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Piracy is the new porn

01 May

Another day, another attempt to stomp out piracy. This time, it’s the U.K. High Court ordering internet providers to block the Pirate Bay. Following an earlier ruling that said the notorious website goes “far beyond merely enabling or assisting” in the sharing of copyrighted materials, the court on Monday told five large ISPs to institute blocking measures. The ISPs, in turn, said they will comply within the next few weeks.

The Pirate Bay's Peter Sunde, a modern-day Hugh Hefner.

Watching such news on an almost daily basis, it’s hard not to get the sense that all of this has happened before. And, as they say on Battlestar Galactica, it’s likely to happen again.

For most of the second half of the 20th century, though, it wasn’t piracy that was the target of this large-scale judicial witch hunt, it was porn.

When the first issue of Playboy hit stands in 1953, Hugh Hefner was so afraid of obscenity charges that he didn’t even put his name on the magazine. It was a huge success regardless and the authorities soon came calling. The U.S. Post Office refused the magazine a mailing permit, the equivalent of a modern-day denial-of-service attack. It sure sounds similar to what the U.K. court has just ruled.

Hefner, however, claimed censorship and sued. He said the Post Office had “no business editing magazines” and that it should “stick to delivering the mail.” Presciently, he also added, “This isn’t a new fight. It never is.”

Hefner’s comments were in the context of obscenity, but they apply to piracy as well. The irony is, aside from a few crazies like Rick Santorum, hardly anybody is trying to stamp out porn anymore. It’s here, it’s pervasive and it’s not going away. It’s also one of the easiest things to get on the internet because of piracy, funnily enough.

It’s doubly ironic, then, that after a half century of fighting for their own rights, many porn producers are now on the side of The Establishment in cracking down on piracy. The Boogieman has become the Boogieman Hunter. Piracy, meanwhile, is the new obscenity.

Hefner, for his part, won a total victory against the Post Office in 1955, paving the way for other champions of the porn cause, including Russ Meyer, Larry Flynt, Reuben Sturman and so on. Such individuals fought against censorship and the right to give people what they wanted for decades.

That’s the most salient point in all of this, that porn kept growing because people wanted it, the same way that people now want cheap and easy digital content, which is what piracy gives them. Just as porn was not an argument won on the basis of whether it was morally right or wrong but rather on what people wanted, so too will it be with piracy in the long run. Trying to fight this inexorable historical force, regardless of the moral question, is like trying to fight porn: it’s a hopeless battle that will inevitably be lost.

The U.K. ruling aside, the future is therefore likely to see more challenges and ultimately results like the recent decision in Australia, where ISP iiNet won out against the entertainment industry. A gaggle of entertainment giants were trying to make the ISP liable for infringements that happened on its network, but the courts didn’t see it that way, ruling instead that iiNet was an innocent third party. The case had the same flavour as Hefner’s fight almost 60 years ago in that it was tinged with the free-speech issue.

Here in North America, isoHunt is engaged in a similar censorship battle. The file-sharing index website is arguing that a court-ordered filter is censoring legitimate content on its site. Google, meanwhile, is treating piracy searches in much the same way as porn searches.

Just like porn, the public’s desire for cheap and easy-to-access digital entertainment is not going away, which is what makes Monday’s related news on Hulu even more bewildering. According to reports, the video streaming website is going to start requiring viewers to have a TV subscription, which completely defeats the reason why people use Hulu in the first place. As this and the continued court cases prove, the entertainment industry just doesn’t understand the forces of history, or somehow foolishly believes they can be defeated.

One other thing the industry and courts don’t seem to get is that the Pirate Bay can’t be stopped. Despite having thrown everything and the kitchen sink at the website, it keeps going and going. It’s been said that only rats, cockroaches and Twinkies will survive a nuclear war. The Pirate Bay may have to be added to that list. To ISPs attempting to block the site in the U.K., there’s only bit of advice: good luck.

That’s not meant to be a joke. Indeed, the governments of the world should be looking to learn from the Pirate Bay rather than trying to crush it. The Pentagon and other military departments might want to enlist some of the website’s administrators as consultants (if they haven’t already done so), because there are surely no better experts at operational continuance around. They might come in handy if cyberwar truly is the battleground of the future.

That is, of course, highly unlikely. The authorities are much too busy turning today’s Pirate Bays and isoHunts into yesterday’s Playboys and Hustlers.

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1 Comment

Posted by on May 1, 2012 in copyright, piracy, playboy, sex

 

One response to “Piracy is the new porn

  1. russellmcormond

    May 1, 2012 at 1:42 pm

    Like the anti-porn crusades, the anti-”piracy” crusades incorrectly presume there is a moral issue at hand. The recent claim is that people infringe copyright because they are immoral people. I’ve never seen this: I see people who want access to something easily and cheaply, and unfortunately in many cases the only people offering this are doing so illegally. The solution is for the legal options to be made easier and cheaper, not to falsely claim there is a morality problem and falsely believe that more strict laws can ever help.

    I’m told we live in a free market capitalist country. If I decide to not be a cable subscriber for whatever reason (don’t like what they are offering, don’t like their politics and how they lobby against my interests, etc), they should not then be able to claim I am a “pirate”.

    Note: We still have cable in the house, but that will be discontinued soon. I watch Netflix, streaming from sites like Twit.tv, and the various stuff on the websites of the networks (CVC.ca, ctv.ca, etc). If the television networks required I had cable to access those sites, it’s not like getting Cable would be considered. My choices would be to get the content from alternative sources, or not bother accessing the content at all.

     
 
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