First Monday

Cons in the panopticon: Anti-globalization and cyber-piracy by Indhu Rajagopal with Nis Bojin

Cons in the panopticon: Anti–globalization and cyber–piracy by Indhu Rajagopal with Nis Bojin
This paper examines the paradox of the digital telecommunications revolution that augured the transcendence of big business and big government (Toffler, 1980), but also extended to the World Wide Web the processes of privatization and commodification. Instead of facilitating individuals to design, through interactive technology, their own media and directly express their will (Pool, 1983), the Internet has come to embody a panopticon [1] that extends the reach of corporatists [2]. We discuss the panopticon in the context of the globalizing cyber–technology, and argue that piracy is an anti–globalization movement.


Review of literature and conceptual themes
Dialectics of cyber–piracy





If we apply William Mitchell’s [3] notion of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to globalization, we can see how, in relation to cyber–technology, the panopticon operates on the Internet. We examine in this paper Mitchell’s arguments relating to piracy as an anti–globalization movement. A variant of panopticon, proposed by Jeremy Bentham [4], had a single master in the middle, surrounded by a circle of six monitors to keep order, then circular tiers with seats for nine hundred boys [5] (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon.

Mitchell (1997) notes that "the digital telecommunications revolution, the ongoing miniaturization of electronics, the commodification of bits, and the growing domination of software over materialized form," have locked us into the corporate capitalists’ technologists, "imagining and creating digitally mediated environments for the kinds of lives that we will want to lead and the sorts of communities that we will want to have." Pursuing Mitchell’s questions on the global arena, we may ask: Why should we care about who originates and who spreads the global digital technology? Its significance is too obvious. In the digital era, the panopticon globally monitors, and profoundly affects, the economic, social and political relationships between individuals and corporate capitalists. In resistance to the globalization of corporate control over the cyber–world, piracy and the gift economy have evolved as anti–global resistance movements [6]. We discuss in this paper how piracy — that has been labeled by corporate capital as illegal — can be deemed as an anti–globalization movement led by those who break the proprietary cyber–technology codes.

ICT has accelerated the globalization of prurient forces such as the production and dissemination of pornography, market scams, spam, and vicious virtual viruses. Dialectically, it has also fostered ethical and moral causes across the globe ...

This paper does not address the ethical, moral, or legal dimensions of cyber–piracy although they have serious implications for global socioeconomic values. Our focus is on globalization that the cyber–revolution has accelerated manifold, and on the challenges to it that have emerged in various forms, on both side of the digital ethical, moral, and legal divide. Indeed, ICT has accelerated the globalization of prurient forces such as the production and dissemination of pornography, market scams, spam, and vicious virtual viruses, formulae for bomb making and nuclear proliferation. Dialectically [7], it has also fostered ethical and moral causes across the globe, e.g., knitted anti–global protest movements for social justice, bridged the digital divide in the production and the dissemination of medical technology, scientific knowledge, generic drugs, and educational research, between the haves and have–nots. Our quest is to examine what the digirati are able to create for all those who reach out to ICT for their own needs. Cyber–piracy unleashes the creativity of digirati, and extends cyber–technologies to cater to various wants and desires in the global community, not the least of them being a post–industrial gift economy of sharing, where participants see propriety controls as outmoded.

Concepts and explanations

Some special terms used in this paper require explanation. Piracy is adapted from the context of plundering on the high seas, and applied to the Web as a metaphor for illegally acquiring and distributing goods on the Internet, copyrights of which are infringed by interlopers (Wikipedia, 2004d). The term ‘piracy’ is not used here to refer to the sale of physical media containing pirated codes or software on the black market. Indeed, such goods come to the market as a result of Internet pirate distribution. However, we only examine the process of piracy on the Internet, rather than the products on the market. Piracy is structurally well–organized on the Internet as layers or echelons of operations with distinct roles at each level. These echelons are identified with layers of distinct functions that each performs in the chain of Internet–facilitated piracy distribution. These echelons often work dialectically with each other in garnering and disseminating pirated materials, particularly with respect to larger forms of digital goods that may exceed several hundred megabytes. The diagrammatic representation we have presented here (Figure 2) should be read not as a rigid hierarchy, but as a general mapping of piracy production and distribution based on an empirical conceptualization. The important levels described here account for a majority of distribution patterns and transactions of pirated materials through the Internet.

The term ‘warez’ [8] refers to all pirated goods, whether they are software, games, or music. Other warez–related items are also affixed with a ‘z’ at their end, such as ‘crackz’ which are patches that allow the bypassing of software copy protections and ‘serialz’ which are illegally distributed key codes that permit access to the software. Those warez generally referred to as ‘0-day’ are typically acquired for distribution within a day of their original release. Connotations of the term ‘0-day’ that appears on the site, include warez items’ anticipated short availability on Web sites, urging one to download it before its impending deletion.

There is an important distinction between hackers and crackers. ‘Crackers’ are typically those whose expertise is to reverse–engineer copyright protections of software, while ‘hackers’ can generally be perceived as technological explorers who tinker and play with computer systems, either locally or via the Internet. Hackers themselves are not necessarily malevolently motivated, as some hack mainly for freeing information, or for lifting technological boundaries, while others may deliberately hack to vandalize.

Gnutella and Direct Connect are two peer–to–peer [9] file–sharing programs. Each uses different methods to achieve its goals, but they are both similar to Napster, the once popular music–sharing program, in functionality and searching techniques. Bit Torrent, an application programmed by software developer Bram Cohen, is a tool also used for file–sharing [10]. It is designed to facilitate peer–to–peer exchanges by requiring downloaders to share their uploading bandwidth capacity with one another in the communal pursuit of the same file. Thus, Bit Torrent is a client program that harnesses its user’s typically underutilized upload capacity in order to speed up downloading at any given time.

File transfer protocol (FTP) sites refers to computers that are operated as servers for the purpose of file exchange and Internet–accessible archiving. Typically computer users with substantial hard disk space and an Internet connection potentially could establish their own FTP servers, although to process large size transactions regularly, massive storage capacity, preferably equipped with high bandwidth, is necessary to process large size transactions regularly. In relation to FTP sites, the term ‘couriers’ is used to refer to those who competitively upload files to FTP sites or exchange files between these sites in order to speed up the propagation of newly pirated releases. Couriers competitively operate in a great rush to establish links between an FTP site with a newly pirated release that another FTP site does not have, or vice versa, and negotiate the mutual transfer of files.



Review of literature and conceptual themes


"Globalization is a multifaceted process, and can be characterized as a systematic decline in the barriers to the cross–national flow of products, factors (capital and people), values and ideas" [11].

Globalization has rapidly advanced in the post–World War II era, which was previously linked under colonialism. Financial, commercial, cultural, and technological integration of the world accelerated with the ever–expanding integration of global policies under the various agencies of the United Nations. In this paper, we focus on ICT and its impact on globalization. Cristiano Antonelli (2003) compares ICT with previous radical technologies [12], and sees it as a combination of product and process innovations that embody the innovating countries’ structural and cultural characteristics. Commodification and profitability have driven the seemingly ‘free’ Internet around the planet. In order to understand the implications of technology in a globalized world, we draw upon Judy Wajcman’s (2002) discussion of the changing social theories and paradigms and the centrality of social variable. She notes that Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1970) initiated the study of the sociology of scientific knowledge. Kuhn’s central premise in the paradigm of scientific knowledge exposes the profound influence of society where scientific findings and technological discoveries are conducted. The imperative of social interest in the design and in the technical aspects of the process and product of knowledge is more significant than the necessary technical reasons related to the creation and production of any technology (Law and Hassard, 1999; MacKenzie and Wajcman, 1999) [13]. Wajcman (2002) cautions that the technological impact on social shaping merely simulates the existing conditions of our mundane world in spite of many thrilling new discoveries in cyberspace. As no new societies can be created in the cyber–sphere, all that technological discoveries can do is to alter the social relations within the global political economy.

Commodification of the Internet

Commodification occurs when, through a deliberate or non–deliberate process, a non–commodity e.g., an idea, a propensity, a desire, an intellectual curiosity, identity, or gender, is transformed into a commodity. Generally these thoughts or social constructs are not considered exchangeable in market terms, but are attributed a monetary value through this process (Wikipedia, 2004b). In essence, commodification means commercializing relationships previously not encompassed by market relations or by exchange transactions. The term came into currency in 1977, and it was central to the understanding of how capitalism advances (Marxist Internet Archive, 2004). Commercialization of work, goods, and social relations is a process that ensures the dominance of capital in producing and exchanging commodities for profit.

