2008-09-12

The latest Pirate Bay controversy

The Pirate Bay, the scorn of the Old Empires, is currently involved in a new scandal. But it's the same old story about the evil of men, the question of right or wrong and the morals of the hypocritic Old Media.

Act 1 - The crime
In spring, there was a terrible double murder in Sweden. Appearantly, a jealous ex girlfriend went berserk. She killed two little children and put their mother in a coma.

The press was all over this thing. Day in and day out they reported minute reports on anything regarding this case. Everything known about the murder. The thrilling drama of the mother, unconcious and unaware that her children were dead. Then the chilling drama as she woke up and found out about the whole ordeal. They marvelled at the police investigation, every little detail at the trial and so on.

Act 2 - The Principle of Public Knowledge
They managed to do that because of a constitutional right in Sweden called "The principle of Public Knowledge" - I think that's the best way to translate it. It's a lawful principle that says that documents made by Swedish authorities are open to the public without limitations, unless extraordinary circumstances (such as national security) deems it to be classified. Publicity is the norm. Classification is the exception.

The idea is, of course, that everyone should be able to check up on any authority descision afterwards to see the reasoning behind it and detect flaws.

Untill recently, this principle was hardly ever exercised by others than journalists or scientists, because it was quite a task to go to the office of said authority (say the prosecutor in some small town far away) and find the document in question. Then you couldn't take the original, obviously, so you had to copy the documents you wanted. A complex police report such as the one in the aforementioned case can be thousands of pages. So copying it would be both pricy and hard work.

Nowadays, that's not a problem. Most of these documents are turned into PDF documents, and getting a hold of them is a matter of requesting them from said authorities and having them mailed over. The fee is usually about ten bucks, the cost of the work put down on sending it over. A service fee.

Act 3 - The upload
For some reason, someone decided they wanted a copy of the prosecutor's material on this case. So they did just like I described before, they ordered the material and got it sent over. And then they decided to make a torrent file out of it, and uploading it to the Pirate Bay.

In the prosecutor's material was included some pictures from the autopsy of the victims. This made it all hot stuff.

The file was uploaded to the Pirate Bay. Not the report itself, but a link to the computer from where it could be downloaded. Nothing is stored at the Pirate Bay servers but links, and this is why it has been difficult to file charges against them and get them convicted of anything. They are currently awaiting a trial for the ridiculous crime labled "Aiding piracy", invented just for this trial.

The link was uploaded, and didn't get much attention. There are millions of such torrents on the Pirate Bay. Thousands are added every day. If people doesn't upload it, it disappears in the noise. This is what probably would've happened in a couple of days, if the Media hadn't intervened.

Act 4 - The hype
For some reason, a driven reporter on TV4 News found out about this torrent and decided that it would be News (TM), given the high profile of the murder case and the fact that there were autopsy pictures. So they aired a report about this. They couldn't resist - "Autopsy pictures at the Pirate Bay". Despite the fact that this was hardly the case.

It led to the Pirate Bay getting hundereds of mails from upset people who, in more or less threatening manners, demanded they take down the material.

Now the Pirate Bay can't really do much about this.

First of all, they have a principle that they don't take stuff down, unless it is illegal to possess (such as child porn). If they started to back down on that principle, they would soon have to start to take down more and more controversial (or private) material links untill they idea with the site was obliterated.

Secondly, the Streisand effect would've kicked in. The Streisand effect is a principle that if you try to remove something from the Internet, it starts spreading faster. The definition is, "The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it."

In 2003 a photographer took an aerial picture of Streisand's house. She sued the website publishing it as part of a beachfront project. And soon it was evident that this had led to the picture being very popular on the Internet.

In April 2007, the HDTV encryption key was published on Digg. They tried to remove it. The result is that it started to occur on hundereds of thousands of web pages. There's a song about it. Several domain names contains the number or variations of it. By trying to conceal this number, it became the most famous number on the Internet.

Wikileaks had a series of OT documents from the Church of Scientology. When the Scientologists tried to have it removed, Wikileaks woved to publish several thousands of additional pages of Scientology material.

It's quite simple - once something gets on the Internet it stays. If you try to remove it, you make things worse. The Pirate Bay crew knew this.

And the fact is that if TV 4 News hadn't made the report, the file would've disappeared in the noise. But by making the report, they made the public aware of it. Suddenly, it went from 100 downloads in several months to tens of thousands of downloads in a couple of days.

All this the Pirate Bay crew understood and tried to tell the people mailing them to have it removed. Aside from the fact that material wasn't there in the first place, only links to it.

When one of the moderators had spent an entire day answering this kind of mails, with various levels of abuse, he got fed up. To one mail, he simply answered. "Enough with the fucking nagging. No, no and again no."

The problem was that the person he replied to wasn't just any concerned citizen. it was the father of the two murdered children.

Act 5 - the bigots
Of course, this was realized quite quickly, and the Pirate Bay issued a public message (Swedish only) apologizing to the father for this reply, along with an explanation of why the mistake had occured.

But of course, the story took off. Every old media - newspapers, radio, TV - in the country has reported on this. Hundereds of blogs has discussed it. Some have tried to start a boycot campaign against the Pirate Bay with limited success. Others have tried to explain or defend the Pirate Bay - I tend to belong to the second category.

But it all boils down to this:

The Old Media loves this whole situation. They feel threatened by the new media trends and the development that new technology has meant to them. They have not been particularily good at following the latest developments and are worried about blogs, user-provided content, torrent technology and all the other things that threatens their monopoly on handing out information to the masses. They have seen an opportunity to do so now.

And in fact, how cynical aren't they? For months they have exploited the tragedy of this family on a daily basis. And now, suddenly, when one of the symbols of the new information infrastructure have accidentally gotten involved in this case, NOW they are suddenly horrified about the lack of morals towards the family?

Talk about hypocrits. Being holier than thou when they in fact created the problem in the first place - after exploiting it for add incomes for months? I am suddenly glad I never became a reporter. Had I been, I would seriously have questioned the ethics of my job today.