The emergence of the post-piratical era and the future of P2P

Since some ten years now, a strong mentality has been established among the world’s Internet users which expects unregulated duplication to be the natural mode of the network. And human mentality is something which tends to be hard to change.

Probably the best analysis of the consequences of the Pirate Bay trial, which appeared in the Liquid Culture blog:

(excerpts below, with subtitles of our own)

1. Filesharing will continue

“We are entering a “post-piratical” decade. Unregulated file-sharing is a condition, no exception.

We have seen regular attacks against the “pirates”. Serious accusations, severe measures. Even convictions, such as this one. But the effect is fleeting. Some now point to the implementation of laws like IPRED and swear that “downloading is going down”. If only it were that simple. Also this effect is most likely transient.

Some people will now point to the conviction and say that it will now be more dangerous to start and run file-sharing sites in countries like Sweden. But The Pirate Bay’s servers are abroad (no-one, not even the site administrators know where the servers are), and the operation of such a site may be shared by hundreds of individuals. At the same time, millions of individuals keep file-sharing out of habit, completely unhindered. We will all remember the spectacle that this trial was, but real long-term consequences for ordinary people’s morality of file sharing are not likely.

We have witnessed a collective learning process: While older generations have learned about how practical file-sharing comes about, we have all come to get used the latent conflict that seems inherent to these days and times. We know it will be like this, for a while now. A seemingly insoluble situation, where the parties are talking completely different languages and have completely different moral points of view. Again, a condition.

Alongside the current urgency of the impending cluster of regulatory laws on the horizon, we will now see the usual exchange among bloggers and online activists and a close scrutiny of the verdict. But since the verdict will be appealed anyway, the overall attitude is one of irresoluteness. A feeling that no really disastrous ruling has happened here and now, because too many uncontrollable, indefinable factors surround this phenomenon in general.

The verdict may result in discouraging some people from any grander plans to launch Pirate Bay-inspired sites in the near future. But this is more about a possible lack of courage and imagination among hackers and net activists, which actually existed long before The Pirate Bay was the target of legal action. And, as I said, the servers can be put anywhere.

File-sharing in general will continue. The legal manoeuvres against it will continue. Despite the gravity and legal weight behind it, this ruling will most likely only make some shallow changes, while the main infrastructure will not change very much at all. One could therefore call attacks such as these merely “symbolic,” but that is to somewhat lessen them: Ordinary citizens after all risk going to prison.”

2. The Pirate Bay is just one of the actors of the networks

“Although a large part of the unregulated copying is channelled through them, it is a great mistake to believe that The Pirate Bay in any way would be absolute leader of piracy for all foreseeable future, seducing the young and dominating the entire Internet.

What the verdict has rather made people realize are the concrete, material conditions for their activities. Practical file-sharing, as Peter Sunde and co. were demonstrating for the slightly older crowd in the courtroom, is not a one-dimensional activity with only one transmitter, one receiver and a clear, hierarchical chain of command.

It is an ever-changing, intuitive entity, where relatively modest efforts may contribute to major strings of events. An important lesson we have all learned during this trial is about the organizational principles of networks and how this very rarely is about only one actor who alone would carry the entire responsibility.”

3. The dark side of pirate culture: sharing without caring

“It is important to see that also the file-sharing proponents’ arguments have dark sides. A dangerous development would be if a combination of technological determinism, nihilism and individualism precipitated a contempt for those who do not understand the Internet, an attitude that says that whoever “missing the train” only has him- or herself to blame. A gap between those who know what RAR, torrents and hash tables are and those who lack the audacity and the knowledge to veer outside of the poorer, narrower, strictly commercially sanctioned services.

Another dangerous development would be if the file-sharing laissez faire mentality led to a similarly nihilistic attitude to culture, where an entirely opportunistic consumption is allowed, without inhibitions and any sense of obligations to the mother culture at large. A completely solitary individual, enjoying the fruits of the collective without giving anything back. Sharing without caring.”

4. The Post-piratical condition

A. The enforcers

“The major issue of whether unrestricted file-sharing’s can carry on or not would ultimately be resolved by the technical development, which prohibits an even stricter regulation, since that seems to lead us into an outright surveillance society. This is a society that nobody wants, not even old studio musicians made redundant when Phil Collins’s studio productions are slimmed down. In the real post-piratical condition, the digital reformation is completed, and the new landscape is accepted. Disagreement still exists, but there is a consensus on the fundamental technological issues. People have learned to live with one another. In the post-piratical condition, the market economy is working. The cultural industries sell things that consumers want to pay for. But in new ways than before.

