Gizmodo reports that Swedish police raided the Pirate Bay, seizing its servers and shutting down its web site on December 9. My first reactions were irritation and even anger. But now I just feel like laughing. The state is an obsolete organization and becomes more and more so as it continuously tries to enforce the unenforceable.
At first glance, this seems wrong. As Gizmodo reports, all of Pirate Bay’s creators languish in jail and now their site is down. State authorities have taken down sites like Silk Roads 1 and 2, targeting other torrent sites besides. How could this make the state look bad?
Although individually these cases may seem to cast doubt on the ineffectiveness of the state they must be viewed within a larger context: The state is just playing whack-a-mole with the internet.
And here’s the kicker: It’s losing.
For every site the government tries to take down, another five spring up. And no one in government is going to admit that what they’re doing is futile. They simply don’t have incentives to act rationally. They’re getting paid to take down sites. It doesn’t matter if five more spring up for each one they hit — they get paid either way. So why stop now?
The state won’t and can’t stop, “cede” the ground to the people of the Internet and admit defeat. But here’s the thing: The whacking process itself is a much bigger sign of defeat than actually surrender. The state is engaged in a Sisyphean task and by gum it’s going win or run out of funds trying!
In Labor Struggle in a Free Market, Kevin Carson writes of another instance of this whack-a-mole process from a decade ago. Sinclair Media energetically fought a boycott using “SLAPP” litigation), but “… found the movement impossible to suppress, as the original campaign websites were mirrored faster than they could be shut down, and the value of their stock imploded.”
Another case Carson mentions is Diebold, “… resort[ing] to … shut[ing] down sites which published internal company documents about their voting machines. The memos were quickly distributed, by bittorrent, to more hard drives than anybody could count, and Diebold found itself playing whack-a-mole as the mirror sites displaying the information proliferated exponentially.”
The final nail in the coffin for the state is that we can all reasonably expect a new incarnation of, or equivalent replacement for, The Pirate Bay to emerge in a matter of days.
If the state wants to play its game of high-stakes whack-a-mole, that’s fine. We’ve known the stakes and have been prepared to fire back for a while. When the state can’t fight by its own rules and instead finds itself forced to play like ours, it’s like a bad game of Battleship. And the state won’t be sinking ours anytime soon.