Hana Beshara, a founder of NinjaVideo, once a popular illegal video downloading site, was known as Queen Phara to its users. Now she’s putting her life back together after 16 months in prison.
One of the ten best kept secrets on the internet today is Ninja Video.
A few short years ago a ragtag group of internet fans built an enormously successful website. It gave people access to hundreds of TV shows and new movies with just a few clicks. It was totally free and totally illegal. I’m Jenna Wortham for the New York Times.
Ninja Video was one of the most popular sites of its kind, raking in millions of hits a day.
I think in this kind of world like the only way to make it change it’s kind of do it big and do it splashy.
And behind the scenes was an N.Y.U graduate Hana Beshara, known online as Queen Phara.
That’s what we did. I came out and I was like I’ma (gonna)build like the highest quality, fastest site in this game and it’s going to be made out of the bedrooms of a bunch of twenty-somethings.
Hana’s days as Queen of the Ninja empire are over. She now spends her weekends doing court-ordered community service in a coffee shop. Ninja’s popularity could have got under attention from Silicon Valley. Instead, it got the attention of the Federal Government. They decided that Ninja was the perfect vehicle to send a warning to the digital world about illegal streaming.
You know like when I was first building Ninja I was definitely in like a clinical depression. Coming to 23, 24 and realizing that I almost had like a false pride in myself. And I wasn’t as great as I thought that I was, you know, I came out of college and didn’t do what I should have done. It really was it was like, it was online streaming oddly enough that kind of pulled me out of it, Battlestar Galactica, best show in the world.
What set Ninja video apart and what some argue got Ninja in trouble was a complex system of social forms, reminiscent of the heyday of A.O.L chatrooms.
So we got to know each other through those posts, you know, lots, lots of times intimate posts, I mean, when I decided to have my daughter, it was in that forum that I shared my desires and stuff. No, I should thank my husband because I was, I was on, I was online all day doing things for the community and what not. And it was beneficial, though, because it was an amazing community, you know. There was lots of people doing that.
Today we announce a long-term effort to turn the table on these thieves.
In June of 2010 the Federal Government aided by the motion picture industry seized nine online popular piracy sites, including Ninja.
When everything went down it was a shocker, I mean, they came in like I was wanted for murder in a crack house.
The community that Hanna built came to an abrupt end. Armed federal agents raided the apartments of all of Ninja’s leaders and took everything connecting them to the internet world.
I came round the corner. I tried to put on a pair of pants like, you know, what the hell is going on and I had a shotgun pointed at my face, AR-15 out to one side.
They made it clear at the raid like, little girl, you pissed them off, this isn’t about some movies.
You know, this kind of push I think was somewhat unique. Hana and Ninja unfortunately got caught sort of in the cutting edge of, you know, making a big show in criminal court.
Hana reluctantly pleaded guilty and avoided a public trial. At her sentencing, the prosecution asked the judge for the toughest jail term allowed under the law, arguing that notoriety would be a general deterrent.
There’s so many cases. Every day we see this in court. General deterrent of cases that nobody ever hears about.
It’s quite possible though that even though the newspapers didn’t cover the story extensively that, that it got much more currency online.
I don’t know how to do these videos, guys.
Hana helped to publicise it by, you know, by talking online.
This is my best friend, you guys. Drove eight hours to go to my sentencing, just to hold my hand when they told me I was going to jail, you know.
Hanna served 16 months in prison and it’s now on parole till August 2015. The government won’t comment on the case against Ninja, but the Ninja community is still questioning why their world had to be destroyed in the war on piracy.
There hasn’t been any other websites that have come out while Ninja, I mean, there are other streaming websites but none of them have the community and social aspect that we had going.
The broader picture is really about control and centralization and they want hundreds of people to be watching movies. They want people to be making movies, they want people to be talking about movies, but they want people to be doing all of those things through their own sites.
Internet rights advocates like the Electronic Frontier Foundation are among the many questioning copyright laws and sentencing.
It’s pretty rare most copyright enforcement is civil cases which can still ruin a person’s life and be pretty awful, but more and more often there have been criminal prosecutions.
How are you?
I’m good, I’m doing well.
You look very nice.
Hanna is now starting her live over. She found a job despite her criminal record but she must pay the Motion Pictures Association back for the money she earned through Ninja, over $200,000. The glory days of her life on the internet are over, at least for now.
Ninja brought people together over like art and movies and conversation and debate and… There is nothing pure, you know what I mean.
Ninja video… you probably used it. It was…
So while I know there does have to be a balance between a million hours a day on the internet and real life, right, I’m okay if I always lean a little more towards that, you know what I mean. I’m totally okay with that… as long as it’s not like social media.