.so Appropriate: Kickass Torrents Takes Somalia Domain

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 11/20/2014 01:30:00 AM
Psst...got the latest episode of Doctor Who?
One of the more curious things that software copyright holders have to deal with is the global public's willingness to "steal" intellectual property despite being quite averse to stealing tangible (read: manufactured) goods. Why do folks show little guilt about the former but more with the latter? Are punishments for physical theft worse, is there a social taboo to such acts, or both? That such attitudes are widespread in the largest of consumer markets in the developing world may not be all that encouraging to software firms.

As a scholar of Internet governance and intellectual property, torrent sites have been a recurrent source of fascination for me [1, 2, 3]. Out of curiosity, the latest evolution I noticed was of the widely-known torrent site Kickass Torrents moving its top-level domain once again. What's .so? I looked it up and, to my unvarnished delight, it stands for Somalia. It is of course perfectly reasonable to say that there isn't really a country of "Somalia" but three contested regions of Somaliland, Puntland and Somalia. It's a failed state, after all. No matter; in cyberspace, there is such a (virtual) place:
With millions of unique visitors per day KickassTorrents (KAT) is one of the most used torrent sites. In recent months it has even rivaled The Pirate Bay in terms of traffic. Over the years KAT has moved from domain to domain on a few occasions, to evade law enforcement and pressure from the entertainment industries. Most recently the site had been operating from the Kickass.to domain. Starting today however, the site is serving its pages from the Somalian TLD Kickass.so.
In a game of cat and mouse, Kickass regularly rotates its top-level domain to avoid restrictions and censors. Recently Google began screening its search results more thoroughly. Therefore, Torrent Freak suspects this change is a way of temporarily avoiding Google's dragnet--until it catches up with the move at least:
“We are moving to kickass.so now. As you know we change our domain regularly. Nothing more has been changed for you, so don’t worry, you can use Kickass as usually, it’s automatically redirected,” the KAT team writes. Intended or not, the domain change will have some consequences on the anti-piracy front. For example, the site will become accessible again in most countries where it has been blocked previously.

In addition all the URLs that were blocked by Google through DMCA notices, more than 1.6 million, will become accessible again under the new domain. This also means that Google’s new downranking algorithm will be bypassed, at least temporarily. In recent weeks KAT has lost a significant amount of traffic due to Google’s new anti-piracy measure, so intended or not, that may be an extra incentive to keep the yearly domain rotations going.
The other obviously fascinating thing about Somalia is that it's been a haven for real-life maritime pirates during the past few years. Even if such piracy has been declining as of late, it's still got a reputation as a pirate's den. In either case--for software pirates or maritime pirates--the impetus for choosing Somalia in its virtual or not-so-virtual iterations is exactly the same: there are no real "authorities" to speak of policing cyberspace or lawless regions of a failed state.