Pirates of the Everything

By Hua Hsu

"It's the end of an era"--so reads the release from the Pirate Bay blog about their decision to decommission their centralized torrent tracker. They continue:

This is what we consider to be the future. Faster and more stability for the users because there is no central point to rely upon.

The acephalous organization: It's the way of the future (and, the Bay folks are eager to remind us, the present) isn't it? From terrorist cells to the Invisible Committee to digital "pirates," how do you ceremonially behead a headless organization? The Pirate Bay founders may go to jail, but without a central hub or hierarchy, how can industry hope to contain infinite, ever-migrating packets of information?

I was thinking about this recently while preparing an essay for eMusic on the year "2000," part of a "yearbook" series they commissioned to reflect upon the past decade. I kept coming back to Napster, a precursor of both Pirate Bay and eMusic. At the time, it really seemed like peer-to-peer networking on that scale might endanger whole industries, and in the end, maybe it did. But the lane Napster opened up was not one toward subversion or global barter-networks--there's no money in that. Instead, Napster--and the instant celebrity of Shawn Fanning--returned as Friendster, blogspot, MySpace and Facebook, and whatever new innovation in online community-building will emerge in the next year or two. It returned as Pirate Bay, too, but we know how their story will end.

Anyhow, here's my essay on the year 2000, originally titled "Another World was Possible."

Vaguely related: a look at Cory Doctorow, "publishers' enemy no. 1"

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2009/11/pirates-of-the-everything/30327/