Servers in North Korea, America (fuck yeah!) and literally in the clouds, buying their own country and winning an eBay bid to buy… well eBay. The Pirate Bay guys had some good times.
Last month I attended a Q&A session with the cofounder of The Pirate Bay (and User No.7), Tobias Andersson. He was one hell of a speaker and entertained the Melbourne Hack’n’Tell group for well over an hour, his speech peppered with jokes and wry observations.
Although Tobias answered questions on all manner of serious subjects thrown at him about copyright, the future of The Pirate Bay and government surveillance, he was most animated when talking about the fun times and practical jokes they played over the years.
In 2002 a bunch of bored hackers and anarchists got together on an IRC channel and decided “We should do something fun!” Their idea of fun was a little out there compared to others, being hackers and anarchists and bored and all.
The first fun thing they did was set up a website (Tobias couldn’t remember what it was called but said it roughly translated into “The Currency Thingy”) to disrupt the election in 2002 because they thought a single currency for all of Europe was really stupid. They decided there was a market in selling votes. ‘We made a lot of fake profiles of people selling their votes,’ he said. ‘Like a middle aged businessman who said Yeah, you can have my vote for 10 bucks.’ Their joke received a lot of media attention which they enjoyed very much. It spurred them on. ‘By doing that we found out it was kind of fun to play with the media and kind of fun to disrupt stuff’, he said.
At the time a lobby group called the Anti-Pirate Bureau was active representing the Swedish film and computer game industry against pirates. ‘We thought hey, if there’s an Anti-Pirate Bureau, we should be like the Pirate Bureau. We’ll be, like, pro-piracy and stuff’. Thus The Pirate Bay was born.
But they never took themselves too seriously. ‘We played a lot of jokes on people over the years which has been real fun,’ said Tobias. Because The Pirate Bay was never meant to be for profit, they didn’t much care if they alienated their user base and lost support so long as they got a laugh.
‘One day we thought “we should play a trick on the users, yeah!” so we made this sign: “Cease and Desist. We are FBI. Your ID will be tracked” And we got a lot of hate for that, but it was a lot of fun. If our point had been making money out of this that would probably have been a stupid decision, to scare our customers away’.
This started a string of practical jokes, sometimes purposely to garner as much media attention for their cause as they could and sometimes just for the lulz. Like the time they announced they were buying eBay:
BREAKING NEWS In a bid on Auction site eBay, for the site of eBay.com itself, Pirate Bay (TPB) has come out as the official winner. We saw that eBay was up for sale on their own site and since we have a long going law suit against them for abuse of our trademark name \”pirat(ebay)\”, we wanted to be pragmatic and just use our immense profits to buy them. This will hopefully make us spend less time with the lawsuit. TPB will use the tools from eBay to make a better rating system for torrents. Then TPB will divide eBay up into smaller companies and sell to the highest bidders. We see no use for an auction site since most stuff is available for free. eBay.com will in the future be redirected to thepiratebay.org, and hopefully this will put TPB into the top 5 internet sites today. Please return to this blog for further updates later.
April Fools Day always saw The Pirate Bay announce it was moving its servers; one year to North Korea, another to the Egyptian desert and another to the United States (We hereby announce that we have moved our servers from the evil North Korea to the greatest fuckin nation in the entire world. The United States of America, fuck yeah!), where they would become The Freedom Bay. Every time, many users – and often the media – were sucked in.
Even though the 2013 announcement that TPB’s servers were moving to North Korea (We can reveal that we have been invited by the leader of the Republic of Korea, to fight our battles from their network the website said gravely) was a hoax, several years earlier The Pirate Bay really did almost find themselves being hosted from Korean soil.
‘True story, yeah,’ said Tobias. ‘So in Stockholm Sweden, there’s a North Korean embassy. We got to know one guy who knew another guy, who knew another guy, who actually worked at the embassy and we were like, hey, we should place the servers in North Korea. That would be so cool. So we got in contact with him and said we want to place this in the embassy, is that okay? And he said “yeah, sure”’. They set the wheels in motion, until suddenly the emails stopped. ‘Sadly the guy moved back to North Korea. We don’t know the reason. But we were so close to being on North Korean soil and that would’ve been so funny’.
With all these countries hostile to hosting The Pirate Bay, why not get their own country? They gave it a go once.
‘We found this ad somewhere of this guy just outside of England who owned this oil platform,’ said Tobias. “The guy” was Roy Bates, who seized a floating pontoon from a group of pirate radio broadcasters in 1967 and subsequently declared it a sovereign state, called Sealand. He anointed himself Prince of Sealand.
‘We thought, hey, we should have our own country, that would be cool. We can say we have our servers there and nobody would be able to attack us and we can have cannons and stuff,’ said Tobias. ‘So we started this crowdfunding, saying “Hey we wanna buy a nation!”’.
Pirate Bay followers were enthusiastic (I’m gonna move there! That would be so cool! Fuck Yeah!) and they soon raised $80,000 for their project.
They contacted the Royal Family of Sealand and discovered they were amenable to selling, but wanted more like $65 million. When they heard the counter-offer of significantly less than that, ‘They stopped replying to our emails,’ Tobias sighed. ‘So we actually bought a little bit of rainforest for the money instead. In the jungle somewhere. I have, like a diploma or something back home’.
So the search for a friendly place to host their pirate website continued. Then the organizers hit upon a brainwave. ‘We released a statement that said we were gonna place the servers up in the clouds – like the actual clouds,’ Tobias said. ‘We were gonna buy a bunch of weather balloons and send them off into space’. This dream also, sadly, fizzled out. ‘I personally actually bought a lot of weather balloons, but never got around to getting the specs of how we were gonna transmit the signals back to earth and all that’.
Tobias says he is a full time student and father now, no longer involved in The Pirate Bay. But he had a whole load of fun while he was. And about the jokes: ‘Half of the world got it, and half of the world didn’t get it…’ he grinned.