The Internet has been like a mix of the high seas and the Wild West — a mostly lawless arena with authorities struggling to contain the, let’s call them, “creative” element.
Between SOPA, PIPA, and the rash of file-sharing websites going dark lately, it looks like this freewheeling era could be slowing down, though probably not coming to an end.
As such, we thought we’d look back on some of the most notorious, weirdest, over-the-top characters who set foot in the pirates-and-cowboys-movie that is the Web.
Also, we’ve ranked them loosely in order of their impact on the Internet.
Disclaimer: “Pirate” does not mean “criminal.” We are making no moral or legal judgment on the actions of these individuals.
11. Hana Amal Beshara, aka Queen Phara, made her name with the super-high-quality movie streaming website NinjaVideo.
10. Peter Sunde currently awaits an eight-month jail sentence for his work with torrent site the Pirate Bay.
8. Bram Cohen introduced BitTorrent, a piece of technology that became immensely influential in file-sharing across the web.
Cohen then turned it into a company. Although not a pirate himself, BitTorrent has fuelled much of the most notorious filesharing, including the Pirate Bay. Cohen is also notable for his Asperger's Syndrome, which affects his interactions with others.
But moot started 4chan, a message board that became part of the lifeblood of the hacker/trolling movement. It spawned the /b/ board, one of the darkest corners of the Internet.
5. Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis are co-founders of another formerly enormous file-sharing site, Kazaa.
Kazaa in its original form was basically hamstrung by lawsuits and heavily criticised for including malware and adware. Unlike many other piracy-affiliated entrepreneurs, Zennstrom and Friis very successfully went straight, starting Skype and Rdio, among others. Zennstrom is an avid yachter.
4. Sean Parker co-founded Napster with Shawn Fanning and arguably started the entertainment industry on a huge downward spiral.
And Parker's subsequent involvement in Facebook and Spotify have shown an impressive nose for successful, legitimate projects. The fact that he started as a kid sharing music makes it even more remarkable -- as does his well-known penchant for partying.
3. Shawn Fanning might be the original superstar of music filesharing — he developed Napster as a teenager.
He skyrocketed to international fame -- and a status as public enemy #1 for the music industry -- before Napster was sold and went legit. He then failed at a couple other ventures before co-founding successful social media network Path. He's since left Path and is now working on Airtime, again with Sean Parker.
2. Piracy of files is one thing; as Julian Assange and Bradley Manning can tell you, piracy of information is another.
But by liberating documents and secret memos from governments across the world, Assange, Manning and Wikileaks changed the idea of reporting. It also put Assange and Manning in strange places: Manning, who leaked footage of airstrikes and some 250,000 documents, awaits trial for a capital offence; Assange hides out in the English countryside from accusations of sexual abuse.
1. Kim Dotcom is the proprietor of the Megaupload empire, which accounted for 4% of daily Internet traffic before its termination, according to the Justice Department.
He also cultivated an over-the-top, hacker-playboy lifestyle. He was basically a James Bond villain come to life. And the shutdown of Megaupload has started a chain-reaction of sites trying to avoid similar fates by closing first.
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