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TPB AFK: a Documentary

A look (devolving into ranting about copyright) at TPB AFK, a documentary on The Pirate Bay.

Today I watched TPB AFK, a film about the Swedish website The Pirate Bay. You can read some background on the website on Wikipedia: Wikipedia: The Pirate Bay.

Basically the website is a clearing house for BitTorrent file sharing offerings. BitTorrent is a protocol (a set of conventions for computer network traffic) that allows you to share files in a distributed manner. This means multiple people can facilitate both the sending and receiving of the files.

A crucial point about the way the website works, it never actually sends or receives any of the files. It only announces other people who say they will send them.

But there comes a problem: what if people share files they don’t own the temporary rights to. And the result has been a lot of legal fuss and political fuss aimed at stopping this from happening.

That is what this film is about: the ad hoc owners of some of the files, along with Swedish authorities, prosecuted the people running The Pirate Bay.

The main question is, of course, not the one being asked by authorities or the custodians of the content. The main question is what shape of custodial rights works in the digital era? Their question, instead, is how do we maintain the status quo?

And so they try what they always tried before: sue them, prosecute them, “disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize” them. They sue over the most minimal infringements, including cases of Fair Use (the doctrine that some unlicensed uses of temporarily held works are not infringement, due to the nature of the use).

This is a doomed effort. They freely admit this, for the temporary custodians of the world’s content have asked the governments to act by passing new laws they have drafted and treaties they have negotiated in secret.

In some ways it is akin to the foster parent that loves the child so much that they don’t want the child to return to the natural parents when they are located. But in this case the foster parent also makes quite a lot of money off of the newest children, and a few of the older children, but neglects the rest.

But The Pirate Bay has a unique culture. They take offense at the status quo, and ridicule it at every turn. Their original claim to notoriety (other than the name of the site) was the posting and mocking of barking letters (letters sent by lawyers that carry no legal authority, but are nonetheless meant to intimidate the recipient into action).

The film drives this attitude home repeatedly. At one point it recounts the creation of a website where people were encouraged to rate the dumbness of American soldiers for how they died in the United States and coalition invasion of Iraq.

This is the culture of the Darwin Awards and dead baby jokes. But it is a revolt or reaction against the poisonous reverence that drives humans to ignore vast hypocrisies in their cultures and politics.

That’s your keyword: reaction. The Pirate Bureau is created as a counterpoint to the government/industry Anti-Pirate Bureau. The widespread adoption of BitTorrent is at least partly a reaction to the establishment dismantling centralized file sharing protocols.

But the biggest reactions are yet to arrive. The prosecutor’s language you will see in the trial as filmed in the documentary tells all you need to know. The prosecutor asks a question, what if users of the website share copyrighted materials? Ah, but excepting the occasional work that has returned to the public domain, all works are copyrighted.

Not just all intentional works. All works. The way your plate looks after you finish your breakfast is your unique creation, and you hold a temporary, but legally enforceable right over that depiction. The arrangement of the refuse in your wastebasket are your copyright. If I throw something away there, assuming I have permission, I am now your collaborator in a unique work.

But instead of being clear, saying something like, “copyrighted work shared without permission and where the custodian reserves their rights,” we are left with this convenient notion that copyright serves the big man, never the little man.

Anyway, go check the film out. It is under a Creative Commons license (the main film is CC:BY-NC-ND, meaning you can share it but not profit or edit it; there is another version that allows editing). And yes, you can download it from The Pirate Bay.

This tended off on a tangent, because copyright is a mess. And the people arguing that it is immoral to download the latest pop album have yet to waste their breath to challenge the greater immoralities of copyright.

My understanding there is simply this: if you value the work, try to pay for it in some way. If it’s nothing but a way for you to pass the time, consider finding something better than the creation of people who would like to see you in jail and in debt for life for not paying for their waste of time. In the latter case you will be better off anyway.

See Similar Recommendation Engines:

The new music sites say, “tell us what you like, we’ll tell you some music that sounds the same.” Why would I want that? Here’s a look at recommendation engines, and how to improve upon them.

Plenty of taste-based businesses want to sell you more or keep you happy with what you’re getting.  So far that’s mostly meant the media industry, but establishments like grocery stores and restaurants will probably join in before long.  They set up recommendation engines.

I am curious why, though, because every one I’ve tried worked thus:

  1. You either input something you like, or they extrapolate it based on the data they gather on you
  2. Their application looks for similar things
  3. It tells you those similar things, possibly with a sample

These bug me, because if I’m resorting to trying a recommendation engine, it almost always means I want something different.  I don’t want something similar, because then I would go to the one I already had or knew.

But it’s the easier problem to solve, to build a system that can determine similarities, than it is to actually elicit and provide the work or the taste to fit the person (and the person’s mood).

The latter would actually go something more like:

  1. Provide a random sample, preferably one that the user hadn’t encountered before
  2. The user provides feedback (too heavy, not enough color, overcooked)
  3. The system then provides new samples based on the feedback
  4. Repeat until satisfied

Note that step two needn’t be formal feedback, and could be accomplished through split sampling.  In that case, the user experiences two random offerings, and picks the one that’s a better match.

I sincerely hope that better recommendations come forward.  Every time I’ve used such a system I am utterly frustrated.

Examples are worth the time.  If you go on to Google Blogger and click the “Next blog” link at the top, you are typically forwarded to a similar blog.  That means (real example) if you were on a blog about digital scrapbooking written in Bulgarian, the next one will likely be another blog written in Bulgarian, and it will probably have a craft theme.  There’s no escape hatch that says, “oops, not Bulgarian, don’t speak it, sorry,” or “well digital scrapbooking isn’t my bag.”

The thing is, Bulgarian digital scrapbookers do really neat work.  But after I’ve looked at one, I didn’t click next because I got the wrong one.  I clicked next to see something completely different.  As there isn’t an alternative link for that, I feel stranded, so I return to the homepage, and go next from there.  That leads me down a similar path, but this time with middle class Christian blogs from Canada.  Again, once I’ve read one, I want to move on, and not to another one of the same type.

The other example comes from music.  The new music sites say, “tell us what you like, we’ll tell you some music that sounds the same.”  Why would I want that?  For gods sakes, I’m not trying to hear the same thing over and over.  Variety is the spice of life, after all.

There are other ways to implement my suggested alternative, though.  I might be equally happy to see, “last 10 shown to people that are not you,” or such.  It’s less overwhelming than the sites that let you browse others’ profiles and see what their entire taste is like, since you only get a single instance per each person (at least initially), and you do get more variety (provided they are chosen randomly enough to prevent spammers from trying to game them).

Do you feel differently?  Do you like the recommendation to give you things similar to what you already like?