The Editorial: Pirate Space Race!

The Editorial: Pirate Space Race!

Just this month Russians voted (however dubiously) to put Putin back in their presidency. And like we saw last week, the USA is still keen on flexing its bully muscles to show the world who’s boss. Leaving aside economically-hobbled Europe and still-teething China for a moment, the world looks poised for yet another generation of long distance provocations between two bratty superpowers. The two remain stubbornly at odds despite Russian socialism’s ostensible demise. And despite its streets now crawling with the shiniest Italian fashion and German luxury rides, Moscow’s brutal crushing of both political and civil rights protests proves the place is pretty much as Soviet as ever. And as the clashes unfold in Russia, America–always nicely stocked with right-wing crazies with no shortage of terrifyingly ill-minded policy rhetoric to spew–continues to beat its hugely hypocritical chest about freedom and liberty and all of the blah blah that any casual observer of its recent wars in the Middle East know is mostly propagandistic tripe. The whole thing feels more than just a tad Cold War.

But wait! Remember the Space Race? It was far and away the coolest conflict-driven competition in the history of mankind! It was a crucible for endless, fantastical dreams for human possibility and a source of immense pride. Sputnik versus Explorer, Luna versus Apollo. Oh, the good old future!

Sadly, the next wave of antagonism between the world’s superpowers is not likely to include plans for cosmic settlements or Mars probes, but rather skirmishes over oil pipelines, food supplies and trade agreements, all driven by fractured ideologies. America, as it tends to do when short-sighted conservatives call the shots, has divested its grand space program to the “private sector” and Russia’s has withered in neglect as resources have gone into consolidating military power. In any case, it looks like dull old terrestrial life for us little earthlings.

But there still may be life in the space race, in some form or another: in a remarkable recent twist, infamous torrent website The Pirate Bay has declared that it plans to send its servers into orbit in the near future to avoid the sorts of legal battles that had temporarily closed the site down. So while America and Russia may not go at in the cosmos anymore, it seems that the next frontier of the brewing IP and copyright war might indeed be in space. If their plan seems a bit far fetched, consider that they’ve long thrived as renegades, dodging bullets from irate media conglomerates, artists and, of course, vengeful governments.

So, just as last week, as both a consumer and producer of content, we remain on the fence about the polar core issues of “stealing” and “openness,” but are valiantly watching the battles. The ethics of torrents could surely use a good old shakedown from an ethicist, but the argument seems to be bigger than the list of grievances against them from the likes of DreamWorks, Apple, Warner Brothers, the Linotype type foundry and various Swedish institutions. Clearly, the pirates are stepping on some powerful toes and will eventually have to result to drastic measures to save themselves from the wrath of their enemies. (Wired UK even reports that they tried to buy their own micro nation in the North Sea.) We can’t imagine any Western government would be keen to see a satellite devised to undermine a chunk of its commercial underpinnings make it off the ground.

Still, the overall picture is about more than just ripped off music and software. Unlike stilted speeches from policymakers about net neutrality, this kind of radical maneuvering really indicates a huge will to maintain an unpoliced realm within the web. The ideas of free space, equal access and uninhibited sharing embodied in the contemporary Occupy and predecessor Share The Streets movements (and many before them) is captured well in the spirit of The Pirate Bay’s defiant ethic, and the time seems right for such a radical move.

And while we remain doubtful that the project can really take off–pricey satellites for free content? really?–it’s a lot of fun to imagine how this epic saga might unfold. Will the pirates manage to pull off an orbiting content coup? Will they be ruthlessly shut down? One thing is clear: it’s much more exciting to imagine the former. So, in the spirit of rebellion and the joys of conflict-driven imagination, let’s imagine a benevolent pirate flag hurdling far above the skies sometime soon.

Tag Christof – Images courtesy of NASA