On October 18, the 26-year-old operator of tv-links.co.uk was arrested in a massive police raid based on information gathered by British trade union FACT, the Federation Against Copyright Infringement. An operator of the site, which hosts links to free movies online, told media blog The New Freedom that the operators may be sued for as much as 100 million pounds.
Tv-links and its many imitators are the latest incarnation of the internet’s authority-flouting tradition of file-sharing, springing up at the intersection of Napster and sci-fi fandom. Sharing itself becomes an act of engagement with and appropriation of corporately-produced television and film media. Although participants simply post links, rather than creating their own media as in fan vids, they create a new cultural landscape by changing what gets watched and how. They share opinions and exchange information in forums hosted on the site. Sites that link to streaming media act as a leveler, placing foreign, low-budget, and out-of-print films next to the summer’s biggest blockbuster. In this way, it bypasses the big-budget structure of distribution by giving users immediate access to films with a range of origins and budgets.
What is most controversial about the tv-links shutdown is that these sites don’t actually host illegal media: they use a process called deep linking to link to particular pages on other host sites, like youtube or googlevideo, where the media is actually stored. Of course, it is the small independent operators of the link sites—and not the corporate giants hosting illegal media—who get taken to task for their activities.
For my project, I will interrogate the tension between grassroots creativity and protest on these media link sites and the enforcement of legal control and corporate imperatives, using Galloway, Baudry, Jenkins, and Ang. I will also explore the global dimensions that are central to these sites’ operations and openings: much of the media they link to is hosted on foreign sites, especially in China, for example. What are the implications of the fact that tv-links was a British operation, but the majority of media it linked to was US-produced? I will use Appadurai and Lee and LiPuma to answer this and other pertinent questions.