There Will Be No More Internet Piracy Superstars

Opinion

During the past decade and a half there have been some amazing characters in the Internet piracy scene. With their devil-may-care approach to dealing with copyright holders they became heroes to millions. Now, however, that honeymoon period is well and truly over. The stakes are too high, there will be no more piracy superstars.

parkerIn 1999, when Napster began drawing its first digital breaths, few users realized they were part of the dawn of a people-powered sharing revolution that would reach millions.

In time, founders Shawn Fanning, John Fanning, and Sean Parker would become both famous and infamous, with the latter surviving Metallica’s destruction of his business and emerging 15 years later as a Facebook multi-billionaire.

But while Parker is publicly living the dream with his pirate history all but forgotten, others on the receiving end of massive litigation have slowly but surely drifted into the background to pursue other interests. Like Gary Fung, for example.

As the former admin of torrent site isoHunt.com, Fung became a hero to many due to his extended battle with Hollywood’s MPAA. Year after year Fung defied the most powerful people in the movie industry to keep his site online, something that was well received among the file-sharing masses.

garyfungWhile it eventually came to a costly end, Fung’s battle was a true David and Goliath affair.

It inspired many, in part due to the way the Canadian was prepared to become a public figure whose face was well known to his fans. As a result he is still one of the most recognizable individuals to have emerged from the torrent world.

Of course, there are at least three other individuals who enjoyed even greater pirate infamy than Gary Fung. Like Madonna, Bono or Oprah, the trio of Gottfrid, Fredrik and Peter are recognizable by a single name, albeit when placed together. While moderately recognizable in the mainstream they are truly world famous among the technological masses.

Just like Fung, these Pirate Bay operators gained superstar fame due to their willingness to become recognized in public. During the height of the site’s popularity it was never a secret who was loading the servers and keeping fellow pirates happy. At every opportunity and even when on trial, one or the other was courting publicity in order to further the pirate movement.


The world’s most famous pirates (credit)

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And, overall, people absolutely loved it. Unlike most of the faceless operators of dozens of similar sites, Anakata, TiAMO and brokep became icons, appearing in hundreds of mainstream publications around the world and even starring in their own movie. Throughout they stayed defiant, and remain so to this day.

While Napster may have been first and Fung was undoubtedly brave, these three renegades were in a class of their own and will go down in history as the most popular digital pirates the world has ever seen.


Fredrik addressing Pirate Bay fans in Sweden

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Of course there have been others since, most notably Kim Dotcom. Although he’s never likely to embrace the Department of Justice’s claims that he’s the biggest intellectual property pirate the world has ever seen, to many Dotcom is still a pirate hero, regardless of whether he was responsible for the massive piracy on Megaupload.

The key factor is that like Gary, Gottfrid, Fredrik and Peter, rightly or wrongly Dotcom is facing similar persecution from Hollywood. And, just like them, he has remained strong, refused to fold and has indicated the studios can go forth and multiply. A lot of people like that.

Furthermore, what Dotcom has done is position himself as a freedom fighter. He’s placed a human face on what began as a fight over piracy yet has developed into a struggle for control of the Internet. That resonates with millions, even those who oppose other elements of his character.

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But although it was fun while it lasted, in terms of public personalities the pirate movement has already enjoyed its ‘Concorde Moment‘. During the last decade and a half fearless pirates put their faces into the public arena, confident in the knowledge that they could never be touched, that somehow laws would never catch up with innovation.

Now, however, it’s clear that the only pirates with their faces being shown in public are those being raided, arrested, prosecuted or subjected to punishing civil litigation. No longer is it fun to prod the bear while shouting out one’s real name. The bears have learned to be patient and now return at a later date to inflict mountains of regret.

There might still be a surprise in store, a brave entrepreneur and entertainer might arrive prepared to sacrifice himself for the benefit of others. But for now the prospect of lawsuits, jail and extradition will ensure that the next generation of pirates will reject superstar status and accept something much more basic.

Their freedom.

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