So far, this true post-piratical scenario is just an illusion. Silently, a new suit is sewn. The thread circles the entire globe, contained by the global copyright laws. The actual suit is the stifling one which constitutes “the second enclosure movement” which is set up to restrict the freedom of information.”

B. The p2p rights advocates

At the same time, there is a counterweight to all this, constituted by those who are trying to maintain what they see as the right to free copying. The risk is that we will see an increasingly intense trench war, as the repressive actions of the state and the copyright industry provoke the more stubborn advocates of file sharing to become even more radical.

Those who advocate regulation of the Internet from outside are those who have no trust in the user and believe that man’s unbridled lust, when set free, only creates misery. Those who are currently called “pirates” are those who defend the network architecture as it is today: seemingly anarchic and based on self-regulation. Their attitude to the network is rather based on trust in the network user and a strong reluctance towards curbing the agency of the masses.

It would be unfortunate if the distrust of the previous group would once again get the upper hand. It has happened far too many times before in history.

Previously, every defeat of filesharing has led to a quantitative leap in technology, and to a next generation of more advanced usage. Janko Roettgers has looked into the most likely advances this time around.

Janko Roettgers on what comes after the Pirate Bay:

“The outspoken Pirate Bay spokesperson has more than once stated that BitTorrent in its current state will be surpassed by a more advanced technology which will eventually make The Pirate Bay obsolete. So how will this post-Pirate Bay future look like? There are already two important trends emerging:

P2P is becoming part of the media web. BitTorrent was a first step towards web-centric P2P, but its implementation to date has been rather clunky, depending on both a browser for search and a client for downloads. Attempts to bridge this gap have been getting more and more sophisticated in recent months, with plug-ins like Littleshoot bringing BitTorrent to the browser and web services like BTaccel utilizing cloud computing as a web proxy for P2P.

At the same time, clients are becoming more web-aware, with both Limewire and Miro using P2P to power open content directories, and Vuze opening up to third-party search. Eventually, P2P could become something like the engine under the hood that powers the media web, regardless of whether the browser is called Firefox or Miro.

P2P is also becoming more social. Another emerging trend that BitTorrent itself hasn’t been particularly good at is being social. BitTorrent has reduced social interaction to a mathematical formula — upload bits to others in order to get good download rates — and left it up to Torrent sites to facilitate community. Some have been really good at this, but even successful communities generally lack tools for direct and real-time user-to-user interaction and discovery.

Limewire and other dedicated social sharing clients have started to fill this gap. Tribler is proving that social recommendations can be used to discover new content in a P2P environment, and has shown that users want to self-organize in small communities that are much more like Facebook groups than private torrent sites.

Combine these two trends and you get an idea of what future file-sharing services will look like. Personally, I wouldn’t be too surprised to see such services become more popular than today’s BitTorrent sites while The Pirate Bay is still tied up in court.”

3 Comments The emergence of the post-piratical era and the future of P2P

  1. AvatarMichel Bauwens

    From Marco Fioretti, by email:

    I really have to ask: what the heck there is of “peer to peer” in the
    Pirate Bay or in the larger file sharing community, besides the mere
    **technical** protocol used to download and redistribute the files?

    I’m not saying that those people are criminals, nor am I defending the
    current copyright system or the corporations which abuse of it.

    But I find very, very little overlap between that and P2P as in “P2P
    production”, “P2P cultural exchange”, “commons-based peer production
    and knowledge exchange,” and most of what is written at starting
    from the “our aims” box, or at

    That is all stuff about being equals, about everybody being a
    producer, etc…

    99.99% of the people who share the overwhelming majority of the music,
    video and proprietary software found at Pirate Bay, Kazaa, Emule or
    whatever else is trendy these days, don’t even know that a website exists, don’t really care about what it
    advocates, and never remix or make any derivative work of what they
    put into, or get from those networks.