"The bourgeoisie ... has resolved personal worth into exchange value ... it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation ... [it has] torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation into a mere money relation." (Marx and Engels, 1848).

If we treat information as a proprietary good, we commodify information, and create ownership and control regimes. In such a commercial milieu, information becomes unaffordable to the workers and to poorer people. When communication, music, and knowledge are commercialized on the Internet, they are bought and sold in the information market on the Internet, proprietarily commoditized for its consumers (Rajagopal and Bojin, 2004).

Pieter Boeder (2005) examines the dramatic changes to the public sphere that is under siege through commodification of the Internet, and the way in which these striking changes threaten the very existence of the public sphere on the Internet. William Mitchell (1997) names them ‘electronic agoras’:

"The keyboard is my café ... Traditionally, you needed to go someplace to do this sort of thing — to the agora, the forum, the piazza, the café, the bar, the pub, Main Street, the mall, the beach, the gym, the bathhouse, the college dining hall, the common room, the office, or the club — and where you went pegged your peer group, your social position, and your role. It also framed expectations about how you should represent yourself by your clothing, body language, speech, and behavior and about the interactions that were to take place. Each familiar species of public place had its actors, costumes, and scripts. But the worldwide computer network — the electronic agora — subverts, displaces, and radically redefines our notions of gathering place, community, and urban life."

Media monopolies and full–fledged commodification of intellectual artifacts challenge the milieu that has long been characterized by a global free flow of information, discursive dialogues, dissemination of knowledge, and freedom of speech on the Web. Boeder argues that "discourse [has] degenerated into publicity, and publicity used the increasing power of electronic media to alter perceptions and shape beliefs. What dies in this process is the rational discourse at the base of civil society" [14].

Richard Barbrook (2000) analyzes extensively the roots of market worship and the forces that have led to the commodification of the Internet, and notes that theorists such as Toffler (1980), and Ithiel de Sola Pool (1983) assumed that technological advancements in the media industries would liberate people from corporatist clutches. Since the French Revolution of 1789, the process of modernization under the hegemony of reactionaries has been making rapid strides. However, by taking a leap to the 1970s when economies collapsed, Barbrook notes that the emergent bourgeoisie were the digirati who were expected to transform the Internet into a free haven of information society and the notion of representative democracy assumed by personal participation in the ‘electronic town hall.’ They were digerati who became neo–liberals and hacker geniuses. Discussing the optimism among liberals, Barbrook adds that many of them (Toffler, 1980; Kelly, 1994; Hudson, 1996; Dyson, 1997) figured out that the question was, as Rossetto (Hudson, 1996) summarized, not the "Not haves and have–nots, [but have–nows and] have–laters." The lure for temporarily accommodating the tyranny of the minority was the hope that, in the long run, as Henri de Saint–Simon suggested, it would lead to material and moral goods (Saint–Simon and Halevy, 1975). Barbrook lists the parallels between industrial capitalism and cybercommunism [15]. He finds that the Internet satisfies its users not as a market, but as a gift economy: spontaneously giving and receiving information as gifts. The knowledge–creating sector of the economy, the university, has offered scholarly research results in the ‘commons’ and anyone could take, and benefit from, them. As a result of these established practices in academia, the gift economy has been embedded within the social mores of the Internet. Hobbyists and the general public have joined these researchers to bring information into the public forum of free knowledge. Each contributed one’s discourse or information for free, and also accessed others’ knowledge for free. Those who developed the Internet did not envisage it as an exchange for commodified information, and hence hard–wired it as a dynamic free–exchange commons. However, the market economy crept in to control this gift exchange of intellectual labour through ‘copyright’ [16]. Barbrook (2000) reiterates what Porter (1995), Frow (1996), and May (1998) cautioned earlier, that copyright transformed intellectual labour and information into commodities. However, the Internet that has not lost its verve of freedom, has catalyzed the exuberant programmers who have created Open Source [17] and non–proprietary ICT artifacts, and customized them for free distribution [18].

If we treat information as a proprietary good, we commodify information, and create ownership and control regimes. In such a commercial milieu, information becomes unaffordable to the workers and to poorer people.

Andrea Bonaccorsi and Cristina Rossi (2004) recently surveyed the motivations of developers of Open Source, and compared their results with earlier surveys (Ghosh, et al., 2002; Hertel, et al., 2003; Hars and Ou, 2002). Consistently all these surveys find that the developers emphasize their interest in designing Open Source as emancipation from corporatist proprietary software. Developers’ interests are not geared to gaining fame, but to advancing challenging skills, developing human capital, and freely distributing the resultant products, because they disdain corporate commodification of knowledge processes on the Internet, which has become a global public sphere.

Jürgen Habermas (1962) notes that the public sphere is a phenomenon that emerged after the breakdown of religious hegemony and the rise of the middle class in the eighteenth century. Since then, private individuals and property owners regulated public authority, and shaped the public sphere. However, nineteenth–century discursive reasoning and informed public opinion have been relegated by mass consumption, commercialization of mass participation, and publicity as a form of entertainment. Habermas provoked free discussions on issues of commodification of art in public forums, e.g., in coffeehouses, and as discourses in weeklies. More importantly, his discourses advanced public discussions of private opinions and narratives by legitimizing a new literary genre, viz., the publication of intimate and personal correspondence. Thus a form of "literary public sphere" emerged. Habermas warns that mass media and monopoly capitalist organizations have gained control over the public sphere, turning it into a nominal and impotent forum and rendering its participants powerless (Holub, 1997; Wikipedia, 2004c).

Under copyright laws, intellectual property has inevitably been transformed into a commodity. In the early periods, ‘fair use’ in public interest restricted the absolute ownership of information. However, toward the end of the twentieth century, these conditionalities have gradually dropped off under the rigorous enforcement of copyright legislation by hi–tech industries, media conglomerates, and communication empires (Barbrook, 2002).




Writing about Foucault’s theories on "the Net as a panopticon," Mark Winokur (2003) discusses the "visible surveillance on the Net ... to studies of such phenomena as information–gathering about individuals (e.g.: Carnivore software)" but Foucault’s theorization does not deal with "data encryption ... spatialization, totality of experience, coercive discourse, and ambiguous/internalized authority — are not frequently linked to the Internet." Neo–Foucauldian critics examine the use of ICT as a surveillance instrument of the invisible oligarchy in which power is invisibly vested in the form of an Orwellian 1984 or Kafkaesque Castle. The Internet is surveillant, and it assists the monitors — corporations and the rulers — to know citizens and consumers better through Internet spying. Winokur argues that the Internet technologies shape individuals, their tastes, their hobbies, their work and their existence to the extent that it may turn into a body of knowledge that becomes a means of coercion. David Lyon (1994) emphasizes that one cannot locate or avoid the authoritarian gaze that collects data on, and coerces, the Internet user.

What then are the techno–tools of this gaze through the Internet? Tom Brignall (2002) argues that the Internet is inherently a panopticon because the Internet service providers are equipped by technology to monitor their online customers without their being aware of it. The Internet observers go beyond the ‘jailers’ envisaged in Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon because of wireless technology and its global reach. Already global programs like America Online, Prodigy, and Microsoft Online monitor their users’ habits, culture, activities and transactions, and claim that they are not violating any law. They all gather private personal information through their intrusive software [19]. For those who argue that piracy is emancipatory whether monitoring one’s privacy was deliberate or not, Brignell’s rejoinder is that peer–to–peer networking would lead to global corporations’ monitoring Internet users because of the trend among conglomerates like BMG, Sony and Warner/AOL to make deals with peer–to–peer networks in order to control the flow of digital media.

Those who developed the Internet did not envisage it as an exchange for commodified information, and hence hard–wired it as a dynamic free–exchange commons.

Spyware [20] is a sort of panoptic tool on the Internet, which can intrusively extract information and provide it to servers of software companies and others. The Internet can be used by the state’s older institutions and forces that are charged with the responsibility of maintaining order in society. Beyond this spectrum of controls, as Adorno and Horkheimer note,

"Tyranny leaves the body free and directs its attack at the soul. The ruler no longer says: You must think as I do, or die. He says: You are free not to think as I do; your life, your property, everything shall remain yours, but from this day on you are a stranger among us. Not to conform means to be rendered powerless, economically and therefore, spiritually to be self employed" [21].

