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Pirates of the Amazon hits the rocks

Amazon.com lawyers jump on Firefox extension that let users illegally download movies, games, and more by cross referencing product pages with torrent files from the Pirate Bay.

Leslie Katz Former Culture Editor
Leslie Katz led a team that explored the intersection of tech and culture, plus all manner of awe-inspiring science, from space to AI and archaeology. When she's not smithing words, she's probably playing online word games, tending to her garden or referring to herself in the third person.
  • Third place film critic, 2021 LA Press Club National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards
Leslie Katz
2 min read

The journey is over for Pirates of the Amazon, a new Firefox extension that let users illegally download movies, games, TV shows, and MP3s for free by cross referencing Amazon.com's product pages with torrent files from the Pirate Bay.

Pirate Bay/Amazon graphic

On Thursday, a day after Webware reported on the plug-in, lawyers for Amazon.com took action. They served the Internet service provider of the two students who released the extension with a take-down notice--and the students complied and removed the tool, according to The New York Times.

However, on their Web site, the students now say the plug-in was meant as an artistic parody, part of their research for a media design course at the Piet Zwart Institute of the Willem de Kooning Academy Hogeschool in Rotterdam Holland. "It was a practical experiment on interface design, information access, and currently debated issues in media culture," the students say.

And while that might seem like a convenient story concocted by the students to stay out of trouble, the NYT reports that they have backup from their teacher, Florian Cramer, who defended them on an Internet mailing list called Nettime.

Cramer said a majority of commentators failed to see the artistic nature of the experiment, and expressed concern that his students were being censored.

"With the take-down notice from Amazon.com, our students have been scared away from pursuing their art, research and learning in our institute," Cramer wrote. "We do not want a culture in which students have to preemptively censor their study because their work confronts culture with controversial and challenging issues."

While the extension was working, it showed up as a "Download 4 Free" link on the top of the Amazon product page if the content could be found on the Pirate Bay's search index. This linked directly to the hosted .torrent tracker file, letting the user avoid having to make a purchase from Amazon in place of acquiring it illegally via BitTorrent.