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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Sean Kelly

Hot Docs 2013: My Thoughts on TPB AWK: The Pirate Bay Away from Keyboard

TPB_AFK

Continuing right where Napster let off, The Pirate Bay is the world’s largest file-sharing website, generating the bulk of the world’s BitTorrent traffic.  While Napster was primarily targeted by the music industry, The Pirate Bay was targeted by Hollywood studios, due to the fact that the BitTorrent protocol allows for the download of large-sized files (i.e. feature length films).  As such, in 2008 Hollywood filed a lawsuit against the three Swedish founders of the website.

TPB AWK is a cinéma vérité documentary, which follows the three founders – Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, Peter Sunde & Fredrik Neij – over the course of their trial.  Particular focus is spent on Peter Sunde, who is considered to be the spokesman for the website.  The film also brings up the issue of internet activism, which campaigns for a free and opening internet – devoid of restrictive copyright laws.

To put it bluntly, I thought that the founders of The Pirate Bay came off as a bunch of arrogant jerks, who consider themselves to be smarter than everyone else around them.  Since he is the spokesman for the group, I thought that Peter was the most level-headed of the three, even though he too had his negative aspects.  Gottfrid was by far the worst of the group and his “big moment” of the film involved mocking the court case by writing a very sarcastic mathematical equation on a whiteboard.  Gottfrid actually heads to Cambodia at one point and is never seen for the rest of the film.

The film also focuses on a political party, known as the Pirate Party, which openly campaigns for a free and open internet.  The founders warn at the beginning of the film that nothing is going to happen to The Pirate Bay if they are convicted and indeed the founders have huge support from The Pirate Party, which now controls the bandwidth for the site.  The Pirate Bay was shut down briefly after a raid in 2006, but was quickly reopened within three days.  Probably the most interesting scene of the film involves the visit to one of the site’s secret servers, which is hidden in a cave somewhere.

Being a film about technology, there is a lot of lingo present in the film – including the AFK abbreviation in the title.  To make the film more accessible to the general public, definitions of the lingo will appear on screen at various points.  While these definitions are useful, I did find it a bit difficult to read the definitions and subtitles at the same time.  The film also tries to provide emphasis on the fact that the founders of The Pirate Bay are just a group of computer nerds running a website.  They communicate primarily through chat rooms and do not even have a formal office.  They consider the world online to be “real life” and prefer the term AFK (Away from Keyboard) to IRL (In Real Life) when they meet in person.

Like Napster, The Pirate Bay rests on a fine line in terms of legality.  Technically, they are only provides the means for piracy and are not doing the pirating themselves.  In response to the copyright claims that they get, they always say to contact the uploader.  An interesting argument made in the film is that copyright is only worth supporting if it encourages creativity.  These days, copyright is used more as strict a law, which results in jail time if broken.

Overall, I thought that TPB AFK was an OK film.  While it does bring up interesting arguments from both sides, I don’t think it’s going to change anyone’s minds when it comes to piracy.  The film itself has an interesting distribution model, in which viewers are encouraged to share the film online and indeed it has been available on The Pirate Bay and YouTube since February.  It’s with this model alone that the director tries to make the point that perhaps copyright laws aren’t as black and white as they appear.

7 | FAIR 

Sean Kelly

About Sean Kelly -

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described über-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).