But that’s okay. Because the Internet, having long since become a paradigm of free expression, is moving ineluctably toward its manifest destiny as a bottomless clearinghouse of free media.
When, within days of each other this past October, the founders of the BitTorrent–tracker OiNK’s Pink Palace and the streaming-video site tv-links.co.uk were arrested in separate stings and their sites shut down, it may have seemed to be a big blow to copyright infringers the world over.
Two months later, the arrests recall a quote from the November 27 Rolling Stone story about the war on drugs. When Pablo Escobar was killed in the early ’90s and drug kingpins were dropping right and left, the battle to defeat narcotics seemed winnable — “a piñata you could reach out and smack.” Fifteen years later, with little or no diminution in drugs’ availability, America’s war looks more like the “most powerful country on Earth, sensing a piñata, swung to hit it and missed.”
This stuff is not going away. People who want free music and who can no longer get their fix from OiNK will simply move over to thepiratebay.org, or score an invite to waffles.fm. People who want to watch movies and TV shows online may not have tv-links on their bookmarks list anymore, but it's a safe bet they’ve got freetvlinks.net or alloftv.net or tv-nation.com or peekvid.com or piggymoo.com, and on and on and on.
Just as the squashing (and later co-option) of Napster did little to curtail file sharing, none of this is gonna do much to curb illegal downloads. Pandora’s box is open. And the stuff that’s in it can be had for free.
A greener Internet
We got green in 2007. We bought hybrid cars, reduced our carbon footprints, and rented An Inconvenient Truth. But, maybe because computers don’t belch exhaust, we didn’t tend to worry much about the Web as a threat to the planet. Still, that sleek, futuristic laptop doesn’t run on a hamster wheel. And the longer you’re logged on downloading Superbad via BitTorrent, the more plant-sapping energy you’re consuming.
The Feds imposed new energy-efficiency standards for PCs this past July, and manufacturers have heeded the call. Hewlett-Packard’s HP Compaq dc7700 can be set up to use more than 50 percent less electricity than other desktop drives — and save you as much as $58 a year in electric bills.
Meanwhile, Internet service providers are beginning to do their part, as well. In the UK, several ISPs are striving to reduce their carbon footprints even as they increase services. The Phone Co-op promises to offset all the CO2 it generates as a company by buying all its electricity from renewable sources, using recycled office paper, and investing in a nearby wind farm. The servers, offices, and data center of another British ISP, Ecological Hosting, run on solar power and other renewable energy. Same goes for England’s Green Web Host.
In the US, Red Jellyfish Internet Service makes an annual donation to the Nature Conservancy in an amount sufficient to “purchase and protect 6000 square feet of rainforest on behalf of each of our Internet service members.” It also offsets all of its energy usage with renewable-energy credits. Think Host is powered by wind and solar energy and plants a tree for each new client. And Affordable Internet Services Online, whose motto is “Web Hosting as Nature Intended,” powers servers the world over from a sea of solar panels baking in the warm California sun.