Another panoptic raid against one’s privacy is through Adware programs that include spyware [22]. While viewing a pop–up advertisement, one may be unaware of the spyware collecting and sending information from your hard drive. While downloading peer–to–peer files, a user may also be downloading a large number of spyware and adware programs. Yet, another danger is systemware that downloads itself through peer–to–peer networks. This program facilitates the company that owns the download to "use unused storage space, unused computing power and/or Internet bandwidth/Internet access for the aggregation of content and use in distributed computing. The user acknowledges and authorizes this use without the right of compensation" (Duke, 2002).

Colin J. Bennett (2001) points out that "a more sophisticated form of surveillance by design is revealed through ... banner-advertising." Doubleclick, an advertising company on the Web, performs as an agent in marketing advertisement space on behalf of various Web sites, and it also disseminates and services such ads. When ads run on Web sites, their visitors are monitored, while Doubleclick’s proprietary software collects surfers’ habits, products they visit, and information they provide. Bennett notes:

"Any website that knows your identity and has a cookie for you could set up procedures to exchange their data with the companies that buy advertising space from them, synchronizing the cookies they both have on your computer. This possibility means that once your identity becomes known to a single company listed in your cookies file, any of the others might know who you are every time you visit their sites. This identity might become known by filling in a warranty, product registration, survey or purchase form" [23].

Carnivore is another raider program, a more controversial one developed by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation to allow the FBI to spy online, tracing e–mail activities of suspected criminals. Often one is reminded of the tactics reminiscent of those in George Orwell’s book 1984 (Tyson, 2004). Carnivore is a sophisticated wiretapping/eavesdropping program which chews all the data on the network, although it eats only the information authorized by a court order (Graham, 2004).

It would seem that cookies are innocuously embedded in computers for the speed of surfing Web pages we access often and that they do not act maliciously on our computers. Cookies are text files that can be deleted at any time and are not plug–ins or programs. However, cookies are relevant to the issues of surveillance because they are software that compromises user’s privacy and anonymity on the Internet. Cookies may not read your hard drive to find out information about you, but personal information that you give to a Web site, including credit card information, will be stored in a cookie unless you have turned off the cookie feature in your browser. Thus cookies are problematic to privacy (see Webopedia).

Free programs like Gnutella allow open entry into users’ programs and content on another user’s hard drive. Because there is no revolt from the users who are interested in downloading what they want from Gnutella user groups, it does not mean that spying of a less tech–sophisticated user is not possible via Gnutella. In fact, many peer–to–peer users turn off Gnutella’s program Preferences in order not to allow access to their hard drives. Because most peer–to–peer technology relies on open source programming, it is possible for crackers and hackers to create modifications in order to allow illegal access to personal information. Even without peer–to–peer client software, one can easily figure out that crackers could de–compile software, and modify it to suit their interests.

If one assumes that the Internet frees individuals from limitations, i.e., of space, time, and dependence, one must also face the fact that it is an illusion and that inexorable tides of control invisibly flow through the Internet. Brignall points out:

"Such attention to the production of homogeneous cultural artifacts will continue to produce creativeless, bland, and sterile cultural icons such as Brittney Spears and Barney. Any counter pop creative culture will continue to be drowned out if it does not look like a big money maker ... the Internet will be[come] a cultural Leviathan, making sure we do not do anything that would result in fewer profits for multinationals" [24].

Anti–globalization and cyber–piracy

In resistance to globalization, many alternatives identified under the general rubric of anti–globalization movements have emerged. Anti–globalists champion various causes all the way from anti–sweatshops to protests against genetic engineering. They see the various causes spearheaded by diverse groups as complementary to one another, and through the Web, knit together across the globe to carry out their strategies. They view multinational corporations, e.g., Microsoft, as exploitive and stepping on individual rights and human interests by using their global corporate power. Even pro–capitalist economists, like George Soros and Joseph Stiglitz, identify with some aspects of anti–globalism when they argue against centralized world economic policies such as IMF’s structural adjustment program (SAP) and World Bank’s policies that override local interests of those in poorer countries (Wikipedia, 2004a).

Discussing various examples of anti–globalization movements, Amory Starr and Jason Adams (2003) focus on relocalization or local autonomy as one of the three rubrics of anti–globalization movements: viz., radical reform that aims to undercut corporations, globalization from below (Falk, 1993), and a range of autonomous movements that articulate their productivity, and rights of communities. In the literature on anti–globalization, the autonomy perspective is theoretically rooted in the arguments of "protect the local globally" (Hines, 2000), "delinking" from globalization and self–determination (Amin, 1985) and "scaling back overdevelopment" (Weinberg, 1991).

Revolution and resistance in the cyberworld

In Marxist thought, anti–globalization movements emerge to challenge the fetters that globalization imposes. Under advanced corporate capitalism, according to Karl Marx, dialectics occur between the material forces and social relations of production in cyber–political economy. Social relations of production involve the relation between corporate capitalist ownership of production, and the workers and consumers who have little say on matters relating to the process of production and commodification in the cyber–economy. To quote Marx: "At a certain stage of their development, the material forces of production in society come into conflict with the existing relations of production ... with the property relations ... From forms of development of the forces of production, these relations turn into their fetters. Then comes a period of social revolution" [25]. Barbrook (2002) critiques the neo–liberalists’ argument that the world has seen the "end of history" (Fukuyama, 1992), as there could be no other alternative socio–economic system, which is based on the hegemonic commercialization now of the Internet. However, the full potential of the Internet cannot be realized within the traditional hierarchies of capitalism. The new social relations of production beyond advanced capitalism are already in conflict with barriers imposed by the forces of production that operate in cyber–economy, resulting in resistance through the gift culture and the thriving of the "intellectual commons" that free–sharing and the anti–globalist actions of piracy have established (Barbrook, 2002).

The full potential of the Internet cannot be realized within the traditional hierarchies of capitalism.

David Tetzlaff’s (2000) examination of the Hotline file–sharing community not only elaborates a technological framework of how the file–sharing community operates, but also provides a look at the ethical perspective from which many "pirates" view their activities. Tetzlaff points out that these perspectives range from the personal acknowledgement of piracy as unethical to the militant belief that piracy is a necessary step in the battle for the freedom of information. Through the examples of Hotline, a file–sharing application, newsgroups and warez sites, Tetzlaff outlines the descriptive nature of how piracy operates, and describes a vignette of one section of the chain of pirate distribution that operates through, and is facilitated by, the Internet. However, Internet piracy extends above and beyond the world of file–sharing, newsgroups and warez sites. A long chain of distribution starts at the top with the release groups who acquire and crack a copy of new technological wares, and thus initiate a process which allows the artifacts to trickle down the line to the average downloader. Barry Shore, et al. (2001), differentiate the term "piracy" from "softlifting," defining the former as an activity based on a monetary incentive of selling illegally obtained software, and the latter as limited to downloading software for personal use only. In this paper, we discuss the process of "piracy" on the Internet in broader terms that would include all ICT artifacts that are pirated.



Dialectics of cyber–piracy

For this paper, we gathered information from individuals involved in the piracy chain at various levels. For obvious reasons, they wish to remain anonymous and unidentified. There are three common levels within the cyber–piracy system of any digital cultural goods — music, software or other artifacts — that have been socially and technologically structured: the upper, middle and lower echelons. The upper echelon at the top of the chain produces as a virtual factory: release groups are the architects of the initial cracked pirate release, and FTP sites acting as warehouses for the increased proliferation of that release by couriers ( Online Dictionary, 2004a). The three operative participants — crackers, FTPs, and couriers — get access to nearly any item they want mainly because of their interrelational intimacy with the process. Depending on the size of the release, pirated goods can even make their way directly to the bottom rung to be "file shared," or hosted on warez sites if they are small enough. However, pirated releases, especially those of substantial size, first make their way through the second rung, i.e., through newsgroups or the middle echelon. Newsgroups are the ultimate recycling hub of warez because new materials are always being sent through the top of the chain, and older material is being re–uploaded by newsgroup users themselves. This makes newsgroups a widely accessible method of finding a large quantity of pirated materials. The third or lower echelon of pirate distribution, the file–sharing and warez Web sites, depends highly on having either received pirated software from a newsgroup, IRC or even from warez Web sites or other file sharers on the same stratum.

