Today’s entry in the Linux Mint blog contains the news that due to legislation demanded by Hollywood lobbyists, a major distribution channel for Linux Mint’s (legitimate) software has been forcibly closed down. We’ll have a look at the Linux Mint blog post (quoted in full) first. I’m aware that many people may not be aware of the exact implications of this news, or why it’s such a bad thing, so a non-techie explanation follows.
The original post from Linux Mint
With the assistance of the Svea Court of Appeals, the main Hollywood movie studios have landed a triple blow on OpenBitTorrent, The Pirate Bay and site founders Gottfrid Svartholm and Fredrik Neij. The Court handed out three injunctions yesterday, one of which took the OpenBitTorrent tracker offline.
OpenBitTorrent is the tracker used by Linux Mint to provide the ISOs via torrent. The consequence of the court decision is that our torrents are currently dead. Of course, our server in Miami and many people within the community are actively sharing the torrents via DHT, so you should still be able to download via torrent even with the tracker being down.
I’m a bit worried about this since there aren’t that many reliable open torrent trackers in the World. This is hurting us and many other projects. Hopefully the tracker will be back up in a few days. If the problem persists we’ll be switching our torrents to use a new tracker or we’ll end up maintaining our own.
Linux Mint is, as the name suggests, a Linux distribution, that is to say, a version of the Linux operating system packaged up into a convenient file which can be downloaded, burned onto a CD-ROM, and installed onto a regular computer either in place of or alongside that computer’s existing operating system, such as Microsoft Windows. Many such Linux distributions exist, mainly because Linux is very much component-based (rather than a single full entity as Windows is): Ubuntu, Fedora and Mandriva are other examples. The makers of each distribution select the components that they feel make up a good overall operating system, usually to fulfil a particular aim or purpose.
Linux Mint is particularly notable because its aim is to make Linux as accessible as possible to non-techie computer users who have little or no interest in scrabbling about with the inner workings of their computer, providing internet access, email, browsing, media-playing and basic office capabilities straight away. Its reputation for achieving this aim is actually very good – not perfect yet by any means, but still very good. It does a very good job of providing the basic services that a regular home computer user needs, together with a robust security model and file-system that the underlying Linux architecture provides. For free.
However, it is still a relatively small project, funded exclusively by donations and sponsorship. It is distributed for free: to the person downloading the software at least. However, what is often taken for granted is that the provision of this service is not free to the provider; to have a server capable of coping with the demand of even a couple of hundred users at a time costs vast sums of money.
This is where services such as OpenBitTorrent come in. Rather than all traffic being directed through a central location, such as “our server in Miami” in Linux Mint’s case, each downloader gets bits of the software directly from everyone else who has downloaded the file and whose computer is switched on. The load is thus shared throughout lots of internet connections, rather than a single place.
However, this distribution method is understandably popular with those who wish to circumvent paying to see movies and/or listen to music, and this is why Hollywood (and the BPI, the lobbyists who fought for the draconian elements of the Digital Economy Act over in this country) are rather jumpy about this technology, and have tried to get it shut down. With some success in this case.
I don’t particularly wish to get embroiled in an argument about whether piracy is right or wrong, the reasons why I think that such attempts are futile, protection of the artist, stifling of free speech, big corporations or sandal-wearing liberals blah blah blah because such arguments are long, complicated and tired. What I do wish to point out though is that draconian shut-down orders such as the ones highlighted here are not only a nuisance (in all likelihood only temporary) for rip-off merchants, they also unnecessarily stifle legitimate software projects that rely on this technology as an inexpensive form of distribution. These knock-on effects are actually happening, with real consequences. It’s only a matter of time before the ill-thought-through bits of the Digital Economy Act do something similar.