A story of innovation lost.

The late ’90s and early 2000s were an interesting time for the Internet. P2P file sharing was in vogue and in many ways was the precursor to some of the Internet’s biggest successes today, such as YouTube, blockchains, and social media. 

However, the powers that be at the time failed to see the potential and constantly worked to shut down services such as Napster, LimeWire, and BitTorrent to name a few. In Japan, a file sharing system called Winny was the most popular, but would also become the most tragic case of wasted talent and technology.

The creator of Winny, Isamu Kaneko, shared it on the message board site 2-channel where it took off almost overnight. However, because of the anonymity Winny offered, it was widely used to share copyrighted music and movies.

▼ Here’s a fresh-faced, up-and-coming politician Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe telling us not to use Winny after several data leaks occurred caused by viruses spread over the file-sharing service.

Although this was a problem that affected P2P network creators all over the world at the time, Japan proved to be an especially punishing country and Kaneko was arrested in 2004 for assisting in copyright infringement. This began a legal battle that lasted until 2011 and went all the way to the Supreme Court. The University of Tokyo professor was ultimately found not guilty, but his victory was short-lived as he passed away from a heart attack in 2013 at the age of 42.

These facts are widely known, but to give a better idea of who exactly Kaneko was, Winny the movie was made to more intimately chronicle the rise and fall of the platform and its creator. It stars Masahiro Higashide (Death Note: Light Up the New World) as Kaneko and Takahiro Miura (Attack on Titan) as Kaneko’s lawyer, Toshimitsu Dan, who tenaciously fought on his behalf for all those years.

The movie is slated for a release in March of 2023, and even though this all happened over a decade ago, many online comments still remembered Winny and Kaneko well. 

“And after he went down, torrents just rose up to take his place. They just crushed a genius for no reason.”
“They should have got a better actor for Kaneko.”
“Japan is unfortunately a country where really talented people are punished.”
“Whether its Winny or TRON, Japan just likes to throw away opportunities to be the best in the world.”
“He’s the guy who made Bitcoin too, right?”
“I think people going after AI art is kind of the same thing happening now.”
“If you don’t adapt to new technology, there will be no progress.”
“If he spread Winny using 2-channel, why wasn’t the owner of 2-channel arrested too?”
“Arresting this guy set Japan back a good 10 years.”
“I want to see this in the theater just for the irony of the anti-copyright-infringement ads that come on before.”

It’s actually surprising this movie was made at all considering the main antagonist in it is presumably the entire movie industry. In the early stages, production was given a big boost by a very successful crowdfunding campaign which in itself is probably a fitting tribute to the legacy of Kaneko.

Source: Winny (Movie), Hachima Kiko
Images: Winny (Movie)
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