Whereas newsgroups provide massive amounts of pirated materials that are poorly organized, file–sharing provides significantly less amounts of pirated material in terms of variety, and finding what one needs is a simplified process (Tetzlaff, 2000). Despite the lack of dependability that arises from trying to download files from another user on a file–sharing client or from trying to download a 0–day application from a warez site that may or may not be reliably linked, finding items is relatively easy mainly because of search engines such as Google and the built–in search functions of file–sharing applications and bit torrent trackers. Thus, the third echelon of pirate distribution not only requires the least amount of computer skill to access, but it also provides what is nearly the best method to specifically pinpoint what has ultimately come down the chain of distribution.

The key characteristics of each rung in the piracy chain are their specific qualities that make each rung distinctly useful in the chain. If one wants a new program or game that recently arrived on store shelves or was about to arrive soon, the upper echelon would have it tapped. If one wants the largest smorgasbord of pirated material available to anyone with moderate computer skills, then the second echelon would be the most optimal choice. But if one is looking for a specific small application, video clip, song or reasonably sized releases, but had only a low level of computer skills, the third echelon is the tap. These hierarchic echelons on the Internet do not apply to every item released by a pirate release group. Often, depending on the size and significance of the item, levels are skipped, or releases are simultaneously propagated on all three levels, and pirated goods can also be found moving back and forth between the second and third echelon. However, these are exceptions as they apply only to a relative minority of warez transactions down the chain of distribution. As one can see from this analysis, the top tier directly resists against the Internet’s globalization, and burrows into the Internet for commodified products; the second tier accelerates the dissemination of the pirated warez; and, the third tier accomplishes the global distribution of the fruits of anti–globalization.

Drawing from theoretical arguments on anti–globalization, we build a framework of analysis to examine "piracy" as an anti–globalization movement, adapting two of the key conceptual themes in the anti–globalization literature: resistance against commercial hegemony and privatization of the Internet and the establishment of communal autonomy and communal currency on the Internet [26].

Piracy as resistance against commercial hegemony and the privatization of the Internet

Citing John Locke who observes that "The great and chief end of ... men ... putting themselves under Government ... is the preservation of their Property" [27], Richard Barbrook emphasizes how media corporations that vigorously resist state regulation of their activities demand the exercise of state power in criminalizing social mores and software codes. Barbrook argues that, in the guise of copyright, state enforcement of any censorship, whether political or economic, is undesirable. Instead of a democratic state fostering a discursive "intellectual commons" (Barbrook, 2002; Lessig,1999; Hauben and Hauben, 1997) on the Web, the state, by enforcing such corporate demands, is facilitating "the digital panopticon." In this situation, where one–dimensional information would, as Berners–Lee (1998) cautions, be the standard diet for passive consumption, any interactive creativity would be anathema under panopticon’s surveillance (Figure 3).

The notion of piracy on the Web is a counter–reaction to the stifling of creativity and access to free resources on the Internet. The greater the commodification of processes and products on, and relating to, the Internet, the less useful and unique will the Internet become. Corporate capital insistently pursues various means: rigorous policing of the Internet through surveillance technology as panopticon, use of the state power, threat of punishment through stringent legislation, and dissemination of McCarthyistic propaganda to enforce commercial copyright and turn the Internet into a web of commodity fetishism.

Corporate capitalist trends in the market inevitably lead to "commodity fetishism," by turning class antagonism into a desire for commodities and for accumulation of capital. To satisfy these never–ending desires and the limitless urge for accumulation, consumerism gives a boost to the world market where businesses engage in the production and sale of goods. Thus the Internet becomes dominated by corporate capitalist enterprises, gets transposed into a conduit and a social shaper of such desires and commodities, and ends up as an extension of the conglomerate media empires (Mosco, 2000), which dismantles the original purpose of the Internet as a public space, a "creative commons" [28].

The technological "Creative Commons" seems to be ineffective. Tom McCourt and Patrick Burkart [29] warn about Napster and free-downloading of music:

"The commercialization of the Internet transforms the experience of on–line music from a network–enabled community of freely participating individuals to a network–delivered commodity that is relentlessly measured and metered."

Europe and U.S. have different approaches to intellectual property rights. While the U.S. model ensures financial rights to media corporations and their artist clients, the European model shores up creator rights to artists, and allows moral rights greater significance than rights for profits. In view of these international barriers to U.S. copyright assumptions, the U.S. multinational media corporations created Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies which enable proprietary "lock up" of content into every OS, artifact, and the player. Further technological advancements such as Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) have been attempted, but they have proved to be code–breakable [30]. Music recordings and dissemination inherently require that artists promote them freely online to their audience in order to popularize themselves as well as their future productions. The "lock in" technologies inhibit such promotions, and also complicate the processes of online sales. The neoliberal state is ever ready to enforce penalties against copyright infringements. Richard Barbrook identifies a humorous posting on the Internet which exemplifies the irony of propaganda against downloading music disseminated by corporate empires — the Recording Industry Association of America (Figure 4) [31].

Establishment of communal autonomy and communal currency on the Internet

Carl Cuneo’s classifies the protest process that has emerged in relation to, or from within, the Internet, which we identify here as "anti–globalization" movement, under five categories: "Smash the Internet, Organizing and Protesting Digitally; Software Piracy; the Open Source Movement; and, Hackerdom" [32]. The first two categories — "Smash the Internet" and "Organizing and Protesting Digitally" — are resistance movements against the hegemonic corporations that have usurped the Internet as a powerful infrastructure of globalization. Protesters globally organize via the Internet, and challenge multinational corporations’ (MNCs) virtual global expansion, and financial and currency transactions that destabilize LDCs’ economies. The third category — "Software Piracy" — describes the acts of those who are assumed to be "digital–have–nots" who acquire access to the information and communication technology (ICT) by disregarding copyright laws. The fourth category embraces the Open Source Movement (OSM) that undercuts the technological roots of corporate capital’s role in the privatization of intellectual capital. Linus Torvalds’ source code of Linux is freely distributed on the Internet with the freedom for global collective skill to develop it further. Competing against Microsoft, Linux has a 25 percent share of the global server OS market. The fifth category is "hackers or crackers" whom the media labels as criminally inclined; these are sophisticated programmers who use their skills to gain unauthorized access to information. Hackers see themselves as a community with advanced skills that enable them to climb out of their "digital–have–not" position (Cuneo, 2002).

We argue that software piracy — resisting proprietary copyright regulations and ignoring any hegemonic ownership of intellectual capital — is a type of anti–globalization movement. Who is interested in bridging the haves and the have–nots in ICT, and why? Corporate–vested interests expand their commodities and consumerism, as well as acquire a reserved army of technological workers from around the globe (Cuneo, 2002; DiMaggio, et al., 2001). From cradle to grave, free donations of computers, through schools and community centers, promote the Internet culture (Cuneo, 2002; Pellizarri, 2000). Even in poorer countries, one is bombarded with advertisements about what middle classes are missing without access to a computer. There is a rush among the poorer countries to catch up, lest they be left behind in this most radical knowledge revolution since the Industrial Revolution. However, hi–tech corporations have targeted knowledge and information as commodities and as capital in the global market (Cuneo, 2002; Castells, 1996). In resistance to this control, the Internet has become an infrastructure for anti–globalization activities aimed at breaking the oligopolistic proprietary control of hi–tech information systems, i.e., piracy of software, music, videos, and other ICT artifacts.

The piracy chain as resistance against commercial hegemony and privatization of the Internet

The upper echelon: Release groups, FTPs and couriers

In the piracy chain, at the top echelon, the pirates imitate the very capitalistic processes — appropriation and competition — they despise. This occurs despite the fact the term cyber–piracy connotes a process of dismantling proprietary ownership of technology and capitalist commercialization of the Internet, The trafficking of illegally obtained software and games begins with individuals who manage to procure a copy either from a store, or from a leaked source, and who may also have access to a program’s source code (Jacobssen and Reiter, 2001). Once a software or game title is released, or is near completion and in the process of moving to store shelves, several piracy "groups," each with identifying titles, are already competing to release their own pirated version of the title before others do. The "drag–race" mentality in the illegal release of a stolen title may often be at the expense of the quality of a program’s or game’s pirated release. Such an item may embody a poorly "cracked" product, one in which copy protection was not fully removed or nullified, or has other anomalies. Erroneous releases often are deleted, or likely to be "nuked" from source FTP sites, after word of their shortcomings has spread. At all levels, piracy groups are not only highly organized, but also quite untraceable because they remain invisible and keep a low profile.

