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Identity: Davy Jones Locker BBS

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Davy Jones Locker BBS

by Krystal Yearis

Sorry, I accidentally got sucked into endlessly scrolling on Instagram again. For as long as my generation could remember, social media has become a permanent staple in everybody’s daily lives. Nowadays, if you are not on social media, you are given weird, confused looks. How are you going to keep in touch with everybody you know? How are you going to keep up to date with different events happening? Why are you not on it anyways? Everybody is on it after all. We’ve become a society that must stay socially connected by means of the internet at all times. However, this craze for online social communication did not start with modern social media platforms like Instagram. It started with a much more crude yet equally fascinating application: bulletin board systems. In Driscoll’s book The Modem World, he describes the “bulletin board system” or BBS to be comparable to a precursor of social media. One example of a BBS Driscoll mentions is Dragon Keep International, run by Richard Mark and a couple of friends. Their BBS fostered a interactive community in which people could “chat, trade files, play games, read the forums, and post messages of their own.” (Driscoll 2022, 1) During this time, the concept of the internet was still very novel, so there was a lot less regulation toward the transfer of information through the BBS’s (Phrack 1992). Therefore, given the rise of this social networking and lack of regulation, internet piracy found a place to thrive, which is exactly what happened to the Davy Jones Locker BBS, operated under Richard D. Kenadek in the early 1990s.

According to a news article published by the Worcester Telegram and Gazette (MA) in June 11th, 1992 (no issue number or author name available), Kenadek had ran a BBS system that illegally distributed copyrighted software programs for “paying subscribers in 36 states and 11 foreign countries.” Another news article says that users could pay $49 for three months or $99 for one year to access the copyrighted material section of the BBS (Phrack 1992). Even the subscribers were encouraged to upload their own illegally downloaded copyrighted material to the board; they would receive credits they could redeem for more time allowed on the board or more downloads (O’Connor 1992). The Software Publishers Association, a trade association for the software industry, launched a heavy investigation for this online piracy crime, and the FBI seized the BBS in a raid. In the investigation, the SPA found that the Davy Jones Locker BBS was highly complex and involved, and it was even somehow able to get its hands on software before it was even released or on the market (O’Connor 1992). These types of internet crimes were still novel to the world, and this type of FBI raid on a BBS was one of the first of its kinds. Therefore, Kenadek was not even arrested during the initial raid and there was still debate on how the court would handle the situation. However, two years after the raid, Kenadek was formally arrested and a civil lawsuit was implemented (O’Connor 1992). Because of cases like this, the government started to recognize the gravity of software piracy and copyright violations. Ilene Rosenthal, the director of this case, mentioned that the Senate has also passed a bill to criminalize distribution of copyright violations because of cases like this (Phrack 1992). However, as revolutionary as this case was in the area of software piracy, what does it say about the actual people who used this illegal program?

In the circuit of culture, identity can be found through the consumer associating certain meaning with the product and how there is now a connection between buyer and the product (Gay 2013, 1-5). It is not about the way the product represents a broader population, or the way the consumer population incorporates it into their everyday lives but the personal connections the consumer ties with the product. The ways this product can be encoded with such special meaning can be through cultural or generational identity (Gay 2013, 1-5), which can be perfectly described with the associations the subscribers made with the Davy Jones Locker BBS. According to “Cracking Down on Computer Counterfeiters,” trading information, and computer software more specifically, has always been common as a social bonding practice (Nilsson 1992). Given the time of the Davy Jones Locker BBS incident, there wasn’t as much information as there is today about these types of software (Nilsson 1992). Therefore, the individual users of the Davy Jones Locker BBS implicitly developed this type of identity in closer social connections through friends helping each other explore new “adventures” on the internet, and sharing a piece of software during that time was a physical, intimate event. The copyright violation lies in the action of that sharing however, as B.A. Nilsson puts it, “Copying a set of disks is so simple and such a private action that you’d hardly think it’s also illegal” (Nilsson 1992).  Driscoll even mentions that this history of software piracy was a culture itself with “its own customs, values, arts, language and lore” (Driscoll 2022, 93). In a way, illegal software sharing “gave rise to novel aesthetic forms” (Driscoll 2022, 93), or the new “technological adventures” the users could go on together. Therefore, the Davy Jones Locker must’ve represented the identity of a social community in which these personal and “intimate” sharing events created meaningful connections.

Driscoll in The Modem World also acknowledges the social impact of BBSs and trading information through them when he says “computer enthusiasts started to use their machines for popular communication and community building. Their experiences and experiments with anonymity, identity, privacy, sexuality, and trust generated many of the technologies… sold as commercial social media” (Driscoll 2022, 3). The fact that the Davy Jones Locker BBS encouraged other users to engage in contributing their own copyrighted material also reveals a lot about the parts of their identity they were willing to share. After all, the software they are willing to share with others represents some part of their passions, or their interests. The types of copyrighted material the subscriber selected also shows the part of their identity they decided to engage with through the Davy Jones Locker BBS. This BBS, albeit illegal, still connected the identities of people all around the globe into one social and computerized network.

The ancient landscape of the rise of the internet led to initially barren lands of software usage that did not have the same strict laws surrounding online piracy as we see today. Copyrighted material was so easy to download and share during that time, as we have seen through the Davy Jones Locker BBS. Even though this BBS was later shut down completely with one of the highest levels of law enforcement involvement, the time it existed undoubtedly created international social connections; the subscribers could engage with this social identity in which they were able to connect with others through varieties and varieties of different computer software. Though nefarious, the Davy Jones Locker BBS indirectly encapsulates the social interactions and sharing that Driscoll describes as one of the original purposes of all BBS’s.

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  1. Driscoll, Kevin. “Recalling the Modem World.” Essay. In The Modem World: A Prehistory of Social Media, 1–28, 93. New Haven ; London: Yale University Press, 2022.
  2. Gay, Paul Du. “Introduction.” Introduction. In Doing Cultural Studies: The Story of the Sony Walkman, 1–5. Los Angeles Calif., etc.: Sage, 2013.
  3. O’Connor, John J. “FBI RAIDS MILLBURY HOME \ COPYRIGHT SOFTWARE ALLEGEDLY SOLD .” Worcester Telegram & Gazette (MA). June 11, 1992.
  4. Nilsson, B A. “Cracking Down On Computer Counterfeiters.” PC-Computing Magazine, 1992.
  5. “FBI Raids Computer Pirate; SPA Follows With Civil Lawsuit.” Phrack. June 11, 1992.

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