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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.

Intragroup Competition

Discussion of how one-upmanship pervades many aspects of biological life, particularly in human society.

There is a tendency of man to try to outdo his peers, to play off his peers’ moves. It’s part competition, part group loyalty or cheering for the group.

We see it in bullying when done as a group. We see it in hazing rituals. We see it in some behaviors surrounding drinking. But we also see it on Wall Street and we see it in the Republican party. We see it in lobbying firms.

It crops up among teenagers playing the so-called “penis game” in which they successively try to say the word “penis” louder than the previous player.

This is one-upmanship. Each participant sees the previous act, and tries to go just farther.

Emboldening the Group

One factor for this behavior is that it gives the whole group an increased confidence (at least in the repeated behavior). The members of the group see how far they went together, and recognize they played a role in that. They have power.

Similarly, if Bob goes to ten, Alice wants to take it to 11. Alice wants to show that she’s just as fearless as Bob, that she’s as vital to the group, that she belongs. Then, Charlie wants to go for 12. Charlie doesn’t want to be the weak link.

Safety in Numbers

Another factor is testing group integrity. If Charlie goes to 12 and the group loses its nerve, Charlie may be left in danger. This informs both Charlie and the group of the tensile strength of their alliance.

If the group rescues the one that went too far, they are again emboldened. They find themselves invincible once more.

A Root in Sibling Competition

We see bear cubs wander away from the mother’s safety, each testing how far they may stray before mom will react. Which of the litter is the bravest? How harsh will the reaction be? What is safe and what is not?

What Happens Without Limits

And here we run into the wall. What happens when these group antics are left unchecked? When they can continue because the mother is absent, or because the authority is timid or dependent upon the actors?

There we are reliant upon greater, more fundamental forces. We await the erosion of the foundations upon which these monsters, born of silly kids games, stand.

Eventually the extremism of the modern Republican party must collapse. The public will recognize they have gone too far. But going too far in these games means someone gets hurt. Either the cub is lost to predators or gets swept away by the river. Or in the case of bully groups, the victim is hurt too severely, or fights back and the bully is maimed.

Awareness of this behavioral dynamic is essential to a modern government. Impunitas continuum affectum tribuit delinquendi (“Impunity confirms the disposition to commit crime,” 4 Coke’s English King’s Bench Reports, 45). Impunities semper ad deteriora invitat (“Impunity always invites to greater crimes,” 5 Coke’s English King’s Bench Reports, 109).

Dutch Court Guilty

A Dutch court ruled that discussions of the tentative location of infringing content constitutes infringement of copyright in and of itself. This post and all links herein are believed to be free of infringing content.

A Dutch court to be charged with piracy copyright infringement.  Same Dutch court ruled that discussions of the general locations of infringing content constitutes copyright infringement.  A team of investigators has uncovered in their very court documents references to places that house or serve infringing content, which qualifies as a violation.  While the court is expected to plead not guilty by reason of sovereign immunity, legal experts believe that the entire Dutch court system will have to recuse itself, and a summary judgment will be awarded to the content industry.

Damn.  (See Boing Boing: Dutch court rules that discussing piracy [sic] is the same as committing piracy [sic]; link is believed to be free of infringing content, but if you really want to get your hands on some infringing content simply visit Google)