Piracy groups are usually effective at "reverse engineering" or "cracking" to subvert copy protections of the artifacts. Through this process, the pirated artifact is distributed with an embedded unit of technology, a file known as a "crack" that replaces one of the original program’s components, which the user must apply to operate the pirated version. There are few traces of signatures on the Internet or related media, because release groups’ operations are confined to acquire, crack, and assign a pirated artifact to a "host," an outside source, and not extend their functions on the Internet beyond this. Release groups never host or distribute their own releases, but leave them to FTP sites. As a result of their invisibility and smallness, release groups are often not caught as the piracy police cannot track their activities efficiently. Therefore, the legal arm of the state is always after those that distribute the artifacts [33].

The greater the commodification of processes and products on, and relating to, the Internet, the less useful and unique will the Internet become.

Release groups have their own couriers, but third–party courier groups also have a unique identity, hierarchical structure, and competitive motivations among their group. Couriers not only compete as groups against each other to sport the quickest uploads to a key server in a "race," but they do so also as individuals to be the first to locate and harness new releases. Statistics are maintained within courier groups in order to determine the groups and the individuals who transfer the most data in order to earn the most FTP credits. Credits are common currency of value among couriers, and this permits them to download material from various FTP sites. These are points that couriers earn in exchange for their timely upload. The prevalent version of exchange of upload to download is a ratio of 1:3, i.e., every 100 MB uploaded or transferred to a site gives one the access to download three times that amount from that same site (Cooper and Harrison, 2001). Couriers earn these credits by exchanging files between servers in a process known as file exchange protocol (FXP). For quick uploading of massive amounts of newly cracked technology to popular FTP sites in the upper echelon warez scene, couriers rely on FXPing to earn their credits, rather than on slower cable connections. Thus, couriers co–exist symbiotically with the higher profile FTP sites brimming with pirated goods, and the speedy release groups, in order to accelerate the propagation of pirated software. There is a remarkable sense of interdependency among the triumvirate in the pirating scene: release groups, couriers, and FTP sites.

The middle echelon: IRC and Usenet

The middle level in the piracy chain depends highly on new content providers at the top level who upload new releases to a newsgroup. Participants of the top echelon feed acquired pirated releases to newsgroups, and/or make them available for exchange on one or a number of Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channels. The middle echelon is, therefore, a critical transition conduit in the chain for proliferating and distributing a number of pirated artifacts. At this level, the piracy community operates with a greater level of autonomy, unrestrained by any formal rules in their world except for informal codes of good behaviour required in dealing with downloading sites.

The middle echelon, the newsgroups, in the piracy chain demonstrates the use of what are otherwise client/server technologies by the pirating community to self–govern the warez exchange process (Barbrook, 2002). Although newsgroups are client/server–based, we witness a movement towards full post–Fordist peer–to–peer autonomy [34], because the users trade and freely provide digital goods amongst each other, using non–peer–to–peer technologies. The middle echelon demonstrates a movement towards full piracy exchange autonomy through the use of the very technology that is built to prevent such exchanges.

Because they are in the middle of the piracy chain, newsgroups tend to be the ultimate recycling hub of warez, because new material continues to flow through the top of the chain, and older or current materials are continually re–uploaded by newsgroup users. Thus newsgroups become a widely accessible method of finding a large quantity of pirated material. Usenet [35] newsgroups are channels for massive reservoirs of unadulterated large releases that could not easily be handled by many other forums. The amount of server space afforded to the average newsgroup service is considerable, and this permits slow, but prolific, uploading and downloading. Usenet groups are quite different from courier groups or FTP sites, and are utilized by a large number of people who both informally trade and also offer up files without expectation of immediate compensation (Figure 5). These groups share many common features with release and courier groups in the upper echelon. Similar in function to Bulletin Board Services (Traphagan and Griffith, 1998), in 2003, Usenet servers not only operate as an Internet–facilitated conduit for pirated software of all sorts — games, movies, music — but, as with many of the groups higher up in the piracy chain, they also maintain an informal measure of order within Usenet. Order and control in a newsgroup are often determined by denying the wants and needs of newsgroup participants. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), in the form of text or Web links, state the rules of a number of newsgroups, the proverbial "dos and don’ts," and group etiquette that users should follow. These are similar to the subtle rules of a chat room, for instance, avoiding usage of caps in a chat room because of its emotive significance comparable to raising one’s voice. These rules are not set in stone, and often don’t even play a role in many groups, but generally speaking, in terms of etiquette, those who upload frequently and efficiently to a group, tend to have their own requests filled more easily and vice versa.

Usenet FAQs play a key role in keeping order, based solely on the likelihood that if one doesn’t follow the rules, any request for pirated artifacts by an aberrant individual might not be filled. More severe punishments may arrive in the form of "flaming" or online insulting or barb tossing of the uninformed user. However, no one can be "booted" out of a newsgroup, because it is more representative of public space than an IRC channel which is run and operated by individuals and/or their designated bots.

Newsgroups tend to be the first real publicly accessible conduit in the chain of piracy distribution. In contrast to access being limited to those operating in the upper echelon of the chain of piracy — courier groups, the FTP sites for exchanging files, and specific IRC channels — newsgroups are available to anyone who has access to a news server, and this is typically granted by one’s ISP. Newsgroups are highly dependant on individuals who have upper echelon access to upload their material to the appropriate group. However, because newsgroups are publicly accessible, their position in the middle echelon of the hierarchy allows newsgroup warez to come from anyone, e.g., those who might have acquired pirated warez from file–sharing, Web sites, IRC or through repacking of digital images of their own copy of a game or software along with the appropriate crack.

IRC [36], a tool which envelops a number of piracy activities, operates as a communicative membrane that facilitates not only the organization of upper echelon pirates, but the location of particular files as well. Through IRC, individuals join specific servers hosting chat channels, and chat with others with similar interests on various channels (e.g., chatting about xbox games in an xbox channel). Cooper and Harrison (2001) elaborate on the social organization of audio piracy, and explain the tools and channels used. IRC is one of the oldest and most established communicatiion protocols aside from Usenet. mIRC and Trillian, which are both freely available for downloading on the Internet, are typical IRC clients. However, this medium is not only a method for casual chatting, but it is also the primary method of communication between FTP administrators, release groups, couriers and other members of the warez scene. IRC is essentially a communicative hub for all types of piracy, ranging from programs to music, and provides important contacts for those looking to enter deeper into the inner workings of the acquisition and distribution scene of pirated goods. Almost anyone can host an IRC channel, and allow access to members of one’s choice, while also following channel policies that are required, under threat of punishment — a violator’s IP can be banned from a channel. IRC is particularly potent for warez distributors because files can be readily transferred from person to person over a channel, and also moved automatically by scripts known as "bots." Bots can carry out the requests of IRC participants who type in appropriate commands that can call for either text or file download requests. Downloaders can enter a channel, send a command to query a bot for a file of a game or program, and have the bot send it to them using direct client–to–client (DCC) protocol, thus automating the process of pirate distribution (Cooper and Harrison, 2001).

Bots can be programmed automatically to ban a person from a channel without a human administrator by recognizing certain phrases or words, and provide warnings. Thus, IRC is unique in combining rules and order that defy copyright regulations in the piracy process. It is governed automatically by scripts that do the specific bidding of their creators both to help and to reprimand users of the protocol. More importantly, by using bots, IRC channels can provide important current information on new pirate releases, channel news, and current results of an upload race between two courier groups that are posted frequently on various warez–related channels, thus enabling participants to keep up with events on the "scene" as they happen. IRC channels are likely to be the first to host news ticker information, although Web sites and newsgroups may also post the release of newly pirated titles. IRC channels serve as hubs for quickly accessible and modifiable news, discussion, and spot file transfers that depend on the nature of individual channels, and one’s access to them.

