Firstly, good news: Huge congratulations to the tens of millions of netizens who participated all around the world in the blackout to inform people about SOPA and PIPA. Everyone who cares about technology even slightly now knows about those outrageous bills and the guilt-by-accusation approach to piracy they espouse, and as this tactic is still relatively new, it had an amazing effect on both houses of the US congress, flipping many sponsors of both SOPA and PIPA firmly into the “opposition” category of the bill, with the usual gormless comments about needing to “read it more carefully” or “more thorougly research the implications”- which means they thought they could coast through and not bother to actually analyse the bill because it had so much support from rights-holders.
This is a victory, but it’s also just a reprieve- SOPA and PIPA were just new versions of COICA, which was similarly disgusting, and New Zealand has had its own brush with guilt-by-association copyright laws before, too, which it also took local blackouts to defeat.
Finally, there’s been excellent stories about SOPA and PIPA all over the mainstream journalist sources recently, to highlight only a couple, there is a great piece written by Dan Gillmor up at The Guardian, a great summary of SOPA and PIPA by Rachel Maddow, and Chris Hayes’ Up With Chris has a video panel discussing SOPA, and a blog that rebuts the fact-light defense of SOPA on the video panel courtesy of Joe Sestak.
Now, onto the mixed news: Megaupload is down, in a joint operation between New Zealand police and the FBI that saw four arrests and a $10 million asset seizure, and the seizure of Megaupload’s domain name. The accusations against Megaupload and its sister company are very unclear, and it’s murky precisely what actions are being claimed to have broken the law on the charges being laid- including conspiracies to commit racketeering, money laundering, and copyright infringement, and some of it seems to centre on what I like to call the “blind eye” fallacy, which is that because individuals in the company may have been able to cite examples of infringing content that were not taken down, the people running the company were responsible. I hope that the police plan to actually show that at the least, the people they arrested were criminally liable or criminally negligent in their actions. It’s very disturbing to me that middlemen are being held liable for enforcing copyright- I’m not sure the onus should be on megaupload to prevent infringement when they aren’t actively notified by rights-holders, as the precedent of intellectual property rights cases has been that rights-holders are responsible for objecting to misuse of their ideas in order to maintain their rights. Time (eww, I know, but they’re doing good journalism this time) has more on the “Mega Conspiracy”, as authorities are calling it.
If having to establish evidence that copyright infringement is happening is too hard for the incredibly wealthy rights-holders in Hollywood that are largely responsible for DMCA notices, then I don’t think they ought to be allowed to ask for arrests, or for content to be taken down. The presumption should be that content is licenced until someone complains, and even then, legally, the assumption should be that content doesn’t infringe copyright until it is proven to be (a) work that has been copyrighted by someone else, (b) no valid licence is produced, and (c) proven that the use did not fall within fair usage provisions of legal copying, derivative work, or sharing. That’s a high standard, but legal action should have to meet a high standard. More on other options rights-holders have in a subsequent post, because this one is huge already.
Anonymous, a activist/hacking (or “hacktivist”) collective that operates entirely under pseudonyms, (there’s also more to say about Anonymous, which I will get to, I promise, but I’d sum them up provisionally as “very zealous ‘good guys’ on issues of freedom of speech, who break the law in order to defend its principles”) has launched counterattacks on several rights-holders’ sites, and also on the department of justice, taking down those sites. While I absolutely oppose holding service providers responsible for piracy they aren’t notified of, these counterattacks may be premature, and may generate some degree of sympathy for rights-holders among more conservative citizens. Assuming the trial of those arrested is timely, we should wait to see what kind of evidence is presented before condemning authorities- but of course, that’s not Anonymous’ style.
You’ll also be amused to know that currently The Pirate Bay has rebranded itself as “The Promo Bay”, a function which to some degree it no doubt serves, and has lambasted Hollywood rights-holders with a press release on SOPA, making very good points about how Hollywood was built on (legal) copyright violation. I’ll have some opinion posts on the details of piracy soon, seeing that’s the big issue at the moment.