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
Looking Forward to the Day That Nationalism Is as Reviled as Racism
Tim Hjersted · 6,889 views today · Nationalism is a form of geographical racism that makes some lives matter more than others, and explicitly justifies that logic without apology. While today, not even lying...
How Mindfulness Empowers Us
2 min · 5,929 views today · Many traditions speak of the opposing forces within us, vying for our attention. Native American stories speak of two wolves, the angry wolf and the loving wolf, who both live...
Why It's Crucial for Women to Heal the Mother Wound
Bethany Webster · 4,407 views today · The issue at the core of women’s empowerment is the mother wound
Trump Is a Symptom of a Sickness That Is Raging All Across The World
1 min · 3,845 views today · This is why we are here. And this is what we need to remember. 
Supporters 'Ecstatic' After Obama Commutes Chelsea Manning's Sentence
Nika Knight · 3,468 views today · Whistleblower to be released from military prison in May
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 2,791 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
What Is My Activism Really About? to Love, Serve and Remember
Tim Hjersted · 2,033 views today · I have made a promise to this world that I will carry with me to my last days. It is my vow to lessen the suffering of the world while I am here - it is to ensure that every...
Escape! From the Cult of Materialism (2016)
50 min · 1,814 views today · Does the philosophy of materialism work to destroy our identities, experience, and environment? Join narrator Daphne Ellis on a radical romp through the evidence and decide for...
Dinosaur explains Trump policies better than Trump!
8 min · 891 views today · Donald Trump is actually the corporate triceratops, Mr. Richfield, from the 90's TV show sitcom, "Dinosaurs". 
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 609 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
The Invention of Capitalism: How a Self-Sufficient Peasantry was Whipped Into Industrial Wage Slaves
Yasha Levine · 607 views today · “…everyone but an idiot knows that the lower classes must be kept poor, or they will never be industrious.” —Arthur Young; 1771 Our popular economic wisdom says that...
Coping With Narcissistic Personality Disorder in the White House
N Ziehl · 510 views today · I want to talk a little about narcissistic personality disorder. I’ve unfortunately had a great deal of experience with it, and I’m feeling badly for those of you who are...
Stunning Photos By Alexander Semenov Showcase The Alien Beauty Of Jellyfish
Earth Porm · 479 views today · Jellyfish appear like beautiful aliens in Alexander Semenov’s photography, calling a new attraction to a magical species of marine life. Alexander Semenov is a marine...
Before He Was Assassinated, MLK Jr. Was Advocating For An End To Income Inequality
10 min · 443 views today · We can honor MLK Jr. by pursuing the causes he was advocating for before he was killed.  ​​ Part 2: The Basic Income, A New Human Right (3 minutes) MLK's idea of a basic...
The Top 100 Documentaries We Can Use to Change the World
Films For Action · 431 views today · A more beautiful, just and sustainable world is possible. Take this library and use it to inspire global change!
One "Piece of the Oppressor" That I Have Discovered Within Myself
Tim Hjersted · 389 views today · One "piece of the oppressor" that I have found in myself during my inner activist journeys is my use of shame as a method of engaging with the world's problems. Having learned...
The Greening of the Self: The Most Important Development of Modern Times
Joanna Macy · 378 views today · Something important is happening in our world that you are not going to read about in the newspapers. I consider it the most fascinating and hopeful development of our time...
This Woman Gets No Applause...Why? They Are Too Creeped Out...
7 min · 318 views today · Think you aren't being fooled by advertising tricks? Take a look at this so-called expert revealing food marketing's secret weapon. No amount of marketing makes factory farming...
90 Inspiring and Visionary Films That Will Change How You See the World in Profound Ways
Tim Hjersted · 296 views today · The world today is in crisis. Everybody knows that. But what is driving this crisis? It's a story, a story that is destroying the world. It's a story about our relationship to...
Watch How Europeans Carved Up African Land They Never Owned
56 min · 243 views today · Watch how Europeans gave away African land they never owned, then expressed anger when Africans resisted. The film is called Africa: A Voyage of Discovery, Episode 6: The...
Load More
What's Next
Like us on Facebook?
PirateBox: an "Artistic Provocation" in Lunchbox Form