The lower echelon: Warez Web sites and file–sharing

After the acquisition and release phases, goods then move down the chain from the middle echelon into the lower tier of distribution process. If a pirated artifact is small enough, a direct movement from upper echelon to lower echelon is quite typical. Using a system of barter in a more open forum, warez are either offered up in a newsgroup for direct trade with a user in the group, or for the future possibility of trading, or traded through an IRC channel. Trading in a number of newsgroups and IRC channels is quite common, and is often used for acquiring specific items that one wants. These types of exchange–media of warez provide extensive forum for full and free trade. Community currency i.e., earned credits, is not generally used at this level. Thus, at the lower tier, the Internet becomes a "gift economy" because rules of bartering are relaxed, and free and untrammeled access to pirated goods continues to grow. At this level, neither community currency, nor the rule of barter governs exchange. Users take what they need, when they need it, if they can find it. Kazaa, the music and video file–sharing program that allows free downloads, may require an uploadable amount to be offered for one to be eligible to participate as a member of their file–sharing network, but there are no requirements to provide files to another in exchange for warez one wants. The prevalent ideology seems to be egalitarian: "what’s mine is yours, if you want it." The transactional structure is quite unregulated both in warez offered and in predetermined exchanges. Indeed, other than the requisite endurance of banner advertising or pop–ups, warez Web sites require nothing in exchange, not even the open sharing of files or other goodwill gestures.

Bit Torrent also expects nothing in return for downloading, but depends on the goodwill of others who offer their files for mass download. All that is required of Bit Torrent users is one’s upload capacity, so that all downloaders of the same file may acquire that file as fast as possible. The most notable strength of lower–echelon applications is their simplicity of usage; peer–to–peer applications are not only simple to use and require little skill and knowledge of piracy, but they can also be activated largely by a mouse click, whereas the use of FTP sites, Usenet and IRC requires different degrees of skill, knowledge and intricate techniques. Ultimately, peer–to–peer simplicity and free accessibility of a majority of peer–to–peer exchange freeware, account for their continuing challenge to privatization, and also dismantle the power of copyright by expanding fair use limits. Next, we turn to discuss how the lower tier breaks the process of privatization, and encourages free distribution of warez that one wants from the Internet.

Since Shawn Fanning’s development of Napster in 1999 (Lessig, 2004), file–sharing has become relatively easy, whether it is through applications such as Hotline, Bearshare and other gnutella–based clients, Direct Connect, Morpheus or Kazaa. File–sharing applications in general have experienced death and rebirth over and over again, as applications have come and gone over time (Chiang and Assane, 2002). Nevertheless, file–sharing has accelerated the dissemination of pirated warez on the Internet. Whereas, several years ago, an individual, with below average computing skills, may have had to resort to less convenient piracy methods to obtain warez, the exclusivity of illegal software to a techno–elite group has since drastically declined, and thus eased the piracy distribution in the lower echelon.

As intricately detailed by Tetzlaff (2000) in his investigation of the world of Hotline users, file–sharing has evolved from being a scene saturated almost solely with music into a wide spectrum offering digital products ranging from technological software to DVD movies. Prior to its demise, Napster operated with the facilitation of a central server system that constantly updated itself to reflect current clients who logged on to the network, and their shared files (Dong, et al., 2002). But the decentralization of file–sharing services that emerged since Napster’s extinction seems to be more effective in quelling the detection of file–sharing and in warding off legal disincentives. For instance, there are no central servers for Gnutella or Direct Connect (Gnutella, 2004) users because clients only contact one another via network queries, at which point, other users are recognized, and file–sharing commences (Dong, et al., 2002). This procedure eliminates the role of a central server that facilitates the acquisition of pirated materials, and thus alleviates responsibility for the actions of the client’s users (Dong, et al., 2002).

Although the piracy process may be uniform amongst most file–sharers who use same applications, the motivation and rationalization of file–sharers are most diverse. In examples outlined by Tetzlaff (2000), each viewpoint on digital piracy is governed by the political and ethical milieu from which an individual emerges. For instance, to some warez enthusiasts, the term "pirate" is more of a heroic designation for those that perceive piracy as resistance to privatization of the Internet and as an aid to closing of the digital divide. To others, the term "piracy" means plundering and illegal as the word connotes, and a crime that benefits the individual while neglecting larger issues.

Warez Web sites, albeit somewhat reduced in number compared to the situation a few years before, still prevail. Warez Web sites can also be broken down into two different categories: sites that provide direct download links to actual software, and sites that provide "crack" and serial numbers for bypassing the protections of trial, demo and full version programs. Of course, there are also ever–popular link sites which provide nothing but the promise of pirated content, while essentially providing only a looping series of links with advertising on every page visited, and with no actual content.

Web sites which provide full software complete with crack, and serial number, and so on, are a dying breed. There are also warez sites referred to as "0–day," as the available warez is acquired for distribution within a day of its original store release ( Online Dictionary, 2004b). The term "0–day" appears on the site if it includes a warez item’s anticipated short availability on a Web site (Figure 6).

Crack and serial sites are far more common, and also far less likely to be legally shut down, since the software itself is not explicitly being offered. Cracks are only individual components of a program, usually a modified version of a program’s executable file that can be applied to register software or eliminate its trial period. Since crack sites are not offering the full version of the software, hosting cracks is a lot easier in terms of legality and in terms of server space, because cracks are usually quite small, especially if they come in the form of a registry file. Serial numbers are also easily accessible, and crack sites often provide "keygens," serial key generators to provide a random key to activate or unlock a piece of software.

File–sharing and warez sites are the bottom rung for a variety of reasons, but primarily because they depend on everything that has originated with the release groups at the top. The larger programs become scarcer in availability at this level because of size and limitations regarding users’ bandwidth and server space. Thus, predominantly smaller programs and files are traded on file–sharing clients and warez Web sites.

Full ISO [37] images for programs, i.e., digital images of the full content of a program disc or game disc that can be several CDs in size, can be found in the second tier or higher level, and very rarely at the bottom tier. However, there are versions of pirated programs known as "rips," i.e., programs that have had superfluous items extracted from it, designed largely for the bandwidth–impaired, and are available for file sharers and warez Web sites. For instance, where a full digital ISO image of a game may be as much as 700 MB in size, a rip of that game can be far less, once the music and videos from the game have either been removed or large textures in the game have been downsampled, i.e., reduced in quality from the original. This can result in a 700 MB file becoming a 70 MB game, which is much more accessible to those who wish to offer it with their own server space and for downloads on a low–bandwidth connection. A similar technique is applied to applications, movies whose underlying premise is of the "lossy" MP3 format [38], which has acted as a cornerstone file type, elevating audio piracy to its current state of popularity.

Game rip releasers often even go the distance, allowing users to customize their game if they have the bandwidth. A stripped down version of the game will often be released with its removed components also made available for download, if desired. Thus, one could download a copy of a sports game, the music for the game, the movies for the game and in–game commentary, all separately. This practice is predominant among newsgroups.

A newer addition to the lower echelon piracy mélange of technology is Bram Cohen’s Bit Torrent program, an application that operates on the basis of taking advantage of unused upload bandwidth of users. The premise of the program is simple. One who has a file for distribution uploads a file called a "torrent" to a Web site, e.g.,, or a location for others to access the file (Figure 7). Those who download and run the torrent file begin to download from the person who uploaded it, but also add their own upload bandwidth to the pool. In other words, as more and more people begin to download a file, more and more of these same people are uploading whatever they have downloaded to other people who are downloading the same file via the same torrent [39].

Bit Torrent "trackers" — that coordinate downloads and uploads associated with a torrent file — run on the HTTP [40] level. This indicates that any Web site is capable of running a "tracker" and offering bit torrent files, e.g., and Such an availability within the browser situates Bit Torrent as a lower tier distributor of warez. One advantage is that larger files that reside on Bit Torrent trackers allow for the exchange of certain files that could not be downloaded from the lower echelon without the bandwidth power brought about by co–downloading with others.

The piracy chain and the establishment of communal autonomy and communal currency

Internet piracy is a principled resistance to the capitalist mode and rejects the concepts of ownership and exclusion of access to digital goods. As David Tetzlaff [41] notes, the pirates collect and harbour warez based on "the exchange value of the software in the virtual world," while rejecting notions of ownership and copyright. Release groups, couriers and FTP sites all take part in transactions that use a universal non–monetary currency with which one can "pay" for, or encourage others to take part in, the transaction. Release groups themselves tend to rely on their own "elite" set of couriers who initiate the dissemination of a pirated good to FTP sites. Other than receiving the actual game itself as compensation (which goes largely without questioning), these couriers are actually "paid" for their efforts by the FTP sites who return credits to the couriers in exchange for their upload. These credits, which take the form of specific number of megabytes of desired software goods to be downloaded, act as a type of currency that essentially permits their exchange for any software, game or other items at the given FTP site. This process allows tremendous flexibility in terms of what one wants to "acquire", and is analogous to obtaining store credit, and using it to purchase what one wants in a store.

