We Talked to the Swedish Pirate Party About America's Infowar
Last week, I reported that The Pirate Bay's alleged power failure seemed to be caused by a much more complicated tangle of political happenings. It was only a matter of hours after my article was published that The Pirate Bay returned to the internet, sailing about, waving its skull and crossbone flag around like the F-U it really is, despite how temporary that F-U may be. However, not all was saved. Its co-founder Gottfrid Svartholm still sits in custody, under an extended detention by Swedish authorities, which may or may not expire this Friday depending on if it is extended for a third time. Legal action was taken against several other sites, including a Swedish torrent site called Appbucket, which now greets any visitor with the same FBI anti-piracy seizure graphic you find if you go to Megaupload.
Interestingly enough, Appbucket is registered under the internet's public WHOIS system to Gottfrid Svartholm, the same dude dodging charges related to The Pirate Bay and, in an unrelated case, the alleged hacking of a logistics firm called Logica. His name being in the WHOIS registration entry for Appbucket does not necessarily mean he was involved in the operations of the site, and it's likely that his name got there because Appbucket was being hosted by PRQ, a company that Gottfrid co-founded. PRQ also happens to be the hosting company that the Swedes raided after what appears to be coercement from the FBI. It's possible Appbucket could have been using a privatizing service offered by PRQ to keep Appbucket's real owner's name away from the public WHOIS registry. Since PRQ was co-founded by Gottfrid Svartholm, maybe he just placed his own name there for clients who purchased that service, instead of using general contact info for PRQ itself. Which seems particularly dumb, if that's the case.
If you look up the WHOIS for another site that would like to stay hidden, Nambla.net for example, which is also hosted by PRQ, you actually get the Toronto address of their domain registar, Tucows, and the email address "firstname.lastname@example.org." Contactprivacy is an intermediary service for domain name owners who would like to be hard to contact. Seems like the man-boy lovers are slightly more cautious, in this particular instance.
We've seen through other cases that the FBI is not so careful when it comes to their anti-piracy raids. When I spoke to DJ Drama in a forthcoming interview for VICE, who was the target of a unwarranted seizure of his mixtape studio, he told me that the FBI went after him after seeing Michael Jackson and Beyonce breaks CDs on his website, which led them to presume he was running a full-scale, top 40 bootlegging business. Really, he was just selling loops and drum beats and the vast majority of his product was free, officially sanctioned mixtapes for underground rappers. It's possible that Gottfrid's name on Appbucket gave the FBI a similar boner for justice.
Regardless, all of this storm around Sweden has kept Gottfrid in jail, taken down Appbucket and the Swedish file-sharing site Tankafetast (which now redirects to the Pirate Party website), possibly led to the The Pirate Bay being down for a short time, and damaged PRQ—one of the major hosting companies keeping file-sharing alive in Europe. There are also some very clear parallels between the kafkaesque legal predicaments of Gottfrid Svartholm of The Pirate Bay, Julian Assange of Wikileaks, and Kim Dotcom of Megaupload. Kim, who has more in common with P Diddy than poor ol' Julian, seems to be the dominant one in this unfortunate legal three-way by a longshot. New Zealand, where Kim resides and continues to evade US extradition, has had its own news media turn against its prime minister John Key on the issue. John had apparently taken a clandestine meeting in Hollywood before Kim's illegal raid, which was fueled by illegal government spying. As of last night, Megaupload remains under American indictment but Kim has not been extradited.
From my perspective, it appears that Sweden's idyllic image of fast internet and free piracy is under threat. However, when I spoke to Rick Falkvinge, the founder and now self-titled "political evangelist" of the Swedish Pirate Party, he told me that image wasn't exactly accurate. "Sweden was never particularly pirate-friendly from the eyes of its political administration. What sets Sweden apart is that we had a very early grassroots activism and political organization that fought for freedom of speech through the digitalization of society; this was through no action of—or even favorable with—the government."
It's true that Sweden has always been advanced as far as broadband penetration goes. They're 11th in the world for broadband penetration, way ahead of the UK who is 17th, Canada who is 19th, and the USA who is 23rd. Yet they have also always appeared to be a safe-haven for pirates. It's where Falkvinge founded the Pirate Party in 2006, and now a small Swiss village has a pirate for their mayor.
So it seems that the world-leading broadband penetration in Sweden has provided the tools necessary for independent voices to find the groundswell they need to become global movements, but it was never really indicative of national support for piracy. Falkvinge agrees: "The grassroots organizations of pirates keep fighting through ups and downs, and we may be able to change the government's backwards attitude in these matters. But at present, it is only friendly towards obsolete industries and American interests."
When I asked about the FBI's influence in Sweden, which as far as anti-piracy goes seems to be quite notable given the PRQ raid and the shutdown of Appbucket, he told me: "The FBI doesn't have a lot of influence in Swedish domestic affairs (unlike the Dotcom fiasco in New Zealand recently). However, politically, the Swedish administration is more or less a lapdog to the United States. An FBI operative could not come here on duty without getting arrested for violating all sorts of laws, but it's a different matter when the political administration gets 'offers they can't refuse.' We have several examples of this—down to checklists to tick off on how the Swedish legislation should be changed to please American interests, regardless of whether doing so is in the Swedish interest."
It seems that we are watching an infowar between America and whichever allies will do its bidding. Demonoid and Megaupload are gone. The Pirate Bay is alive, but in questionable health. Plus, the Vietnamese MP3 site Zing, which hosted unlicensed copies of mainstream music, had its Samsung and Coca-Cola advertising dollars taken away within a few days of the PRQ raid. The question becomes: will America continue to play whack-a-mole with the everlasting fountain of file-sharing portals, or will a more drastic SOPA-esque legislation re-emerge in the coming months? I would bet that it's going to be a bit of both.
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