Infrastructure: The Pirate Bay is a site that has remained online for ten years come this summer, despite attempts from almost every Ancient-Power-That-Be to shut it down. It has often been said that The Pirate Bay hasn’t evolved much at all in the past five years; I disagree, it has adapted and overcome everything thrown in its path. There may soon come a time when we need to learn from its experiences in resilience just to safeguard freedom of speech.
The Pirate Bay went through a user-interface redesign some time late 2005 or early 2006, when it went multilingual, and has remained fairly constant since then. The only other site in the world’s top 100 that has remained similarly consistent could possibly be Wikipedia; for every other site, it’s a necessity to evolve, modernize, and meet new user demands.
It is not without irony that Hollywood’s nemesis number one in distribution technology hasn’t innovated in user experience in almost ten years, and still outcompetes the copyright industry hands down when it comes to who provides better service.
But I would argue that The Pirate Bay has been remarkably innovative, just not in the user experience field – a lot of other sites are blazing that trail. Rather, The Pirate Bay has been a trailblazer in resilience. After all, a number of bought-and-paid-for or just plain misguided legislatures and courts have tried to eradicate the site, and yet, it still stands untouched.
As the freedom-of-speech wars escalate, we will need to start taking cues from what The Pirate Bay has learned in the art of staying online, and that time may be approaching fast. This was never a war over the copyright monopoly; it was a war over the concept of the letter as such, over the right to communicate in private, over the right to publish and broadcast ideas that somebody else wouldn’t like the world to see or hear.
For this is what we see – the techniques originally used to attempt silencing The Pirate Bay have already come to be used against activists trying to highlight abuse of power, and corporations and others are trying the might-makes-right approach. You have the example with Greenpeace’s protest site being silenced in the exact same way by an oil company, just to take one example among many.
There is the idea among people with money and power that they have the right to control what other people can say about them. Unfortunately, they are starting to enforce that idea with what amounts to mafia tactics, using the threat of courtrooms as their battlefield, and using intimidation to squelch dissent. (The Pirate Bay themselves were victims of law in this very manner.)
As this war on freedom of speech escalates, we would do well to study the methods for staying online that The Pirate Bay has pioneered.