    They are passive and pretty happy with being passive. They put or get
    into the network, AS IS, what SOMEBODY ELSE produced (mostly chosing
    commercial manure, mass produced by large corporations). They don’t
    even really care about each other, besides sharing their IP numbers so
    they can all download faster. More exactly: they may very well be all
    wonderful, caring people who give every penny they earn and every
    minute of their time to help other human beings, but they certainly
    don’t need what happens on Pirate Bay and similar to accomplish that

    So, again, I am NOT saying that the current copyright system is good
    or that the users of file sharing networks are bad people. But I
    remain quite baffled whenever I see what happens and is advocated on
    lists like this one, or at… called and considered
    the same thing as what happens at Pirate Bay. Really.

    Marco Fioretti

  2. AvatarMichel Bauwens

    From Andy Robinson, via email:

    Point taken, BUT…

    The p2p nature of the technology infrastructure is crucial to the resilience to repression, and also, isn’t the development of technologies in this area usually p2p among designers as well?

    I wonder how passive the use is; I actually doubt that:
    “99.99% of the people… never remix or make any derivative work of what they put into, or get from those networks.”
    is true, from the scale of movie-videos (such as “AMVs”) put to music on YouTube and similar sites; and people using commercial music in their home videos etc – I think this is actually more common than reposting commercial content unedited. I’m inclined to think having things available in copiable format tempts people to use them in creative ways, especially when the tools to use them are also readily available.

    Something following from the Filipino argument – I thought it was very interesting to see this issue put in a North-South perspective. Now I think about it, that Argentine case and the recent Brazilian law aside, all the really nasty copyright stuff seems to happen in the North. Countries in Asia which I’d expect to be quite repressive (China, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong) seem to be surprisingly inactive on copyright matters, at least if measured by the amount of dodgy stuff that’s exported from or hosted there. I was recently told by an Indian student that India doesn’t have intellectual property laws except for the film industry. Not sure if it’s true, but they do produce and distribute generic versions of drugs which are patented in the North. There was a case back in January of an Indian ship exporting drugs to Brazil being seized in Holland, even though the generics on board were permitted in both India and Brazil. There’s also been a takeoff of OS/FS systems in some Southern countries (Brazil, Venezuela, South Africa have all officially embraced Linux variants, Nigeria is strongly hooked up with the One Laptop Per Child project).

    Makes me wonder if there could be a redistribution of global power on this basis – parts of the South become successful based on not impeding flows of symbols, signs and data, while the North cuts off its own development through copyright rent-extraction.

  3. AvatarMichel Bauwens

    Forwarded by Ryan Lanham, a statement by the Interent Society of the Philippines:’

    As some of you might already have heard, the second appeal to the
    Pirate Bay courtcase ended up with the conviction of four people
    behind the popular bittorrent tracker and website, Alan Toner give us
    two extensive accounts about the situation on his blog:

    Further below you’ll find the statement that the Internet Society
    Philippines Chapter released about the happenings. What I find
    particularly interesting about the point of view offered by ISOC-PH
    president Fatima Lasay is the deep awareness of political implications
    in this and other similar court cases also quoted, for which the
    Pirate Bay case covers a prominent role.

    Seen from an Asian perspective, the criminalising campaigns lead by
    Western business interests represent a worrying threat to the
    planetary opening that “peer to peer” cultures and practices provide
    for developing countries.

    Behind the surface of this court case lies a tension that lasts since
    several centuries in history, as the historical account of professor
    Boron Ben-Altar outlines in his book “Trade Secrets: Intellectual
    Piracy and the Origins of American Industrial Power” (obviously
    intended as North American here).

    Almost 2 years ago I’ve done my best exploring the topic from the
    perspective of “border economies”, as well outlining the complementary
    dynamic of loss of privacy for Internet citizens.

    Going further in connecting dots, let me now mention that these
    dynamics are evolving into a worrying threat to free speech and wide
    access to media offered by contemporary participative technologies, as
    outlined by the European campaign

    As Alan documents in his reports a popular uprise is raising
    specifically on the PB case, still as a symptom of the wider concerns
    it raises: examples are the “#fullboycott” campaign launched by
    Monochrom activists

    as well the
    dedication of the First Internet Pavilion at the Venice Biennial to
    The Pirate Bay cause noticed by Miltos Manetas on this list.

    Obviously the Pirate Bay court case is not just a concern for the
    Swedish jurisdiction: it is configuring as a crucial node for the
    evolution of knowledge sharing policies on a planetary scale, for
    which it is extremely important to take into account an Asian
    perspective offered by the document that follows.


