shelve SOPA/PIPA, the feds demonstrated that they don't even need new laws to crack down on websites that threaten the interests of moneyed rights holders. They unceremoniously shuttered Megaupload, spooking other services that cloud-host users' files.We're at a watershed moment for intellectual property. Not a day after online protests drove Congress to
TechCrunch reports today that the Megaupload crackdown cut the site off at the knees just before it planned to launch a disruptive and legal music player. Another popular boogeyman for copyright holders, The Pirate Bay, announced a new, legitimate direction yesterday: It's going to host physibles, downloadable models for constructing 3D objects. Are the "pirate" sites actually Big Content's worst nightmare for legitimate reasons?
Megaupload got in trouble because it messed with the entertainment lobby's favorite formats: music and movies. The Pirate Bay, which hosts torrent files, has been a scourge of rights holders for years, since, as its name suggests, it doesn't even apologize for facilitating content "piracy." But The Pirate Bay's move into physibles breaks new ground, since 3D printing is territory copyright lawyers have barely begun to fathom.
A "physible" is a digital plan for an object that can either be designed on a computer or uploaded with a 3D scanner. Those plans can be downloaded and used to assemble real, tangible objects using a 3D printer. Printers are getting more affordable, but they're still limited by the kinds of materials they can use. But that just means it's the dawn of this technology, and The Pirate Bay is getting in early. "We believe that in the nearby future you will print your spare [parts] for your vehicles," TPB writes on its blog. "You will download your sneakers within 20 years."
"The benefit to society is huge. No more shipping huge amount of products around the world. No more shipping the broken products back. No more child labour. We'll be able to print food for hungry people. We'll be able to share not only a recipe, but the full meal. We'll be able to actually copy that floppy, if we needed one."
As a renowned hub for trading files, The Pirate Bay is in a perfect position to be the go-to place for free physibles, which it can facilitate while making money from ads. "We're thinking of temporarily renaming ourselves to The Product Bay," the announcement jokes, but hopefully it's half-serious.
It's a perfectly legitimate business, and it blows the 2012 conception of intellectual property to smithereens. There's competition, too; Shapeways and Thingiverse are already on the market, and there's even a Google Warehouse for 3D models. Lobbyists for Old Media love to bang on sites like Megaupload and The Pirate Bay, but those very sites have hatched plans to usher in the future of digital media. When we can download a drum set, pirated MP3s will be the least of the copyright lobby's worries.
Check out The Pirate Bay's physibles category, but it's not our fault if you click on porny spam links.