On the topic of the recent domain shutdowns...
Posted on November 28th, 2010
Recently Homeland Security shutdown a number of websites (more than 70), and this has a lot of people's knickers in a twist. Here's one of the articles on the shutdown. After reading several articles and the reactions to them, I've started to feel the need to say a few things about the situation. I'm probably going to get Hell for this, but this is one bandwagon you shouldn't immediately jump on.

The reactions to the situation boil down into three groups:

The first group are those that are outraged and feel they have a right to download pirated material. This group has an over-bloated sense of entitlement; they want everything handed to them for free. Many say they'll pay for it if they like it, but how many of them really do pay for stuff after pirating it? In these same threads they'll admit to watching the movie they downloaded, and THEN decide that they didn't like it and thus don't have to pay. This is like eating a meal at a restaurant and then opting not to pay. You've already used the service. This side of piracy has always irritated me. Will these people keep singing this song if something they did was pirated?

The second group is basically the tin foil hat brigade, who is out in full march this time. What will the evil government shutdown next? YouTube? Google? ebay? This is censorship! It's a violation of our rights! yadda yadda. Unfortunately, the internet is a written medium, so the tone is lost in these posts. Poe's law is at its best here; I can't tell who is being sarcastic and who is being honest. In either event, I'm noticing that many of the people in this group that are screaming about how this violates the 4th amendment didn't say a damn thing when there were other apparent violations of the 4th amendment and a Republican was in the White House. Why is it suddenly panic inducing? Because it's not your guy doing it?

The third group is the group of people that frankly don't see the problem here. Most of their comments are aimed at trying to get the first group to act less like a bunch of toddlers.

Now I'm going to be rational and point out a number of things that really turn this "shocking" act of "big brother" into a pile of "meh". However, I'm also willing to bet that those in group #2 have already stopped reading, as they have a tendency to ignore everything someone has to say the second that person points out something that they don't like.

To start with, websites that deal in illegal goods are taking a number of risks. They are actively being hunted by the government and antipiracy groups, and often the copyright holders and their lawyers as well. It's just a matter of time until their site is found and the losing battle begins. However, this isn't the main threat to websites that deal in questionable goods. The real and biggest threat to websites isn't the government, The Media, other websites, the copyright owners, the trademark owners, lawyers or even themselves. It's HOSTING.

Many piracy websites spend a lot of their time moving from host to host. Sure, the site itself stays on one host for the duration of its life, but you can easily bet that the servers their downloads are on are doing the host hustle. Most hosts are not piracy friendly and will, without warning or "due process", terminate the website's account and kick them from the servers. How can they get away with this? Simple: read the Terms of Service of just about any host out there. Here's A Small Orange's TOS. Note the sections "Prohibited Content", "Copyright Infringement" and, most importantly, "Suspension and Cancellation". Quote: "A Small Orange Software reserves the right to terminate service without notice for continued and repeated violations of the ToS."

So shutdowns like this are pretty much part of a pirate's everyday life. You'd be either very naive or a moron not to see this coming.

There are hosts that are willing to host pirated material. They charge very high rates however. This is why pirate websites are so often covered in ads and popups: someone has to pay the bills to keep the site going. Making this harder for the pirates is that most ad companies and their clients don't want to have anything to do with pirated goods and will pull their ads, killing the revenue stream. Those companies that don't mind being advertised on such sites aren't exactly moral themselves -- hence why much of the ads on such sites are pornographic or for very questionable software programs.

One of the complaints about this shutdown is that one of the sites was "merely a search engine". Well, sure; one dedicated to file sharing. Just like The Pirate Bay. That excuse just doesn't fly. Other sites that are "merely search engines" like Google don't single out any type of content.

Now the other thing I'd like to point out is that big sites do get shutdown all the time. For example, there's one infamous chan board (not 4chan) that was very popular and was shutdown abruptly in 2008. I didn't see anybody burst a vessel over that.

In short, piracy sites get shutdown all the time either by their host or by the government. This isn't news. This isn't a violation of your precious rights. This isn't big brother censoring the internet.

However, this is very much ado about nothing.

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