PirateBox: an "Artistic Provocation" in Lunchbox Form
PirateBox: an "Artistic Provocation" in Lunchbox Form
By Nate Anderson / arstechnica.com
Apr 5, 2011

When NYU art professor David Darts shows people his lunchbox, "a smile just starts creeping up on their face." 

Painted black with a white skull-and-crossbones, the metal box doesn't hold a pastrami on rye; instead, it's stuffed with networking equipment and batteries, and it hosts a Debian Linux install running a barebones Python-powered Web server. The goal of this "PirateBox": to create an open file-sharing network in any public space, and to do with total privacy.

Inside the PirateBox sits a Free Agent Dockstar, an Asus WL330GE wireless router, and a SanDisk 16GB flash drive. The software, including Debian Linux and the DD-WRT open-source router firmware, is all free. The total build cost is under $100, not counting the lunchbox enclosure and the optional battery pack (the PirateBox can alternately run on AC power).

Darts' tiny Web server has one unique feature: it doesn't connect to the Internet, and it keeps no logs of any kind. Anyone who connects to the PirateBox's WiFi network is automatically directed to a basic Web interface for uploading and downloading files to the box, but privacy and security concerns mean that only local access is provided.

The PirateBox idea was really about "scratching an itch," Darts tells Ars. "I really couldn't find anything that fulfilled my need."

The PirateBox leaves the lab

Darts was looking for something that would allow people in the same physical space to share files, but it had to be dead simple—no extra software or hardware allowed. So he built a PirateBox prototype and started taking it to his NYU classes. When he wanted to distribute a file to the class, he used the PirateBox, and the class used it to distribute their own documents and files to everyone else. Eventually, Darts just left the box running.

Students started sharing non-class material. When the most recent Girl Talk album came out (it's Creative Commons-licensed for sharing) and the servers were melting down, a student arrived in class one day with a copy of the album and shared it with everyone else. Darts' students, he says, are "smart enough" not to use the university network for sharing media files, even legal ones, due to concerns about surveillance.

An "artistic provocation"

In his demonstration pictures, Darts shows only material cleared for sharing. The skull-and-crossbones design, the purposeful lack of logging, and the choice of the "PirateBox" name all suggest, however, that this is a device not meant solely for swapping open-source Linux ISOs.

Darts admits that the PirateBox is "an artistic provocation." He wants to spark further discussion about copyright and the ways we talk about it.

"The connection between sharing and stealing has gotten very muddied," he says. "Sharing isn't the same thing as stealing."

The guts of the PirateBox

On the project's wiki, Darts adds that "the PirateBox is designed to facilitate sharing which, by definition, is the opposite of stealing. The misleading connection between stealing and sharing has been promulgated by old media interests and their well funded lobby groups who claim that sharing and remixing copyrighted materials hurts artists… Today it is not productive to restrict sharing in order to pay for centralized production and distribution. Prohibiting people from freely sharing and remixing information and culture serves no one's interests but the publishers'."

One of Darts' main artistic concerns is the relationship between physical space and the community that develops in it. He laments the fact that media on the Internet has increasingly fallen under the thumb of major corporations; he calls his project "a symbolic response to this centralized control."

 

0.0 ·
0
Trending Today
How Norway Avoided Becoming a Fascist State
George Lakey · 16,115 views today · Instead of falling to the Nazi party, Norway broke through to a social democracy. Their history shows us polarization is nothing to despair over.
Stunning Small Homes Form Part of a Communal Compound for Best Friends
Lighter Side · 12,673 views today · If you’re lucky enough to have longtime friends even as an adult, then you know probably already know how much it means to be able to spend time together. Maybe you even have a...
Where the Term "Redneck" Came From
15 min · 8,871 views today · If you don't know this story, you'll never look at the word the same again.  This is just a window into the sometimes shocking, subversive and untold history of the United...
Globalization Makes No Sense
Chris Agnos · 7,886 views today · When I lived in San Francisco, I often would marvel at the movement of goods through the ports across the bay in Oakland. Full container ships would enter the bay one after...
Without Saying a Word This 6 Minute Clip From Samsara Will Make You Speechless
6 min · 5,871 views today · Can you put this video into words? It's a clip from the phenomenal documentary Samsara, directed by Ron Fricke, who also made Baraka.  If you're interested in watching...
The Fire Within
Words by Sophie Scholl - Illustrations by Gavin Aung Than · 5,754 views today · Sophie Scholl (1921-1943) was a German activist who is famous for speaking out against the Nazi regime. Scholl was a member of a protest group called The White Rose, which...
Voices of Standing Rock
49 min · 4,787 views today · Short stories told by water protectors at Standing Rock, North Dakota. Part 1 - Introduction: Since mid-August 2016, thousands have set up camp near the Standing Rock Sioux...
The London Anarchist Group Squatting Mansions to Fight Homelessness
6 min · 4,461 views today · London squatting activists ANAL (Autonomous Nation of Anarchist Libertarians) are squatting empty multi-million pound buildings and opening them up to the homeless.
The Most Astounding Fact about the Universe
3 min · 4,364 views today · This is Neil Degrasse Tyson's response when asked to describe the most astounding fact about the universe. Background music is the cinematic orchestra - To build a home.
Redneck Revolt Presents: A Message to the Patriot Movement
6 min · 4,317 views today · Over the past few weeks, Redneck Revolt has been communicating with a former member of a III% Patriot Militia based out of Ohio. Peter made contact with our organization after...
The Foiled Bomb Plot in Kansas That Didn't Make Trump's Terror List
5 min · 2,772 views today · When a plot by a pro-white militia to bomb a Somali mosque in Kansas was foiled by the FBI last October, the aborted conspiracy received little national coverage - nor did it...
Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed (The Real Reason For The Forty-Hour Workweek)
David Cain · 2,750 views today · Well I’m in the working world again. I’ve found myself a well-paying gig in the engineering industry, and life finally feels like it’s returning to normal after my nine months...
The Lessons of Standing Rock
Michael Emero · 2,672 views today · In mid-November of 2016, I was a Water Protector at Standing Rock. At first my goal was to play investigative journalist; documenting then writing about every detail for my...
10 Words Every Girl Should Learn
Soraya Chemaly · 2,311 views today · "Stop interrupting me."  "I just said that." "No explanation needed." In fifth grade, I won the school courtesy prize. In other words, I won an award for being polite. My...
To Change Everything, Start Everywhere
8 min · 1,331 views today · To Change Everything, Start Everywhere! The case for complete self-determination—a guide for the furious, the curious, and the pure of heart. To Change Everything: An...
Charles Eisenstein: The Two Great Stories That Give Meaning to Our Lives
6 min · 1,329 views today · What matters in life? Who are we? Every culture has answers to these questions. And the way we answer them has profound effects on the health of people and planet. This is a...
How a Lack of Touch Is Destroying Men
Mark Green · 1,199 views today · Why Men Need More Platonic Touch in their Lives
What Happens When You Rebel Against the Herd
Sofo Archon · 1,090 views today · Are You Truly Living Your Life? You live, but are you living the way you want to live, or the way others want you to live? You choose, but are your choices based on...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 1,049 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
A Hauntingly Beautiful Short Film About Life and Death
5 min · 842 views today · The Life of Death is a touching handdrawn animation about the day Death fell in love with Life.
Load More
What's Next
Like us on Facebook?
PirateBox: an "Artistic Provocation" in Lunchbox Form