The little machine that commits one hundred crimes a second.

The following post is Edition 9 of Everybody Knows, our new weekly newsletter publication exploring the realms of creativity, popular culture, media, art and technology. – one topic at a time. Consider subscribing now.


 

What have you been watching this Summer? Did you pay for it all? I only ask because Aussies love to download illegally. Yep, we are right up there ranking in the top five when it comes to accessing film, TV and music on the sly. The premiere of season 5 of Game of Thrones triggered a record rate of “more than a million and a half downloads in a day”. Torrent Freak has previously revealed Australia as the leader (11.6%) in illegal sharing of Game of Thrones episodes, followed by the US (9.3%) and UK (5.8%). Aussie, Aussie, Aussie..!

Despite the laws, and sometime lawsuits, we seem to happily ignore the reality that copyright infringement is indeed a crime. And despite 30% of Australians readily admitting to committing that crime, we never expect anyone to come knocking with a court order seeking damages to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But that does happen from time to time – and those damage claims sometimes seem nuts. In the US in 2009 a Minnesota woman was famously fined $1.9M for downloading 24 songs. Locally, there was also the recent case of the Dallas Buyers Club where some 5,000 iiNet account holders were accused of torrenting the file. While they initially faced ludicrous fines in the millions, a judge effectively delivered a verdict in December of 2015 reducing those claims to a $20 single use license fee.

It’s these incredible fines that have got the back up of Peter Sunde the co-founder of the now infamous Pirate Bay. And it’s what he has done about it that has primed this edition of Everybody Knows which features an art project simply know as “The Kopimashin”.

The Kopimashin (copy machine) is a project created by Sunde under the banner of art collective Konsthack, a playful jibe on the Swedish art institute “Konstfack” (the faculty of art). The collection launched in 2015 ‘to play with hacking as an art form for political and artistic reasons and to question the status quo’.

The Kopimashin is what it says on the tin – it’s the ultimate copying machine. Using some pretty simple tech: a Raspberry Pi, an LCD display and some Python code the “Kopimashin” makes 100 copies of the Gnarls Barkley track “Crazy” every second. Based on a current run rate of eight million copies per day this translates to theoretical ‘losses’ to the label of more than $10 million – more than enough to put them to of business. But the copies aren’t stored permanently making this a great political statement but not one that can be easily taken further in the courts.

kopimashin

So why is Sunde doing this? Here’s a guy who spent time in jail last year for his role in facilitating copyright infringement with Pirate Bay.

The Kopimashin is firstly a manifestation of his commitment to ‘Kopimi’ (‘Copy me’) a belief system, symbol and set of values ‘that may be considered an anti-copyright notice’. This is an ideology that he and his fellow Pirate Bay founder are truly passionate about. And its other fans are so dedicated to it that ‘Kopism’ is now a recognised religion in Sweden. Its central belief is that everyone has the right to and should freely copy and manipulate anything they want.

And of course, it’s a statement about the ridiculous damages license owners attempt to dish out. They know regular people with a copies of Game of Thrones or Dallas Buyer club cannot and never will pay these fines – they’re simply tactics used to intimidate, silence and scare people into obedience.

Kopimashin ultimately queries our own ethics as copiers and copyright infringers. But it also interrogates the methods of a content industry that continues to employ seemingly outdated and hamfisted ways of policing behaviour around original content.

What will you be watching tonight?

Andrew Reeves