Tom Lee (no relation) has a fascinating post comparing the entertainment industry's efforts to fight online piracy
with the US government's attempts to disrupt terrorist planning on the Internet. I should hasten to make clear that Tom's not saying that piracy's as bad as terrorism, or anything like that, but rather he's pointing to some striking parallels between the organization of the two types of communities online. He links to a wonderful article
that we linked to
a few years ago that describes the "topsites" that are the source of most of the pirated material online. Tom notes that in both piracy and terrorist networks consist of "an ecosystem of poseurs, parasites and a very few elite operators who can provide the original content that powers the scene. These individuals arrange and rearrange themselves into groups that compete for prestige." There are a few interesting lessons to be drawn from the analogy. Apparently, the tactics the government has been using against these sites, "Monitoring, poisoning
, and takedowns
," are strikingly similar to the methods the recording industry has used against file sharers, and the efforts have been similarly limited. Of course, the big difference is that terrorism is a much more serious crime than piracy, so it's worth expending more resources to hamper it even if the impact is limited. But in both cases, the ultimate solution will only come when we figure out how to solve the more fundamental underlying causes that are fueling the online activity. In the case of the piracy, that will mean finding business models that can fairly compensate artists without treating customers like criminals. In the case of terrorism, it means figuring out how to change conditions in the Middle East so that it's no longer such a breeding ground for terrorists. Until those more fundamental problems are dealt with, no amount of online policing is going to stop the illicit activities.