The Return of the Pirates

Pirates have a tendency to come back from the watery grave.

If you took a random sample from news items dating from the first half of the year, you would be forgiven for thinking that piracy was dead, and copyright maximalism was the victor in the Copyright wars. Megaupload had been shut down, its data shredded and scattered to the winds, its domain name seized and its owner imprisoned awaiting extradition. The PirateBay was blocked in the UK and the Netherlands. Several high-profile members from Anonymous and LulzSec had been jailed. Richard O’Dwyer was about to be extradited to the United States. More countries were implementing 3-strikes laws, and a wave of blocking and domain name seizures seemed to ensure the end of piracy.

Yet, for some reason the words of Dilios keep ringing in my head:

“The god-king has betrayed a fatal flaw: Hubris. Easy to taunt, easy to trick. Before wounds and weariness have taken their toll, the mad king throws the best he has at us. Xerxes has taken the bait.”

It does feel like the Empire has severely overstretched beyond its capabilities, and while pursuing an enemy it believed was about to be defeated, it betrayed the flaw of hubris. The tide may have turned for good, and the skull and bones flies again. SOPA, PIPA and ACTA lie in tatters, forming the alphabet soup of history. During the negotiation of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the dreaded new multilateral agreement, the US Trade Representative took everyone by surprise by stating that it would include a section on exceptions and limitations. If one has not followed the previous treaty negotiations, one could be forgiven for missing the monumental importance of this announcement. The top maximalist proponent and exporter in the world, the USTR, is telling us that it might actually make concessions to balance in their latest flagship treaty. It’s as if the Vatican suddenly started passing out contraceptive leaflets in Africa.

Moreover, evidence continues to come which corroborate statements many of us in the battlements of the Copyfight have been repeating for years:

  • Would you believe that blocking websites does not work? Torrent traffic in the Netherlands has increased despite a block on the Pirate Bay.
  •  The order to block TPB in the UK boosted visits to the site, demonstrating there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
  • Would you also believe that HADOPI hasn’t worked?
  • A recent report into the early digital music scene offers a compelling insight into the refusal from the music scene to work with innovators to try and compete with piracy. The conclusion is clear according to the report: “Overaggressive copyright law and enforcement has substantially and adversely affected innovation.”

But to me, nothing exemplifies the turning tide than the changing fate of one Mr Kim Dotcom. When we last saw the owner of Megaupload, he had just been released on bail, his assets had been frozen, the website had been shut down, and was facing an expensive extradition procedure to the United States. Not many gave him a chance (Yours Truly included). But interestingly, the hubris of Empire was nowhere more evident than in this case. Report after report has uncovered that the case against Mr Dotcom is a shambles: the FBI-led raid to his mansion was illegal, the extradition hearing has been postponed until 2013, and there are good indications that the entire case rests on dodgy legal ground.

The above has launched Kim Dotcom to the status of folk hero. The plucky, affable, web-savvy German millionaire taking on the establishment. And winning. The masses of online denizens dig Mr Dotcom. Just recently he wrote on Twitter:

“SOPA is dead. PIPA is dead. ACTA is dead. MEGA will return. Bigger. Better. Faster. Free of charge & shielded from attacks. Evolution!”

The message received, at last count, over 18,500 retweets. A Twitter campaign spread to state that “You were never alone, we are all kim”. On July 7, “Kim Dotcom” was the world’s top trending topic. Now he has had his story told by the New York Times, thus establishing him as the hero of the Internet pirates.

On the other hand, the intellectual argument from maximalists seems to become more desperate, as evidence by this unintentionally funny article in The Guardian. The pirates seem to be winning the debate unopposed.

 

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