The above exchange process continues as other third party couriers begin to take part by exchanging files between FTP sites in order to procure valuable credits that are offered in return, and these credits can then be spent at sites for items one may actually want. For instance, a courier may be synchronizing new games between two FTP sites, and may not at all be interested in acquiring games. In such a situation, the courier would acquire credits for downloading software, and use them instead for editing graphics from one of the two credit providers at the two FTP sites. This system allows flexibility in online transactions and choice in the form of software goods that one wants to download. Based on this community currency, the interconnected relations of transactions and dissemination of ICT seem to recompense everyone involved for participation in the piracy chain.




Piracy, as an anti–globalization movement, is one of the desperate efforts to arrest the relentless processes of privatization and commodification of "public" spaces and to break the denial of access to the "Creative Commons." We have attempted to show that Internet piracy is a resistance against excessive copyright protection that may extinguish creativity in relation to ICT, a technology that is in its infancy. All encompassing and rigorously enforced copyright legislation would suffocate the healthy growth and efflorescence of the Internet to its full potential.

Piracy, as an anti-globalization movement, is one of the desperate efforts to arrest the relentless processes of privatization and commodification of "public" spaces ...

Piracy and other illegal activities on the Internet — along with the superfluous commodification of the cyberspace as well as excessive corporate freedom that systemically negates individual freedom — represent the other side of the coin. If media corporations use the Web to sell original high quality products for a nominal price and still maintain a reasonable profit margin through global distribution, pirated product downloaders would flock to this distribution because it would be far superior to those that users normally download from a pirated site. This may not be a feasible strategy for replacing corporate hegemony when confronted with the issue of Open Source.

More importantly, if we were to rely on the morality of the Web, then the first pledge for social well–being would be a resolve to eliminate virtual porn. In addition, advancing the openness of medical technology to the global sphere and facilitating the distribution of generic medicine would be crucial for social wellness, with the least cost to corporations involved. Even if these corporate conglomerates wish to sell their products to poorer countries, there is no way that these populations can afford the cures and drugs at the prevalent costs. The Internet and its growth need not depend on affluent economies where it originated, since the process of discovery has been opened up through the very process of interactivity across the globe. A healthy exchange of cyber–discoveries would certainly facilitate the rapid acceleration of creativity on the Web, and this would extend its public sphere and advance its benefits to the public. End of article


About the authors

Indhu Rajagopal is a Full Professor in the Division of Social Science at York University in Toronto.

Nis Bojin is a graduate student in the Division of Social Science at York University in Toronto.



1. The panopticon has the power to dominate by monitoring those who are under surveillance, without being observed by those under surveillance. See notes 4 and 5 below.

2. Corporatist: Crisis affects vulnerable individuals and groups in society when dominant groups make decisions while excluding the party system, and conventions of collective bargaining. The state in its interest to sustain the existing order includes selectively those groups whose acquiescence and consent are crucial, thus undercutting the process of resistance and resolution accommodating the needs of the disadvantaged populations (Bottomore, 1983, p. 104).

3. The title of Mitchell’s book — City of Bits — comes from his conceptualization of the Web described in this fashion:

"The network is the urban site before us, an invitation to design and construct the City of Bits (capital of the twenty–first century), just as, so long ago, a narrow peninsula beside the Maeander became the place for Miletos. But this new settlement will turn classical categories inside out and will reconstruct the discourse in which architects have engaged from classical times until now. This will be a city unrooted to any definite spot on the surface of the earth, shaped by connectivity and bandwidth constraints rather than by accessibility and land values, largely asynchronous in its operation, and inhabited by disembodied and fragmented subjects who exist as collections of aliases and agents. Its places will be constructed virtually by software instead of physically from stones and timbers, and they will be connected by logical linkages rather than by doors, passageways, and streets. How shall we shape it? Who shall be our Hippodamos?"

4. Barton and Barton (1993) explain Jeremy Bentham’s (1969) Panopticon as an architecture which

"incorporates a tower central to an annular building that is divided into cells, each cell extending the entire thickness of the building to allow inner and outer windows. The occupants of the cells ... are thus backlit, isolated from one another by walls, and subject to scrutiny both collectively and individually by an observer in the tower who remains unseen. Toward this end, Bentham envisioned not only venetian blinds on the tower observation ports but also mazelike connections among tower rooms to avoid glints of light or noise that might betray the presence of an observer."

The Panopticon enables the monitors to see without being seen. Michel Foucault (1983, p. 223) identifies that the "asymmetry of seeing–without–being–seen" is, in fact, the very essence of power for Foucault because ultimately, "the power to dominate rests on the differential possession of knowledge." According to Foucault, the new visibility or surveillance afforded by the Panopticon was of two types: the synoptic and the analytic. The Panopticon, in other words, was designed to ensure a "surveillance which would be both global and individualizing" (Foucault, 1980, p. 148; Foucault quoted in Barton and Barton, 1993, pp. 139–141; see also

5. Mitchell, 1997, chapter 4.

6. "Membership of such groups separates the information–rich from the information–poor. Here, as elsewhere, class correlates with privilege ... The American telephone system was set up to provide ‘universal service’ reaching not only to profitable markets for telecommunications services, but also to poor communities and to remote and sparsely populated areas where the costs of providing service are high and the customers are few. As part of the package, telephone companies became regulated monopolies, and unprofitable services were cross–subsidized by profitable ones. But will the fast lanes of the information superhighway — the switched, broadband, digital networks that will be required for the most advanced services — be deployed with the same lofty goal? Or will they serve only the affluent and powerful, while rural communities languish at the ends of information dirt tracks and economically marginalized neighborhoods get redlined for telecommunications investment?" (Mitchell, 1997).

7. "‘Dialectical’, in contrast to ‘reflective’ (or analytical), thought grasps conceptual forms in their systematic interconnections, not just their determinate differences, and conceives each development as the product of previous less developed phase, whose necessary truth or fulfillment it is; so that there is always a tension, latent irony or incipient surprise between any form and what it is in the process of becoming" (Bottomore, 1983, p. 122).

8. "Pronounced wayrz or wayrss. Commercial software that has been pirated and made available to the public via a BBS or the Internet. Typically, the pirate has figured out a way to de–activate the copy–protection or registration scheme used by the software. The use and distribution of warez software is illegal. In contrast, shareware and freeware may be freely copied and distributed" (From Webopedia,

9. "Generally, a peer–to–peer (or P2P) computer network refers to any network that does not have fixed clients and servers, but a number of peer nodes that function as both clients and servers to the other nodes on the network. This model of network arrangement is contrasted with the client–server model. Any node is able to initiate or complete any supported transaction. Peer nodes may differ in local configuration, processing speed, network bandwidth, and storage quantity. Popular examples of P2P are file sharing–networks" (Wikipedia, at


11. Kaplinsky, 2001, p. 46.

12. Attributing the following ideas to Freeman and Louca (2001), Antonelli (2003, pp. 175–176) notes:

"Like previous radical technologies, such as the railway, the dynamo, the fordist mass production system and the plastics and the petrochemical industry at large, ICT is the result of a bundle of both product and process innovations which apply to a wide variety of activities and reflect the characteristics of the innovating countries and emphasize their structural characteristics. Their international diffusion is pushed worldwide by their strong effects in terms of profitability of adoption and rates of increase of total factor productivity. The consequences of their adoption, however, are far from homogenous across countries. The actual rates of increase of total factor productivity differ systematically across regions and countries, according to their idiosyncratic characteristics and the specificity of their endowments, with respect to the characteristics of the innovating countries."

13. Judy Wajcman asks whether the needs and interests of women as users considered as important in the process of designing ICT for the ‘smart’ houses, where men’s interests are foregrounded in automating leisure technologies, heating, lighting and security. A technological home largely ignores women’s knowledge, skills and needs relating to housework, especially a need to reduce tedious and time consuming tasks, i.e., cleaning, ironing, and other hard work at home. Thus, social values shape technologies.

