According to the BBC a court in Sweden has jailed four men behind The Pirate Bay (TPB), the world’s most high-profile file-sharing website, in a landmark case.
It’s amusing to note that the BBC shows no bias whatsoever in the inferences it would like readers to draw from the fact that “The Pirate Bay’s first server is now a museum exhibit in Stockholm”. Implicitly, The Pirate Bay has ended and has already been consigned to the history books.
However, let’s just have another look at the BBC’s more serious claim that this is a ‘landmark case’.
I wonder if this case has any precedents?
In other words, given that what we fail to learn from history is that we are doomed to repeat it, let’s see if there’s anything in our history that can inform us as to our future.
I’ve got an idea. What would such a case look like if the news story was remixed to make it appear as if it related to issues that would have been familiar around 80 years ago?
A court in New York has jailed four men behind The Bootlegger Bay (TBB), the nations’s most high-profile speakeasy promotions agency, in a landmark case.
They were also ordered to pay $4,500 in fines.
Temperance Societies welcomed the verdict but the men are to appeal and Sunde said they would refuse to pay the fine.
“These guys weren’t making a principled stand, they were out to line their own pockets. There was nothing meritorious about their behaviour, it was reprehensible.”
“The Bootlegger Bay did immense harm and the fine doesn’t even get close to due penitence, but we never claimed it did.”
“There has been a perception that imbibing alcohol is OK and that the temperance movement should just have to accept it. This verdict will change that,” he said.
The four men denied the charges throughout the trial, saying that because they did not actually manufacture or distribute any intoxicating liquour, they were not doing anything wrong.
Speaking on WRUC, the assistant judge explained how the court reached its findings.
“The court first tried whether there was any question of consumption of alcohol by persons upon the premises and that has been proved, that the offence was committed.”
“The court then moved on to look at those who acted as a team to operate the Bootlegger Bay speakeasy promotions agency, and the court found that they knew that intoxicating beverage would be distributed but continued to operate the service,” he said.
William H. Stayton, leader of the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment – which is trying to reform laws around alcohol and drinking premises – told the NYT that the verdict was “a gross injustice”.
“This wasn’t a criminal trial, it was a political trial. It is just gross beyond description that you can jail four people for directing thirsty citizens to the places they want to go.”
“There is a lot of anger in New York City right now. Drinking is an institution here and while I can’t encourage people to break the Volstead Act, I’m not following it and I don’t agree with it.”
“Today’s events make the consumption of alcoholic beverages a hot political issue and we’re going to take this to Congress.”
Here’s the history we’re doomed to repeat:
In 1921, 95,933 illicit distilleries, stills, still works and fermentors were seized. in 1925, the total jumped to 172,537 and up to 282,122 in 1930. In connection with these seizures, 34,175 persons were arrested in 1921; by 1925, the number had risen to 62,747 and to a high in 1928 of 75,307 (Internal Revenue, Service, 1921, 1966, 1970: 95, 6, 73). Concurrently, convictions for liquor offenses in federal courts rose from 35,000 in 1923 to 61,383 in 1932.
The law could not quell the continuing demand for alcoholic products. Thus, where legal enterprises could no longer supply the demand, an illicit traffic developed, from the point of manufacture to consumption. The institution of the speakeasy replaced the institution of the saloon. Estimates of the number of speakeasies throughout the United States ranged from 200,000 to 500,000 (Lee, 1963: 68).
Here’s the outcome, and our future:
It is difficult to assess the relative numbers of the wet and dry partisans during the last few years of national prohibition. In terms of strength, however, the wets surely had the edge which less than two decades before had belonged to the drys. The new wet strength showed up at the National Convention of the Democratic party held in Chicago in 1932, where Mayor Cermak of that city filled the galleries with his supporters. And, though Franklin D. Roosevelt had wooed the dry vote for some time, he now came forward on a platform which favored the outright repeal of the 18th Amendment. Accepting his nomination, he stated:
I congratulate this convention for having had the courage, fearlessly to write into its declaration of principles what an overwhelming majority here assembled really thinks about the 18th Amendment. This convention wants repeal. Your candidate wants repeal. And I am confident that the United States of America wants repeal (Dobyns, 1940: 160).
While dry leaders looked on with disgust, Roosevelt was elected president and Congress turned a somersault. The repeal amendment was introduced February 14, 1933, by Sen. Blaine of Wisconsin and approved two days later by the Senate 63 to 23. The House followed four days later, voting 289 to 121 to send the amendment on to the States (Lee, 1963: 231).
And the allegorical analogue of The Pirate Party? The Association Against the Prohibition Amendment (AAPA):
The job of total repeal was accomplished with the help of the determined AAPA during the succeeding year. Their lawyers assisted the states in preparing bills for conventions and release of various forms of political propaganda, thereby enacting a serious satire on the 1919 campaign launched by the Anti-Saloon League. Notwithstanding their high and enduring constitutional principles, on December 31, 1933, with repeal a reality, the AAPA ceased to exist and sent its files to the Library of Congress. “Having attained its objective . . . the Association resisted the temptation to linger on as a ‘sentinel of American liberty’ ‘’, the New York Times observed in the organization’s obituary (Dobyns, 1940: 132).
A ‘sentinel of American liberty’ eh? Would you find such an organisation in the US today? The land of the free?
The Free Software Foundation is close, but it doesn’t campaign for the abolition of copyright (yet).
At least we can take heart that abolition is not far away, that day when the people’s natural right to cultural liberty has been restored, to freely share and build upon published works.
The question is, at what moment in the American Prohibition Era did the allegorical Bootlegger Bay case occur? I suspect it would have occurred around 1925 when by that time in New York City alone there were anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000 speakeasy clubs. Given repeal occurred 8 years later, that puts the date for the abolition of copyright somewhere around 2017.
Not long now…