Visitors to the filesharing megasite Pirate Bay today might be surprised to see a North Korean flag on the page's usual Pirate Ship logo. The image links to the following post on the site's blog:
The Pirate Bay has been hunted in many countries around the world. Not for illegal activities but being persecuted for beliefs of freedom of information. Today, a new chapter is written in the history of the movement, as well as the history of the internets.
A week ago we could reveal that The Pirate Bay was accessed via Norway and Catalonya. The move was to ensure that these countries and regions will get attention to the issues at hand. Today we can reveal that we have been invited by the leader of the republic of Korea,[sic] to fight our battles from their network.
This is truly an ironic situation. We have been fighting for a free world, and our opponents are mostly huge corporations from the United States of America, a place where freedom and freedom of speech is said to be held high. At the same time, companies from that country is chasing a competitor from other countries, bribing police and lawmakers, threatening political parties and physically hunting people from our crew. And to our help comes a government famous in our part of the world for locking people up for their thoughts and forbidding access to information.
We believe that being offered our virtual asylum in Korea is a first step of this country's changing view of access to information. It's a country opening up and one thing is sure, they do not care about threats like others do. In that way, TPB and Korea might have a special bond. We will do our best to influence the Korean leaders to also let their own population use our service, and to make sure that we can help improve the situation in any way we can. When someone is reaching out to make things better, it's also ones duty to grab their hand.
The story first appeared a few hours ago on the blog of Swedish Pirate Party founder and chief evangelist Rick Falkvinge. (The Pirate Party and Pirate Bay share political goals and have frequently cooperated but are separate organizations.) Falkvinge writes that the current traceroute for the site can be tracked back to this ISP located in the Potong-gang District of Pyongyang. "North Korea may have the one government on this planet which takes pride in asking Hollywood and United States interests to take a hike in the most public way imaginable," he added.
Pirate Bay lost its hosting from the Swedish Pirate Party last month, after the group faced legal pressure from an alliance of copyright holders. The hosting was moved to Pirate Parties in Norway and Catalonia, but the Norwegian party apparently dropped the site earlier today.
The typically reliable website TorrentFreak quotes at "PirateBay insider," saying “We’ve been in talks with them for about two weeks, since they opened access for foreigners to use 3g in the country... TPB has been invited just like Eric Schmidt and Dennis Rodman. We’ve declined for now.”
So is this for real, or an elaborate prank? TorrentFreak writes, "While it’s hard to believe everything The Pirate Bay says, the site does indeed route through North Korea at the moment."
I'm still not totally buying it, given that back in 2007, the site posted an April Fool's joke about moving its hosting to the North Korean embassy. "We would like to thank Kim Jong-Il for the opportunity and we would like all of our users to review their current feelings towards this great nation!" they wrote at the time.
In a post last year, the Pirate Bay's blog presented itself as a weapon against North Korean information suppression. "We receive more than 100 visits daily from North Korea and we sure know that they need it," they wrote. "If there's something that will bring peace to this world it is the understanding and appreciation of your fellow man."
Also, if they were really doing business with North Korea, they would probably know that its official name is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The "Republic of Korea" is the South.
So there's plenty of reason to be suspicious, though after last week, anything seems possible.
Update: The North Korea Tech blog throws some more cold water on the story:
The Pirate Bay needs a significant amount of bandwidth — something North Korea doesn’t have.[...]
When I track Internet traffic from my PC to The Pirate Bay’s website, it does appear to flow to North Korea’s Internet gateway point. What happens after that is unclear.
[The track] shows traffic running from Level 3, an Internet backbone operator in the U.S., onto the network of Intelsat. The international satellite operator is one of North Korea’s two providers of Internet connectivity. From Intelsat is runs onto the North Korean Internet, denoted by the Internet address “22.214.171.124? on line 21. But no more data is returned, so it’s difficult to plot the remainder of the path to The Pirate Bay website.
I e-mailed Falkvinge, who wrote back that the technical reports casting doubt on the story "look credible":
The Pirate Bay is tremendously skilled at two things: keeping their site online, and pranking the establishment. Given that, I lean toward it being a hilarious hoax.
Update 2: The Pirate Bay comes clean. It was a hoax:
We’ve also learned that many of you need to be more critical. Even towards us. You can’t seriously cheer the “fact” that we moved our servers to bloody North Korea. Applauds to you who told us to fuck off. Always stay critical. Towards everyone!