14. Boeder, 2005.

15. From Barbrook, 2000, pp. 25–26:

commodity → gift
enclosure → disclosure
copyright → piracy
fixed → fluid
product → process
proprietary → open source
digital encryption → free download
original recording → latest remix
scarcity → abundance
alienation → friendship
market competition → network communities
e–commerce → cyber–communism

16. "Milton produced Paradise Lost as a silkworm produces silk, as the activation of his own nature. He later sold his product for £5 and thus became a merchant" (Marx quoted in Barbrook, 2000).

17. "Generically, open source refers to a program in which the source code is available to the general public for use and/or modification from its original design free of charge, i.e., open. Open source code is typically created as a collaborative effort in which programmers improve upon the code and share the changes within the community. Open source sprouted in the technological community as a response to proprietary software owned by corporations" (From Webopedia,

18. Discussion follows Barbrook’s (2000) analysis.

19. "Prodigy’s stage.dat install file [is] an example of a private firm monitoring their customers. When Prodigy was a bulletin board service (BBS) in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s customers needed to use a proprietary piece of software to access Prodigy. A person who wanted to use Prodigy had to install Prodigy’s software on their personal computer. To gain access to the Prodigy BBS, a person had to submit personal information (where they live, gender, age, et cetera) and a credit card number. When a user logged on to the Prodigy BBS, the user unknowingly granted Prodigy access to all of their computer files. The ability of Prodigy to access their customer’s hard drives was not written in the installation manual, discussed in the service contract, or mentioned anywhere on Prodigy BBS site. The fact that Prodigy had access to their customers’ hard drives came to users’ attention when a mysterious file appeared on hard drives. In the article, "A Slice of Life in My Virtual Community" (1993b), Rheingold argues Prodigy was able to create customer profile files on users’ hard drives and was also capable of reading any private information on the customer’s computer. I can attest to this as a result of my own personal experience with the Prodigy stage.dat file, that the stage.dat file served as a means of recording customer usage patterns in order to enable Prodigy to provide "better" consumer service. In other words, Prodigy officials stated that the stage.dat file contained recorded transcripts of what its customers had done, and Prodigy would freely access such valuable information whenever its customers were logged on. Prodigy justifies the use of the stage.dat file as a convenient and efficient way to track customer trends. They offered to refund the customer his money if he did not like their policy, but insisted they were doing nothing illegal" (Brignall, 2002, pp. 6–7).

20. Spyware is software which installs itself onto a user’s computer not known to the user herself and then continues to monitor and collect data, which is sent back to a company or organization that can benefit from the collected data on consumers’ habits. Spyware can often be detrimental to the computer system and frequently impose itself on other software such as browsers and instant messengers. Instigated by spyware, pop–ups are adware that a user is forced to endure, some of which are forcefully inserted "favorites" in one’s browser menu. Damage to other software and one’s operating system may occur depending on the depth of spyware intrustion.

21. Adorno and Horkheimer, 1998, p. 133; quoted in Brignall, 2002.

22. "A privacy and security expert in Quebec tries to keep track of spyware infested software, and currently lists over 800 different commercially available programs including many popular game products. Most spyware has been embedded by two major companies, Conducent and Radiate. The following statement is front and center on the Conducent Web site: ‘Conducent has integrated dynamic advertising in over 500 desktop software applications to form the Desktop Media Network. The DMN enables advertisers to demographically and geographically target over 8.5 million monthly desktop software users in the most powerful space available, the desktop’." (Bennett, 2001, p. 203).

23. Bennett, 2001, p. 202.

24. Brignall, 2002, p. 13.

25. Bottomore, 1983, p. 335.

26. The themes here are mostly drawn from, but not limited to, the works of Amory Starr and Jason Adams (2003), Colin Hines (2000), Richard Falk (1993), Bill Weinberg (1991), and Samir Amin (1985).

27. Locke, 1965, p. 395.

28. "The Creative Commons is a nonprofit corporation established in Massachusetts, but with its home at Stanford University. Its aim is to build a layer of reasonable copyright on top of the extremes that now reign. It does this by making it easy for people to build upon other people’s work, by making it simple for creators to express the freedom for others to take and build upon their work. Simple tags, tied to human–readable descriptions, tied to bulletproof licenses, make this possible" (Lessig, 2004, p. 282).

29. McCourt and Burkart, 2003, p. 346.

30. McCourt and Burkart (2003, pp. 342–343) describe the situation as follows:

"The Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI), a consortium of record companies, hardware and software manufacturers, and distribution companies was formed in December 1998, to create a universal DRM system. AOL, AT&T, IBM, Microsoft, Matsushita, Sony, RealNetworks, Liquid Audio, ASCAP, Intel and Napster were among its 200 distinguished members. There were no consumer or civil rights groups were represented or had a voice in this group. Using watermarking technology, SDMI’s system is the gatekeeper limiting time on use, restricting copying, and tracing the protected content back to the original purchaser. However, the lagging development of the SDMI standard, organizational antagonisms within the group, and problems of software development, could not stop software piracy. Since much music is already available for free in some form to gain exposure, and since the Internet’s overall lack of central control also reduces the ability to control distribution points, DRM may inadvertently inhibit the popularization of on–line music distribution channels."

31. Courtesy of Modern,

32. Cuneo, 2002, pp. 47–50.

33. FTP sites are the distributors in the piracy chain, and they operate as the conduits that determine how well the pirated artifacts proliferate. Just as there is a "race" among release groups in speeding to acquire artifacts, there is also a keen competition between FTP sites for extensive proliferation. As explained earlier, "couriers" are largely responsible for facilitating the proliferation of pirated goods between FTP sites.

34. Post–Fordist peer–to–peer autonomy: Peer–to–peer file–sharing on the Internet has eliminated what was once the "digital panopticon" of the fordist client–server relationship. Where control relationships on the Internet were once highly dependent upon client/server transactions that positioned the governing server as the unseen monitor, peer–to–peer technologies have now opened up the possibility for a new post–fordist mode of exchange, i.e., by allowing users globally to transfer files between individual users without the need for an intermediary (Barbrook: 2002). At the upper echelon level of pirating activity, not only post–fordist production practices in the cracking, packaging and distribution of pirate releases continue, but also transactions that privilege the exchange value of digital goods, occur in an autonomous digital economy.

35. "A worldwide bulletin board system that can be accessed through the Internet or through many online services, the USENET contains more than 14,000 forums, called newsgroups, that cover every imaginable interest group. It is used daily by millions of people around the world" (From Webopedia,

36. "Short for Internet Relay Chat, a chat system developed by Jarkko Oikarinen in Finland in the late 1980s. IRC has become very popular as more people get connected to the Internet because it enables people connected anywhere on the Internet to join in live discussions. Unlike older chat systems, IRC is not limited to just two participants. To join an IRC discussion, you need an IRC client and Internet access. The IRC client is a program that runs on your computer and sends and receives messages to and from an IRC server. The IRC server, in turn, is responsible for making sure that all messages are broadcast to everyone participating in a discussion. There can be many discussions going on at once; each one is assigned a unique channel" (From Webopedia,

37. "A family of standards approved by the International Standards Organization (ISO) that define a quality assurance program. Companies that conform to these standards can receive ISO 9000 certification. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the company’s products have a high quality; only that the company follows well–defined procedures for ensuring quality products. Increasingly, software buyers are requiring ISO 9000 certification from their suppliers" (From Webopedia,

38. "Lossy" refers to the loss of data that accompanies the compression process of converting CD audio to MP3 format.


40. "Short for HyperText Transfer Protocol, the underlying protocol used by the World Wide Web. HTTP defines how messages are formatted and transmitted, and what actions Web servers and browsers should take in response to various commands. For example, when you enter a URL in your browser, this actually sends an HTTP command to the Web server directing it to fetch and transmit the requested Web page. The other main standard that controls how the World Wide Web works is HTML, which covers how Web pages are formatted and displayed. HTTP is called a stateless protocol because each command is executed independently, without any knowledge of the commands that came before it. This is the main reason that it is difficult to implement Web sites that react intelligently to user input. This shortcoming of HTTP is being addressed in a number of new technologies, including ActiveX, Java, JavaScript and cookies" (From Webopedia,

41. Tetzlaff, 2000, p. 119.



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Editorial history

Paper received 12 May 2004; accepted 26 August 2004.

Contents Index

Copyright ©2004, First Monday

Copyright ©2004, Indhu Rajagopal and Nis Bojin

Cons in the panopticon: Anti–globalization and cyber–piracy by Indhu Rajagopal with Nis Bojin
First Monday, volume 9, number 9 (September 2004),