I was a spectacularly bad secretary, and there's basically no chance that extracting useful newsletter copy out of me would have been easier or faster than RaDMaN simply writing it himself (an amazing failure in itself, as at this point I was basically writing non-stop, with notebooks filled at bus stops and in movie line-ups to testify to my ceaseless documentation of the life of the mind -- but due to the Mega Stature of this outlet, I approached the task before me Very Seriously, which resulted in its getting recategorized from Casual Fun to Drudgery And Toil, and taking on low priority commensurately), but from time to time I got interesting side assignments. (Thanks to its incorporation, my tenure in ACiD was ultimately responsible for my earning the work experience credit necessary for me to graduate from high school, but that is a story -- now 90% told -- for another time.)
RaDMaN recently posted this up on the private ACiD Facebook group. (What, you thought maybe we still held conference calls through hacked corporate voice mailboxes?) It was an article once published in a French magazine which had been brought to his attention (at some vague point in the past) as it was illustrated, suitably, by a couple of pieces of ACiD underground computer artwork. He, uh, doesn't speak French, so figured he'd look up his historical bilingual (well, Canadian) lackey to see if the article dealt with the subject of underground computer art. I am here to definitively settle the score once and for all: it does not. I gave it a whimsical loose coffee break translation (any genuine Francophones in the crowd please feel free to straighten me out where I have taken license -- I've used my own expertise on the subject to fill a few blanks, but I hope I haven't fundamentally altered the sense of what's being said in too many places) and... here we are. (Also, if anyone has any idea who the author of the piece is -- quotes credited only to the initials "F.M." (and, OK, the illustrator Pierre la Police) -- and in which magazine it ran, when, those are details of interest to us!) The interview is suspiciously free-form -- with no questions from an interviewer, F.M. appears to just be free-associating nuggets of trivia from his scene. It's BBSian, bibs and bobs as one might have found on a board's oneliner wall or in a Blue Wave tagline file. Here we go!
Chatting with a pirate: the struggle of the Rigoluses against the Tristuses [that's a reference toa French comic strip]**/\CTHuLu/\** translations: 0-20 YeaRS, because old news is good news!
"New ID", a virtuoso of forbidden software reproduction, describes piracy in conflict with "publishers who don't care about anything" and asserts the fundamentally anarchistic spirit of the Net.
He calls himself New ID. He's 25 years old and he's a programmer in a computing group. He spends most of his nights downloading everything he can find exploring pirate BBSes that distribute programs or sell CDs by post. His rationale for his activity is that this intangible property is like goods "fallen off the back of a truck", and this path allows him to be on the cutting edge at little personal expense. His 1 Gigabyte hard drive (the equivalent of 700 floppy diskettes) is copied in under 30 minutes by his friends.
"I know a dozen BBSes in France (personal computers connecting a small number of PCs over the telephone network), including 3 in Paris. They have wacky names like "Pierre Import", "Virtual Zone", or "Massive Posse" (recently back online under the name "Koc Band".) In France, BBS piracy is run by enthusiasts and tech professionals, certifiable loonies who spend all their leisure time doing it. One the sites is run by a journalist from a large computer magazine.
"In the USA, Assassin's Guild was controlled until recently* by two "cybergangs", Razor 1911 and Pirates With Attitude (PWA). (* Taken down by the FBI -- Liberation, May 5.)
"If you manage to get the access codes to these BBSes (sometimes up to four passwords for full access), which is easy enough for France's small scene, you find yourself logged on to a system offering 8 Gigs online and a 16 Gig external storage capacity from piles of CD-ROMs.
"You will see on pirate BBSes how the consonants are systematically capitalized ("LoGiCieLS" for example) in their writings. They offer the download of games, utilities, and office software. They contain Warez Lists, menus of downloadable programs with their "cracks" (disabling the programs' copy protection) provided, and lists of serial numbers ("patches") to register software that has already been pirated. You can procure heavy-duty software like 3D Studio4 or Visio3, everything by Microsoft or development tools such as Borland C or Lotus. With a 28,8000 bps modem, you can download 1.4 Megs in less than ten minutes. You can also order hardware at a steep discount.
"What people are looking for on these servers is the novelty of owning the latest versions of apps before they're even on sale in stores. The pre-release of Windows 95 is currently circulating, this hyped software which has been announced for a September release. The thing is to be always on top of the equipment, for compulsive accumulators who want to intercept all programs. Individual pirates who burn and sell CDs do so to fund expansion of their gear. Some culminate in printing their own boxes for the sale of their own unlicensed products in stores. But, departing the underground for the status quo, they then also start griping against piracy ...
"The spirit in which all of this is undertaken is anarchistic, much like on the Net. This is the battle of Tristus (publishers) against the Rigolus (pirates), the spirit of the small irreducibly Gallic village. [That is an Asterix joke, my friends.] It's a challenge to the established order, but also the taste of risk motivates pirates despite the meagre profits from their shady activity -- at least, meagre for individual underground BBSes. Fundamentally, pirating is an attitude: the challenge to distribute software applies the precept that "information wants to be free", a perspective on the rise.
"This medium seems very useful: it embodies a conflict of wills between [pirates and] lazy publishers who pawn off half-baked goods selling barely-filled CDs and overpriced software ... without mentioning shabby customer support to legitimate clients! We can stress-test products in ways that publishers don't bother to. That's one direction it can go, anyway.
"On the Taiwanese BBSes, traffic is crazy (Taiwan does not recognize the charter on copyrights). Software can be ordered for 1/10th the price of here with the box and the manual and all the goodies. They're imported as "trinkets" through Customs, for pennies on the dollar.
"Why interfere? With the prices of "legitimate" software falling after everyone's helped themselves, one has the feeling that it's a permanent scam: if you pay full price it's because you're stupid. So you pirate. We pirate more than in the USA, because in France it's more expensive than there. The Europeans are once again taken for walking chequebooks. The programmers, in front of their computers, allowed piracy to get the world addicted to their programs -- and now they get the backlash from feeding that beast. And when we learn that the major companies themselves pirate while pumping out their lines of code, the hacker forums are filled with laughter."
Collected by F.M.
I don't have much to further enhance this with (it would have been nice had I been able to provide a complete transcript of the original text -- I typed it out, but then erased the sections as they were translated. Premature optimization!), but I did some digging and came up with the high-resolution ACiD originals of the underground computer art (these were all pieces of RIPscrip vector art, curiously) lossily reproduced in the article (and then lossily scanned). We begin with Bedlam's piece for The Dungeon from ACDU0495:from ACDU1094 celebrating Channel 0 (one of my all-time favorite BBS names, very cyberpunkian) by Smooth and ... "PN". (SAUCE, guys, you invented it. Why didn't you use it?) (They did -- it reads: by Multiple Artists. Very useful!) from ACDU0994, by Smooth and Redman: