Last week, two students from the Piet Zwart Institute in the Netherlands released an add-on for the Firefox web browser called “Pirates of the Amazon.” The add-on provided users with a “Download 4 free” notification when digital books, music, or movies they searched for on Amazon were also available for free on The Pirate Bay, the world’s largest bittorrent tracker. However, the website was not up for long before Amazon threatened legal action and soon after the student’s referred to the project as a parody and an experiment on their website, “Pirates of the Amazon was an artistic parody, part of our media research and education at the Media Design M.A. course at the Piet Zwart Institute of the Willem de Kooning Academy Hogeschool Rotterdam, the Netherlands. It was a practical experiment on interface design, information access and currently debated issues in media culture.”
A posting from the Bits Blog explains that parodies are protected to a degree under the United States copyright law. The student’s course director, Florian Cramer, also insists that the project was legal, as explained on the Nettime mailing list, “In our point of view, the legal grounds for that are contestable since the add-on itself did not download anything. It only provided a user interface link between the web sites Amazon.com and thepiratebay.org.”
An article from the Washington Post, comments on the timing of trying to take on the world’s largest online retailer during the busiest shopping season and when piracy is consistently making the news in recent headlines. The students maintain that they are surprised by the reactions and they continue to use their website to record press coverage and collect documentation for their course.