The Shadow Internet

There is an article in Wired this month called “The Shadow Internet.” It provides an interesting look at the seedy underbelly of vicious sea robbers in the Internet age. The article is a very interesting and entertaining (if a bit reactionary and melodramatic) read, describing the origin of much of the “pirated” material available online, in p2p networks and such. This sharing consists of “topsites,” which are highly secret, highly secure sites that host these files:

Anathema is a so-called topsite, one of 30 or so underground, highly secretive servers where nearly all of the unlicensed music, movies, and videogames available on the Internet originate. Outside of a pirate elite and the Feds who track them, few know that topsites exist. Even fewer can log in.

The article touches upon the motives of these “pirates” (arrr, matey…):

It’s all a big game and, to hear Frank and others talk about “the scene,” fantastic fun. Whoever transfers the most files to the most sites in the least amount of time wins. There are elaborate rules, with prizes in the offing and reputations at stake. Topsites like Anathema are at the apex. Once a file is posted to a topsite, it starts a rapid descent through wider and wider levels of an invisible network, multiplying exponentially along the way. At each step, more and more pirates pitch in to keep the avalanche tumbling downward. Finally, thousands, perhaps millions, of copies – all the progeny of that original file – spill into the public peer-to-peer networks: Kazaa, LimeWire, Morpheus. Without this duplication and distribution structure providing content, the P2P networks would run dry. (BitTorrent, a faster and more efficient type of P2P file-sharing, is an exception. But at present there are far fewer BitTorrent users.)

Interesting stuff. It seems to me that these people share something similar to the old hacker ethos; the practice of modifying machines (either hardware or software) and being clever about it. Bottom line, it’s fun and the challenge of sharing with this technology that drives them, not some malicious desire to steal. When the Intellectual Property intelligentsia realize this, they’ll see that it’s less of a problem than they’re making it out to be.

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