A couple of days ago I was thinking a bit, and fuzzily about the NSA’s problem with their operating system on board the reverse-engineered EP-3E reconnaissance aircraft . The EP-3E fell out of the sky above China after colliding with a Chinese jet and the crew failed to decommission the information hardware using the approved tools — a fire-axe and hot coffee. Patterns and behaviours observed by NSA information analysts later suggested that the Chinese had reverse-engineered the EP-3E’s OS.
The whole thing had to be re-written at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, but meanwhile the stratagems instantiated in that operating system had now become available to the Chinese and put in play in the flow of global surveillance. (One thinks of a demon, once owned by a particular master, now replicated and put to service at the hands of his enemy.)
There are three key things that interest me I think:
(i) Any informational system is capable of being reproduced;
(ii) Such dense systems encode an enormous amount of knowledge and strategy: a way of operating on the world;
(iii) This embedded way-of-doing becomes, by virtue of its reproducability, available to other uses and other constituencies. (The expertise of the NSA is transferred to China’s military apparatus and soon put to work.)
Limewire LLC, a limited liability corporation in the United States, was was recently forced to take its P2P software Limewire, a client for the Gnutella network, offline. The case cost the litigants many millions of dollars on both sides and the Recording Industry Association of America hailed the victory as a milestone for the recording industries.
However as TorrentFreak reports, within a matter of days hackers have taken the most recent binaries for Limewire, hacked them to remove some of the more annoying features, and re-released the client as ‘Limewire Pirate Edition’. ‘After Lime Wire LLC stopped distributing its software in October 2010,’ the project’s website reads,
a horde of piratical monkeys climbed aboard the abandoned ship, mended its sails, polished its cannons and released it FREE to the community to help keep the Gnutella network alive.
LimeWire Pirate Edition is pure P2P software; it does not depend on any servers operated by Lime Wire LLC or other companies. It does not include any adware or spyware, and it cannot be remotely monitored or shut down.
The following things seem to me interesting here:
(i) The process of law is obviously not very well suited to dealing with assemblages of code like this. Because there was a company involved, the company was sued. It lost. This prevents Limewire LLC from operating Limewire for profit. However, to the extent that there was any special ingenuity emdedded in its code, it is like the NSA’s operating system openly available to other constituencies. [Has anyone tried? to issue a cease-and-desist notice to a virus.] But it’s as if the company Limewire, like the owner of a conjured demon, never really had possession of its entity: now the ‘piratical monkeys’ have it and apparently have made some quick improvements.
(ii) Two radically different modalities or spirits have been ‘in charge’ of Limewire the software in a relatively short space of time. Cf. the NSA’s problem with China. Knowledge is portable and its ownership is brittle.
(iii) Those seeking to change the social behaviours ‘emanating from’ Limewire [it 'induced' infringement] used one of the chief means available to them, the law — but Limewire’s reconstitution ensures the behaviours will continue unabated.
(iv) So it’s obvious why certain parties will want to seek control at the network level. At the juridical level and the level of code, control is lost.
Code is thus a general class of ‘post-state actant’. I should go back and read Lawrence Lessig’s book Code, which I always avoided for some reason.
In a pleasant irony, the ‘original’ Limewire’s site was recently updated to read as follows:
WE HAVE VERY RECENTLY BECOME AWARE OF APPLICATIONS ON THE INTERNET PURPORTING TO USE THE LIMEWIRE NAME, SUCH AS THE LIMEWIRE PIRATE EDITION. WE DEMAND THAT ALL PERSONS USING THE LIMEWIRE SOFTWARE, NAME, OR TRADEMARK IN ORDER TO UPLOAD OR DOWNLOAD COPYRIGHTED WORKS IN ANY MANNER CEASE AND DESIST FROM DOING SO. WE FURTHER REMIND YOU THAT THE UNAUTHORIZED UPLOADING AND DOWNLOADING OF COPYRIGHTED WORKS IS ILLEGAL.
Pirates cease-and-desisting other pirates is amusing.