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. Read the rest of this entry »