The acquittal of OINK.CD admin Alan Ellis has caused a firestorm of confusion across the net, with comments flying fast and furious claiming just about anything you can imagine, and a lot you probably couldn’t imagine. The problem is that so far we don’t know a lot. After the initial raid the police and prosecutor in England went silent, and to the best of my knowledge some of the major pieces in the case (like the original search warrant) are still not available for analysis.
And of course the reporting of the case was variable. Some of the articles seemed credible, others, including the original BBC report were incredulous to say the least.
Still, after reading a blog posting by Pangloss, I thought I’d take a shot at it. Pangloss seemed a bit confused about what happened and why, and with good reason. But if you are willing to do enough digging, there is information available, and I’m a stubborn sort.
OINK.CD (full name Oink’s Pink Palace) was a BitTorrent tracker. BitTorrent is a file transfer protocol, designed to allow fast efficient file transfers, which was invented by Bram Cohen, the founder of BitTorrent Inc. BitTorrent as a protocol, puts a lot less stress on the central server, as each user who downloads part of a file, also makes that part of the file available. In practise this means that as a Torrent is first seeded it will run slowly, speeding up as more users have parts of it. This makes it especially useful for distributing large files, such as operating systems (Linux, Solaris, and BSD kernel based operating systems are usually distributed using BitTorrent). World of Warcraft is another heavy BitTorrent user, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has used it to distribute TV shows.
As a tracker, OINK.CD did not host any files. In effect a Torrent tracker can be considered a specialized search engine.
Now we get into the fun stuff – the above is fact (to the best of my knowledge). The rest of the article is speculation based on news reports and press releases, which may or may not have been accurate (and even the ones that were accurate may have been wrong – if I quote you, and you don’t know what you are talking about, it doesn’t matter how accurate my quote was – it’s going to be wrong).
OINK was an invite only tracker. You had to have an invite to get access, which meant that you had to know someone who was a member in good standing. I have been told that there was no cost to join. Users had to maintain a certain upload/download ratio, specifically for every megabyte you downloaded, you had to upload the same. No leaches need apply. If you weren’t able to maintain a good ratio, too bad. Unlike some sites, donations were NOT credited towards your download ratio, and were totally voluntary.
Note that this is what I’ve been told. I don’t know if my source really did have an account there.
The first that most people heard of OINK, was when a writer named Darren Shan hired the law firm of Addleshaw Goddard, claiming that people were downloading his books from OINK. OINK at this time was run from OINK.ME.UK, however the law firm went after the Domain registrar, and this cause OINK to change the domain to OINK.CD in July of 2007. While this trouble appears to be separate, it is possible that the news about OINK’s problems may have raised it’s profile with the music industry, even though there were claims by the IFPI that they had been investigating OINK for two years. IFPI claims have to be looked at carefully all through this case – for example they claimed that OINK was illegal, and the jury apparently found that it wasn’t.
The second major story about OINK to hit was the raid and arrest, on October 23, 2007, which was covered by the BBC, TorrentFreak, Gazette, Sun, and the Guardian. To the best of my knowledge, the Guardian was the only news site to publish any sort of correction, and as Bobbie Johnson of the Guardian pointed out, a lot of the information from the Police and IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry) was obviously incorrect. You can still view the IFPI Press Release on their website. Curiously the Cleveland Police have removed all traces of of the press release from their site, and there is nothing at archive.org or in the Google cache. A search for ‘operation ark royal’ shows up a link for an updated press release, but you get an ‘access denied’ message when you try to access it. I have emailed the Cleveland Police for copies of the press releases, and will update this when and if I receive them.
The police claim in their statement that the operating of OiNK was “extremely lucrative” and “members paid donations via debit or credit cards, ensuring their continued access to the site”. The former is highly unlikely, while the latter is completely untrue. While I was not a member of OiNK, mainly because I already have more music than I can listen to, I have friends that were, and unlike some other private torrent trackers, where you can donate to bounce your download/upload ratio back up to 1.0, OiNK was well known as being one of the most vigorous pursuers of those who failed to keep their ratio at the required level. As one former user has wrote on a forum:
Donations were completely voluntary. At most you received advanced search features which allowed you to break down your searches by year/artist/album/genre etc. You also gained immunity from the inactivity ban sweeps. They put it this way: “No amount of money you donate will replace the bytes you’re not uploading.” All that donations did was give you two invites, give you a star, make your irc hostname end in .donor, give you advanced search abilities and access to statistics, no ratio changes, nothing.
Running a site with 180,000 users would incur significant server costs. OiNK, again like other sites do, never begged for donations towards those costs. For the police to claim that this was “extremely lucrative” smells like the proverbial, and for the Scum to suggest the man arrested was making hundreds of thousands of pounds a year, extrapolating from the statement that “this is big business, with hundreds of thousands of pounds being made” is outrageous.
Now I don’t know who the writer is, since his profile isn’t public, but what he has written matches what I was told, and what I’ve seen posted in other places on the net. And he/she makes a very important point – the first sentence of the IFPI press release says:
British and Dutch police today shut down the world’s biggest source of illegal pre-release chart albums and arrested a 24-year old man in an operation coordinated between Middlesbrough and Amsterdam.
The problem with this, is that the only logical source of pre-release albums, is the record industry. Think about it. Do you have access to the latest recording by ‘insert star artist name here’? I know I don’t. I don’t work in the industry. Oh, I have stuff that no one else has, but I have a recording studio in my basement, and I recorded it myself. So what we have here, is an industry claiming that outsiders are causing it’s problems, when the only logical source of the problems is internal! Does this make sense to you? Indeed, a 2003 study into pre-release issues in the movie industry pointed the finger at industry insiders (PDF Warning).
OK, so let’s look at the next thing that happens. On the same day as the arrest, somehow the IFPI and BPI (The British Recorded Music Industry) have somehow managed to take over the site. Think about this. Allan Ellis has been arrested, but hasn’t been charged yet. So how could the ownership of the domain have been legally transferred? Especially since the registered owner spent most of the day in p0lice custody. It’s pretty hard to sign over a domain registration document from inside a police station, where you are ‘helping police with their inquiries’ as the quaint British term goes. One would not expect a private organization to have been allowed access to someone in that sort of situation, and if they weren’t allowed access, how could he sign? And of course Allan Ellis had at this point not even been charged with anything, never mind being found guilty of anything illegal in a court of law!
And then to confuse things even further, somehow on October 27th, The Pirate Bay managed to gain control of the domain.
***** End Part One *****
I had the impression when I started that I’d be able to cover this fairly quickly, however the amount of information I’m finding is phenomenal, so I’m cutting this off at about 1500 words, and will be back tomorrow with another segment. Based on what I’ve got so far, I am expecting the total when completed to be 10,000 words or more.