    ISOC-Philippines statement on the jail sentence for The Pirate Bay
    founders and the criminal charges against philosophy professor Horacio
    By isoc-ph, on April 20, 2009, 2:05 am

    The Internet Society Philippines’ (ISOC-PH) Public Policy Principles
    and activities are based upon a fundamental belief that “The Internet
    is for everyone.” ISOC-PH upholds and defends core values that allow
    people throughout the world to enjoy the benefits of the Internet.

    Recent developments, however, demonstrate an alarming growth towards a
    “license culture” on the Internet, imposed by the criminalization of
    those whose culture and society advance creativity, innovation and
    economic opportunity through the values of openness, sharing,
    education and collaboration.

    Philosophy professor Horacio Potel from Argentina is facing criminal
    charges for maintaining a personal and educational website devoted to
    Spanish translations of works by French philosopher Jacques Derrida.

    A court in Sweden has found the four men behind “The Pirate Bay”, a
    file-sharing website, guilty of breaking copyright law and were
    sentenced to a year in jail and ordered to pay $4.5m (£3m) in damages.

    The Ability to Share is one of ISOC’s core values. The many-to-many
    architecture of the Internet makes it a powerful tool for sharing,
    education, and collaboration. It has enabled the global open source
    community to develop and enhance many of the key components of the
    Internet, such as the Domain Name System and the World-Wide Web, and
    has made the vision of digital libraries a reality. To preserve these
    benefits we will oppose technologies and legislation that would
    inhibit the freedom to develop and use open source software or limit
    the well-established concept of fair use, which is essential to
    scholarship, education, and collaboration.

    We will also oppose excessively restrictive governmental or private
    controls on computer hardware or software, telecommunications
    infrastructure, or Internet content. Such controls and restrictions
    substantially diminish the social, political, and economic benefits of
    the Internet.

    The wire-tapping, searches and seizures, the removal of website
    content and the criminal charges against professor Potel of the
    University of Buenos Aires is an onslaught on human rights and
    academic freedom in Argentina and on the Internet.

    The police seizures of servers, the enormous bill for damages and the
    jail sentence on Frederik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, Carl
    Lundstrom and Peter Sunde is a defiance of the social and cultural
    institution of file-sharing in Sweden and on the Internet.

    ISOC-PH founding member and lawyer Michael Dizon writes, “Putting
    greater emphasis on the development of social or community norms and
    how people can actively participate in the creation of these norms may
    be more advantageous in advancing creative culture than resorting to
    contractual agreements. Ideally, laws (and the licenses that seek to
    enforce rights based on these laws) should embody and uphold the norms
    and values of a community, and not the other way around.”

    As founding president of the newly rejuvenated ISOC-Philippines
    Chapter, I would like to dispute some of the statements being made
    regarding the Pirate Bay trials, in particular, by John Kennedy,
    Chairman and CEO of the International Federation of the Phonographic
    Industry. Mr Kennedy says,

    “This is good news for everyone, in Sweden and internationally, who is
    making a living or a business from creative activity and who needs to
    know their rights will protected by law.”

    In keeping with the ISOC-PH mandate, I find it offensive to the
    diversity of cultures on the Internet the claim that the global model
    of copyright protection being imposed upon the developers and users of
    the Internet is “good news for everyone.”

    I also find it hard to accept the sincerity of Mr Kennedy’s statement
    about “making a living or a business from creative activity.” In fact
    only a handful of media corporations have effectively taken over what
    used to be a very diverse field of creative activity.

    Such a process of consolidation and privatization has created gross
    inequality between artists and the big media corporations: relations
    between artists and recording companies are replete with exploitative
    contracts and bitter legal struggles for control; and royalties and
    other earnings from copyright constitute only a fraction of the income
    of most active professional artists.

    The Pirate Bay trials and the criminal charges against professor Potel
    are a threat to academic freedom and free speech, and they undermine
    the Internet core value of the Ability to Share. If we envision a
    future in which people in all parts of the world can use the Internet
    to improve their quality of life, then freedom, and not a “license
    culture”, must be obtained for professor Potel, the Pirate Bay
    founders and the Internet communities of sharing.

    ISOC-PH calls on all Internet citizens to demand freedom.

    Fatima Lasay
    Internet Society Philippines Chapter

    Quezon City, Philippines
    April 20, 2009

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