The messy Hydra: developments in transglobal Peer-to-Peer culture

Once a minor practice in places of privilege in the global North, internet-enabled file-sharing via peer-to-peer (P2P) systems has evolved into a vast, transglobal activity. Engaging millions of participants, P2P is decentralised, deeply networked, grass roots-driven, polycultural phenomenon growing exponentially. It appears uncontainable, as each wave of technological, legal and commercial measures designed to halt or divert it fail. Moreover, pressure exerted 'from above' by governments and multinational industry alliances becomes a productive force within geographically dispersed, globalised P2P networks and communities. Technical and social innovations are generated 'from below' in order to protect and expand “cultures of sharing,” or “piracy.” Paradoxically, these innovations become mainstreamed as they force corporations to adopt new business models in response to 'market' desires.

This generative power of P2P to produce new techno-social relations, both within its own deterrorialised field and within corporate/sovereign regimes of power, has received little critical analysis. My paper [yet to be written!] focuses on recent developments and their implications, by surveying technical news aggregators, discussion fora, mass media reportage, government position papers, and intergovernmental treaties. 2009 has been a watershed year, with controversial legislation proposed, passed, or rejected, in Europe, North America, Asia and Australasia—plus the trial of a major P2P facilitating entity, The Pirate Bay. This highly contested area is expanding its staging grounds, drawing in new players like Internet Service Providers.

Conflicts of cultural enclosure through copyright regimes, and re-appropriation through digital liberation methods, create a resistant, messy techno-social hydra. This anarchic monster is both a child of the internet's past, and potentially a parent of its future.

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