A Pirate’s Life for Me: The Misaligned Potential of P2P software

Needless to say, peer-to-peer sharing has come a long way since the days of Napster and Limewire.  The recent ubiquity of programs like BitTorrent and sites such as the Pirate Bay now rival major proponents of Web 2.0 like Facebook or Twitter. According to scholar Jonas Andersson, since its debut in 2003, the Pirate Bay has undergone a shift from a tactical position to one of strategy. Though his argument is multi-layered and difficult to sift through at times, Andersson manages to convey that the Pirate Bay is currently and undeniable in a position of power nearly analog to old media. The difference between strategy and tactics is that strategy implies that actor in question has the ability to pick and choose the way which they want to act and react. Conversely, being in a tactical spot means that a person or entity is on what can best be called the “losing team”. Tacticians, in Andersson’s opinion, are the guerrilla fighters who hide and snipe their enemies from the trees; those using tactics lack the upper-hand, thus their options are limited.

Piracy, though illegal and unethical, can best be described as a tool of empowerment for Internet users. Users of BitTorrent and other P2P software wield the power of choice when selecting the media they are choosing to download. Similarly, the Pirate Bay is fundamentally an extension of this power-utility. In its strategic position, the Pirate Bay is able to influence online interactions through its propagation of other P2P sites and programs. The decentralized nature of all users demonstrate that P2P nor piracy are isolated, small-time situations.  Andersson contends that the ethos of the Pirate Bay can be surmised in one word: autonomy. In removing the middle-man, that is the time limits, production periods, physical purchasing and general acquisition of old (read: physical) media, P2P users are able to further expedite their goals and processes without the use of corporations. Distribution and all of the logistics which play a part in it becomes moot as users can choose if and when they want the newest episode of Boardwalk Empire. When charged on several accounts of copyright infringement, the creators of the site simply stated that they themselves did not provide the content which people were pirating, all they did was post and promote the links. This argument is evidently flawed, but still important as companies also felt the need to pursue cease-and-desists with Google for allowing interest parties to search for potential pirated content. We clearly see a “shoot-the-messenger” scenario at play here, with the aggrieved going after the largest target possible as opposed to seeing the complexity of both peer-to-peer networking and online piracy.

As with each paradigm shift, or simply technological shift, the problem lies in confusion and ignorance. Though the Pirate Bay is afforded a strategic stance, this does not mean it is in direct opposition to the media industry. Ironically and frustratingly, the media depicts this non-existent battle between old and new, good and evil all too often for most to know any better. Netflix, the ever-popular streaming video service, was once seen in a very similar limelight with many seeing the once-small start-up as the David against Goliaths such as NBC and Fox. Now, finally, the discourse surrounding this seemingly polarized relationship is changing and it’s becoming clearer that these massive conglomerates and networks should be teaming up with the new tech companies. Kevin Spacey, star of Netflix’s House of Cards, stated during the 2013 Emmy Awards that he thought it was fantastic such a high-caliber show could find success on a service like Netflix. He essentially said that partnership would be best for all parties as the new direction that visual media is taking is inevitable. This same argument can be made for Twitter and newspaper sites, Pandora and artists and even the Pirate Bay and entertainment companies; there is potential for co-existence in each of these capital ecosystems. In following the same vein as Web 2.0 and its emphasis on digital community and instantaneous communication, the media industry should be trying to empower the consumers in utilizing the distributive value in peer-to-peer sharing. Piracy will never be a good thing, however P2P easily can be.

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Sources Used:

Andersson, Jonas. “For The Good of the Net: The Pirate Bay as a Strategic Sovereign.” Culture Machine 10 (2009).

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