Posts Tagged ‘piracy’

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.

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For those of you that don’t follow tech news or American Politics, let alone the intersection of them, we’ve had some great news recently: the President of the USA, who has been barely sufficient on so many issues, has finally come out swinging on the side of free speech and innovation against the two twins of censorship, the Protect IP Act of the US Senate, and the House of Representatives’ “Stop Online Piracy Act.” He hasn’t outright threatened that the laws will get vetoed no matter what, but he’s implied that they’re heavily flawed and he can’t support them as-is. Hopefully he will expand on that and avoid the devils on his shoulder that so often prompt President Obama to compromise for the detriment of his country and the world.

While I oppose piracy in general, (as an amateur programmer I have a cat in this YouTube video, to switch up a popular metaphor) I think that to some degree it’s a necessary evil to allow us to have national sovereignty, freedom of speech, and innovation on the internet, and laws like SOPA and PIPA reinforce that impression. I also like to combat it or support people who fight it by investing their customers in the continued development and success of a product in the case of software. I can understand the film industry at least is unable to take a more creative approach here, simply due to the nature of their product. And so of course both of these bills have massive support from entertainment industries, with most of the push coming from large film makers, but there are also some technology traitors, including the ESA and several domain registry companies. (I recall GoDaddy was on this list for a while, who you should already be switching away from if you use, because they are a terrible company for other reasons)

What SOPA and PIPA propose, essentially, is that the government be allowed to censor any site containing pirated material with extreme prejudice, stripping away their DNS, (the ability of you to reach their site with a .com address the way everyone normally uses the internet, as opposed to entering an IP number you had bookmarked) and then heaping on an extra helping of economic sanctions, barring advertisers in the USA from using those sites, and cutting off payments through online services like Paypal, much like was done to Wikileaks through right-wing pressure. It gets worse from here, but I’ve already told you enough that you should see the core of the problem.

The US government having an infrastructure to censor the internet is an incredibly scary proposition. It’s this whole notion of building walls and fences again, but in the name of profits for movie tycoons, the USA would be doing it with information, effectively putting them in a position where they could become the thought police, or at least shut down independent media, after it only just started up again with podcasts, YouTube videos, and blogs.

Let’s get into the truly Orwellian stuff: To be considered a pirate under these laws, you don’t have to host a significant amount of pirated material. (There’s an amendment to PIPA that redefines the law down to that, which would make it merely objectionable as opposed to horrendous) You don’t even need to have someone uploading pirated data to a video or file sharing site that you’ve missed. You don’t even need to, personally, write a link to a site with pirated material. No, it’s much easier than that. You can simply fail to take down a link in a comment to a site that may contain a single, obscure pirated file somewhere.

SOPA and PIPA consider site owners responsible for what their users post. All a big business needs to do is continuously post links to pirated content until they flood the ability of the site to moderate their comments, and tip off the rights holders to get their competitors embargoed and censored. This is taking that childhood game of “stop punching yourself!” to a whole new level. It is not exaggerating to say that this could kill the internet as we know it- under these laws, tech giants like Facebook and Google wouldn’t be able to get started.

Some major sites are still planning on going dark this Wednesday (US time, naturally) to raise awareness that these bills are still under consideration by the US congress. (congress temporarily backed off both of them previously due to public opposition) I thought it might make more sense to just talk about it in advance, as I’m running a blog and all. 🙂

edit: Wikipedia, one of the most searched sites on the internet, has agreed to join the blackout tommorow.