LOL Limewire

After my recent stint of watching Hunting Hitler, I have found myself in that melancholy state that many do after finishing a good series, riddled with the question “what will I use to distract myself from actual tasks now”. After watching several case studies of mediocrity that occupy the current low-attention-span-cultural-zeitgeist I found the new Netflix series “The Playlist”. I am only two episodes in, but from my basic understanding It chronicles the creation of Spotify from multiple points of view. What I find interesting is that The Pirate Bay(TPB) plays a central role in the creation of Spotify, what I find more interesting is the series not wanting to chronicle the point of view of the “pirates” that occupied the space then. This makes sense because fundamentally the pirates didn’t play a direct part in the creation of Spotify, they were more of a competitor than anything. Watching this did take me back however to the undying advocacy for freedom of information that torrenting brought on during my time in this period. I was a pirate back then. While I try to be a functioning member of society currently, (predominately because of the groundwork laid by platforms like Spotify), I can’t help but notice the entertainment industry making many of the same mistakes that lead to the widespread adoption of TPB back then.

It does occur to me that many people nowadays might not have a clear idea of what TPB is, as it has not held court in the shared cultural consciousness in any significant way in quite some time. TPB was/is a website that provided a directory of torrent files and magnet links for peer-to-peer file sharing; for those of you that don’t know, peer-to-peer is the non-sexy way of saying decentralized. It was founded in 2003 by Gottfrid Svartholm (anakata), Fredrik Nejj (TiAMO), and Peter Sunde (brokep). They were all active members of the Swedish pirate party, which campaigned to reform copyright laws in favour of the protection of civil liberties. In 2009 the founders were arrested and charged with copyright infringement, however, the site remains active to this day despite the original three not taking part in its operation.

During the heyday of TPB, I was just beginning to experience the joys of unsupervised access to the internet. I originally found out about it because I wanted to download Skyrim, and a guy I knew from playing Minecraft recommended it to me. Up until this point I had paid for everything I was consuming - Videos games from Game, movies on the Sky, and music from HMV store. Being a broke thirteen-year-old I felt I had stumbled onto Smaug’s treasure, and very quickly capitalized on it by downloading my trove of media. At the time I am sure I convinced myself that I believed in the cause, and while in a way I believe in it now looking back It was no doubt more related to the fact I got these things for free than anything. Of course, as we began to move into the subscription-based media consumption age I began to mellow out on my piracy. I saw Spotify and Netflix as a way to consume the media I found interesting without taking money from the people who made it.

I think something people need to take into account is that music in a digital format is simply data. In its simplest form, this music is just a collection of 1’s and 0’s on a mass storage device. The notion that someone can claim ownership of a collection of 1’s and 0’s that occur in a certain order to me seems ridiculous. I think this is why the concept of Free and Open-Software that RMS continuously fights for remains so interesting to me. This is also why I find the idea that big conglomerates trying to control the flow of these 1’s and 0’s to be similar to the drunk man on the beach who swears he can control the sea. I’m sure that in both of these situations, the people believe they can do these things, but it is hard to take them seriously when you consider what they are up against.

Some argue that Spotify being created was an amazing innovation, but the reality of the situation is that Spotify was inevitable when you consider the effect TPB had on the media industry. Before Spotify was conceived, if you analyze the market condition then the consumers had two basic choices

  1. Spend 30m of their time, and $30 buying two CDs from the local music store
  2. Spend 30m of their time downloading the torrent illegally

When you are willing to view it from this lens than from the consumer’s point of view (assuming rationality) then it makes sense for almost any consumer to use TPB. You can also state the willingness to choose either service is a function of how long it takes to access the material and the cost once you have access. Once this is taken into account, and you view Spotify through this lens it makes sense that it would take its place as the main music streaming platform. You could access the music instantaneously for free (or $10 pm if you didn’t want ads). This business model is also shared by Netflix, and attempts have been made to make this type of subscription-based access to media stick in the gaming industry. The issue with this newfound subscription-based model utopia is that an industry built on shit will always smell, regardless of how much you polish it. What was originally Netflix has now become a myriad of streaming services, all competing for your precious money. Cable TV clinging to relevance by offering Paramount+ and Netflix subscriptions if you stay on their sinking ship for just one more year. Spotify has remained afloat, and that is simply because the music industry cannot be as easily carved up as the film industry - this is not to say that it will not slip into the same abyss in time. Don’t let your optimism get the better of you, no good dogs go to heaven.

I consider myself to be ideologically aligned with the cypher-punks, I am reluctant to call myself one however because I feel it is an insult to them. This being said the move from centralised platforms to a decentralised solution is fundamentally better for everyone. The mass exodus from Twitter to Mastodon is a good example of this. Having our culture and communications controlled by centralised conglomerates like Twitter naturally requires you to trust them not to meddle. A basic understanding of microeconomics allows you to see that in market conditions with low levels of competition, the firm has less incentive to focus on the needs and preferences of the customers. This is because the firms face less pressure to retain customers, as the customer either has nowhere to go or will end up in another ecosystem owned by the firm. The fact that in the wake of Elon’s Twitter takeover, the users flocked to the federated FOSS alternative is not a coincidence. I feel the same is destined to happen with the entertainment industry.

What was a single $ 10pm subscription paid to Netflix is creeping closer and closer to countless subscriptions of the same price paid to countless companies offering the same service. Fundamentally it is reaching a point where cheaper to run your own media server, and pirate the materials. As the number of streaming services grows more and more this will compound more and more, until the industry collapses under its weight. I have advocated for a long time for digital self-sovereignty, and this is the reason why. The web was never meant to be a few massive corporations that we go to for everything, and if you can run your infrastructure then making the choice not to is you actively choosing to remain in an abusive one-sided partnership.

This is not me neglecting the negative impact piracy has on the creators - I am fully aware of the potential issues piracy can have on them. However when you consider the entertainment industry for what it is, then the media conglomerate acts as little more than a middleman. The reality of the situation is that in the modern day, an artist is more than capable to produce their music without the aid of a large conglomerate. When considered further, even in an environment of 100% piracy the artist still makes money from merchandise and concerts. The victim of the decentralisation of media consumption is not the artist, it is the abusive middlemen that serve little more purpose than to leech.

I fundamentally do not know what the future holds, and this small world we live in has far larger problems than how music and art are distributed. Perhaps the world is not as dark as I see it, or perhaps I am right and the media industry as we know it is destined to fall apart due to its leviathan-like nature. Regardless of the outcome people will continue to live their lives, and that’s what matters.


A general purpose blog for me to braindump anything I might be thinking about. Please dont hesistate to reach out if you have any questions