If you're an Internet user, you may well have heard of The Pirate Bay, one of the biggest and most notorious sites for pirated downloads. But have you heard of the documentary that tells the story of the users behind The Pirate Bay, their beliefs about freedom of information which led them to create the site, and their recent court battle against the Swedish government?
'The Pirate Bay - Away from Keyboard' is a Creative Commons-licensed, Internet-based and partially crowdfunded documentary by Swedish director Simon Klose. It was released to the public on Friday 8th February, available for paid download, remixing, Torrenting or free viewing at YouTube, The Pirate Bay, the TBP AFK main site and a range of other websites.
The project began in 2008 when Simon met Peter Sunde or "brokep", one of the founders of The Pirate Bay, at a demonstration against a Swedish anti-terror law which would allow authorities to tap all Swedish phone and Internet communication. Over coffee, Peter told him stories about The Pirate Bay and how the White House had threatened the Swedish government with trade sanctions over the site that he and his friends had created; how the three TPB founders tried to buy an island in order to create a nation without copyright laws; how The Pirate Bay had been involved with Wikileaks. A week later Simon found himself filming the very first offline meeting of a group known as the Pirate Bureau, and realised that the real story around these visionary users was taking place "away from keyboard".
Simon had already been working on the documentary for two years before it was pitched to Kickstarter (from the back of a rickshaw travelling through Cambodia) in order to secure funding to hire a professional editor for the film. The Kickstarter drive raised more than double its target funding amount and took home an award for 'Best Documentary Film Project' in the 2010 Kickstarter Awards. The day after TPB AFK completed its drive, Simon began filming the Stockholm Court of Appeal hearings over the Pirate Bay founders' 2009 jail sentence and 30 million kronor fine. At Mozilla's 2011 Media Freedom and the Web festival, the TBP AFK team augmented documentary footage with html5 and popcornjs in order to embed links relevant to the documentary’s content that would appear in a sidebar or on a second screen, connecting the audience with the people and information in the film. And finally, last Friday, the revolutionary documentary premiered at the Berlinale International Film Festival and was simultaneously released for online sale and download.
TPB: AFK is mainly in Swedish, with a few scenes featuring English-language interviews. The standard version has English subtitles, and there are subtitles available in 12 additional languages. It runs to a little over 1 hour and 20 minutes, which is a long block of time to set aside for an Internet video (I watched it over several sittings) but absolutely worthwhile.
The film focuses largely on the court cases against the three Pirate Bay founders, subsequent appeals, and the figures involved in them. It is dramatic, interesting, informative and undeniably popular with the Internet - well over 1 million people have viewed the film on YouTube, nearly 3,000 paid downloads have been made, and on The Pirate Bay itself, there are currently over 18,000 seeders and over 2,000 leechers. Hundreds of users on Twitter are sharing and discussing the film with the hashtag #TPBAFK. However, Peter Sunde wrote an article on his blog criticising the film's almost exclusive focus on the legal side of things, saying, "that's the thing that most people already knew about". He adds, "I know that Simon has huuuuuge amounts of film that I’d prefer to have in the movie instead – more focused on happy people, lots of support from people all over the world. But I understand that because of the enormous amount of footage, most has to be cut. And there has to be some focus. Simon and his editor chose the things that I personally would have cut out."
Of course, it ought to be a given that every work - of art, film, literature - presents a specific view of the world, and this shouldn't detract from the importance of the film's message. Hopefully viewers of TPB AFK will carry on exploring the issues it raises with an open mind and build up a bigger picture of the situation around copyright, The Pirate Bay and freedom of information on the Internet.
I came across TPB AFK whilst browsing Kickstarter for the first time ever. It was the second project that I backed on the site (after Poorcraft) and I was immediately fascinated by the idea. I'd only heard of The Pirate Bay in passing, but I could immediately see that there was more to the website than most people realised. I love discovering the stories behind famous sites and companies and knowing that at one time, the creators were all just ordinary people with an idea that hadn't been done yet and the drive to make it happen. Also, I have to admit that a large part of me still romanticises hackers and cyber outlaws - I draw upon that a lot in my characterisation of Wendy. So I backed the project and for the next two and a quarter years, followed its updates over Kickstarter and the TPB AFK main site.
TPB AFK opened my mind up to a whole world of new ideas and movements regarding freedom of information, such as Copyleft, Anti-copyright and Kopimism; and I also learnt more about terms that I'd heard of in passing but never fully understood, like Creative Commons and Open Source. I used to think that the world was split into "people who break copyright laws" and "people who follow them", but TPB AFK and the people behind it show that there are so many more ways to view information sharing and intellectual property. On his blog Copyriot, historian and lecturer on copyright issues Rasmus Fleischer gives a very pertinent summary of the problem currently facing the Internet and suggests a way in which to tackle it:
"The legal grey areas will multiply rather than fade away. This situation is not handled by asking what should replace our current laws. Rather, we should take our starting point in specific art forms and forms of culture, ask what we really want to protect, and then try to find solutions that safeguard those values. We are facing a long process of coming up with new alternatives. [...] These are difficult processes that can fail and founder in many ways. But we must try as best we can to develop something that works."
Director’s Statement: The Pirate Bay Away From Keyboard
TPB AFK on Facebook
Simon Klose on Twitter
Interview with Simon Klose on TPB AFK - Bullett Media
Four Years In The Pirate Bay - The Verge
The Liquidculture Notebook