On February 8th, the four-years-in-the-works documentary on The Pirate Bay was released. TPB AFK is a critical work. More than just a fun story of a popular website, it is a powerful narrative central to the struggles of this – of my – generation. After closely following the story IRL for years and waiting anxiously for the film’s completion, my reaction to the final product is… confused. And strong.
Therefore, late though it is, I share my thoughts on this narrative. So, without further ado after a fortnight of rumination and delay, here are my thoughts.
I remind myself that movies are different from reality.
This movie, in particular, is very different from the reality, at least according to one of its stars. Brokep, aka Peter Sunde, reviewing the film before its release, reveals that the experience the film shows is a far cry from his own experience as one of the film’s subjects. He expresses confused disappointment that the story – the story that followed four years of his life, four years of his story – painted a picture so different from his own experience:
“I feel that either Simon [the filmmaker] doesn’t know me, or his art goes before portraying me in a way that I recognize.”
My storyteller heart cringes at that criticism.
I don’t make documentaries and I don’t write biographies. But, like anyone who has ever made anything creative, I derive inspiration from reality. Even when a story is packaged in fiction, the impetus to tell, to share something true and recognizable, is powerful. I cannot help the feeling that failing that goal is failing the story. This criticism – you don’t know me – from the very subject of the story himself is like a knife to the storyteller, and I cringe in sympathy.
As a fan, I can’t take that accusation much better.
Reading this before the movie even came out, I felt preemptive disappointment. As a fan, I saw this criticism from the movie’s own subject as a serious blow. That the story of such a widely admired figure could fall so far short of the expectations and reality of the figure himself, could only mean the film had well and truly failed.
But now, I’m glad it’s different. I TPB AFK to show reality.
TPB AFK is a dark movie. The deep, thrumming soundtrack and shadowy shots set a stage worthy of a tragedy or murder mystery. But the real darkness is not in the window dressing. Its in the content. Circus music couldn’t make this a happy movie.
In one scene, Brokep sits at home receiving the first verdict – the verdict that condemned them all to one year in prison and some ridiculous fuckload of fines.
“This is so insane… This must be a joke…”
He can’t even believe it, and he stares at the computer in disbelief. But it’s not a joke. It’s twenty-first century justice.
In another scene, Professor Roger Wallis from Sweden’s Royal Institute of Technology, whose academic history, status, and credentials are easily available to any kindergartener who can use google, is attacked on the stand – cross examined about his hiring at the institute and interrogated over his job – as he tries valiantly to direct attention to the research itself.
Like the verdict is a warning to young people like Brokep who want to create things on the internet as a challenge to the dominant media, the trial is a grim warning to academics who want to use research to challenge the status quo.
Yeah, it’s dark.
But TPB AFK is inspirational, too, in the way that dark stories often are. The threat looms heavy against our three real-life protagonists, and all the while they persist, sticking to their guns no matter what. Watching three young men fighting prison, bankruptcy, economic exile is not fun times. But seing the grace and courage with which they handle their troubles speaks volumes about their convictions. It sends a clear and optimistic message to the entire generation resisting the same massive foes: You can do it. You can fight. Don’t give up.
And the darkness is exactly what drives home the specks of bright hope – hope that this fight is worth it.
And it’s not just their fight.
This is why Simon’s story, I think, diverges from the personal story that Brokep and his friends would recognize – and this is why it should diverge frrom theirs. The Pirate Bay case is not just about the freedom of a few people. It’s not just Brokep’s, TiAMO’s, and Anakata’s story – and that’s why it’s not the perfect show of their experience.
As the Pirate Bay itself has always been about the users, the Pirate Bay case is about the freedom for us – the users of communications and of media, whether from TPB or elsewhere on the digital seas – to communicate without fear. And while TPB AFK highlights the pain and stress and personal hardships of those that directly fight the battle, it bears grim news for us all. The TPB case heralds dark things for the world. It’s a global case that brings to light international threats, severe judicial oversight, and a massively powerful, dangerously antiquated industry that has asserted itself over twenty-first century communications. The dire implications of this case are for all of us.
No, the story is not just the story of three people.
The TPB case is a symbol of what the piracy battle would – and at this point, already has – become: an all out assaut on the spaces of communication. As of 2013, the Pirate Bay is blocked in places like China, the UK, Finland, and the Netherlands, setting a dangerous precedent for any other site that dares provide free exchange of material. This case does not just affect a few people in Sweden. It affects the bookworm who can’t get the books that are censored in their own country, or the movie buff who can’t afford the monstrously expensive DVD’s in their country, or the kid who can’t explore the music they want to because they don’t access to anything beyond the bland pop played on the radio. It affects the grandmothers who will be wrongfully accused of copyright infringement, or the nine-year old girls who will have their laptops stolen, or the entrepreneurs whose innovations will be chilled because they are too afraid to create something that isn’t allowed. It affects the sites that will never be started, and the books that will never be shared, and the artists whose work will never reach their fans.
But there is hope.
The pirate movement’s idea to fight for free file sharing just isn’t accepted anymore. It was just a little fad.
This stupidly hilarious quote comes from a scene with Monique Wasted, the lawyer for the entertainment companies. I laughed out loud at this part. This, more than any other moment in the film, gave me hope.
This is the moment exposing the massive, fundamental weakness of a goliath opponent. It’s a weakness, a horrid depth of ignorance that makes the old power players ultimately defeatable. It is a belief that is patently false, and one which fails at the very first rule of battle: Know your enemy! I cannot imagine how little one must know of this “enemy” to believe that free sharing – the very foundation of the internet – is only a passing fad. So it is a hopeful thing to hear. As long as we are seen as some kids with a fad and as long as the industry and courts and lawyers are so distracted from reality, then we, the innovators,the creators, the fans, and this entire new generation can build up our new world right under their noses.
Still, though there was hope in the darkness of TPB AFK, I was sad watching it.
I don’t want to live in a world where people that create things are hunted down. But this is that world, and people have always been hunted down for what they create – whether that be critical essays, heretical art, scientific theory, or other strange new innovations. Politics, religion, nationalism – all the things that powerful people value were used to hunt others down for their work. Now, it’s ownership. You can’t have that story, that song, that information! they say. You don’t own that! You don’t have the right to it.
You don’t have the right.
A world where stories and songs and information and innovations are not free to move is not a good world. A world where rights are used to deny people access to such fundamental cultural elements, like music or stories, is not a good world.
Yeah, it’s looking dark.
And this is where I look back to the people’s story. When the global implications are too much, the tenuous future too cloudy, the long-term struggles too scary, I can look to the personal stories – individual, identifiable stories of those people who have been at the heart of this storm all along.
And maybe, it isn’t that bad.
At least that’s what Brokep tells us. His experience was boring, he says – at least, of the trial. His reality was more lighthearted. Not dark. His story was fun. Not tragic.And I hope he’s right. And when the film ends, I feel just a bit – just the tiniest bit – happy (sorry Brokep!) to hear that he is disappointed in this story.
There’s just this feeling I have sometimes, that my friend Simon has a view of me and my friends that doesn’t fit reality. Is it art or did he misunderstand me? I want my friends to know who I am.
While sad for him to not have the story he wanted, it gives me hope. Hope that maybe, just maybe, things aren’t so dark as they look. And again, I remind myself Simon Klose isn’t the only one telling this story, that the story of the filmmaker was just that: his story. And Brokep has his own. And TiAMO. And Anakata.
So then, what is the truth?
Whose is the true story? If not just Simon’s or Brokep’s or TiAMO’s or Anakata’s. Whose?
Maybe it’s all of ours.