not for community based filesharing. That said, I have also lost to this byte-swarm. I have lost time and depth of contact, of sustained engagement. The data-blizzard has increased my knowledge of complexity at the expense of my experience of considered meditation on fewer objects of knowledge. Stimulation versus contemplation.

Whatever the outcome, I do not believe this is the end of filesharing. Broswer based filesharing brought piracy to the mainstream, it made things easy for the anyone, anywhere, curious user. But usenet, dedicated P2P clients, bitorrent and FTP exchange were there first and will likely live on regardless. Or maybe they won’t. Caution, interesting times ahead. Now if only there was law enacted against the vile sputum endlessly issued on social network platforms, the world would be a much better place!


It has been more than two weeks since the above was written. In that time the inventories of several major filesharing servers were wiped, effectively rendering a vast network of shared links almost completely redundant. However, in the hours and days following the Kim DotCom implosion, filesharing proceeds, “business-as-usual”. Media/copyright owning “won” at best a temporary victory against what seems to be an unstoppable tide of theft. Certainly, a number of casual filesharers have been scared off but for the regular, hardcore and enthusiastic pirate nothing much has changed, what has gone is steadily being replaced. No doubt it will all be washed away again, bigger waves, smaller waves, new harbours and concrete substituted for sand, I’ll leave the last words to Hendrix:

And so castles made of sand fall into the sea, eventually...

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