BitTorrent: Bram Cohen Says 'I commit digital piracy'?

By Jon Newton 7/01/05

I am a technological activist. I have a political agenda. I am in favor of basic human rights: to free speech, to use any information and technology, to purchase and use recreational drugs, to enjoy and purchase so-called 'vices', to be free of intruders, and to privacy.

I further my goals with technology. I build systems to disseminate information, commit digital piracy, synthesize drugs, maintain untrusted contacts, purchase anonymously, and secure machines and homes. I release my code and writings freely, and publish all of my ideas early to make them unpatentable.

Jon Newton

Technology is not a panacea. I refuse to work on technology to track users, analyze usage patterns, watermark information, censor, detect drug use, or eavesdrop. I am not naive enough to think any of those technologies could enable a 'compromise'.

Despite my emphasis on technology, I do not view laws as inherently evil. My goals are political ones, even if my techniques are not. The only way to fundamentally succeed is by changing existing laws. If I rejected all help from the political arena I would inevitably fail.

The words are BitTorrent creator Bram Cohen’s.

"We hold that one who distributes a device with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright, as shown by the clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to foster infringement, is liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties."

The words are Justice David H. Souter's, writing for the US Supreme Court panel in their Grokster v MGM ruling.

Cohen wrote his 'commit digital piracy' statement in 1999 before BitTorrent had arrived on the p2p scene.

Will they now come back to haunt him?

"I wrote that in 1999, and I didn't even start working on BitTorrent until 2001," Wired News quotes Cohen as saying. "I find it really unpleasant that I even have to worry about it."

But, ""Before I saw the manifesto, it always seemed clear to me that he's had a very clean record," Wired has Mark Schultz, a law professor at Southern Illinois University Law School, saying. "A good lawyer will try to nail him to the wall with that, and any other statements they can find. It's circumstantial evidence of intent. It's not a slam dunk but it hurts his case a little."

Back to Cohen, "That was written in a combative confrontation style; I wasn't really talking about anything," he says in the Wired piece. "It was a reaction-getting thing ... I think it's pretty clear the way that was written is that it was written in voice. It was an exaggerated character speaking it."

"The way they talked about intent is so vague that it can cause people to pay attention to things that they wrote years and years ago, having nothing to do with what they're doing right now. Anybody who thinks that they might produce technology at some point in the future that might be used for piracy has to watch everything that they say."

Developers are in the same boat. Now, they'll have to watch everything they create, with Hollywood looking over their shoulders.

BitTorrent's cof Ashwin Navin says BT, "isn't worried about the manifesto's legal implications, but is afraid that some may seize upon it as proof that the company is pro-piracy," says Wired, adding:

"Our worry is that journalists will pull this out of context. It's not a business problem. It's more of a PR problem."

Stay tuned.


Jon Newton is the editor of and is a regular contributer to MP3 Newswire. Jon's site is devoted to the politics of digital music and his insights as well as those of his co-writers can be read there. We urge you to explore it.


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Other MP3 stories:
MGM V. Grokster: Actively Encourage is the Test
Interview With StreamCast on Grokster Ruling


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