Monday, 23 January 2012

War (What Is It Good For?)

 You can't even call this shit a war.  Wars end.
-- Det. Ellis Carver, The Wire
The Internet is at war.

SOPA and PIPA were quietly pushed through Congress with, shockingly, nary a peep from the media conglomerates who stood to benefit from the unreasonable power it would have granted them and the US government to cripple the international network of linked computers and creative people.  The fact these media empires also own the news networks is, of course, pure coincidence.  Eventually the Internet pushed back with a day of blacked out websites and calls for protest and pressure aimed at the US House and Senate, and under the enormous pressure of millions of voices, support for the bills crumbled and they were eventually shelved.

For the time being.  However, no one was given the time to taste victory; immediately the US government shut down the giant file-sharing site MegaUpload and began arresting its operators in Europe and New Zealand.  Most of them were not US Citizens, but they were arrested for violation of US law on the orders of US authorities acting in the interest of US copyright holders.

And they probably weren't doing anything wrong.  MegaUpload was used to share copyrighted material, naturally.  So is the US Postal Service.  So are public libraries.  And I don't just mean people can read books there - there's a common practice among library patrons to check out a dozen CDs and return them the next day.  You think they're just really good at memorising songs?  MegaUpload was a service for sharing and storing large files that, presumably, the uploader had created or had permission to reproduce.  It was used for this purpose, and it was used for other purposes, though MegaUpload were generally quick to respond to DMCA notices and continually played whack-a-mole with copyrighted content.  They followed the law.  It wasn't enough.  And that they were shut down the very day after the Internet blackout is an unlikely coincidence - this is the response from the powers that be, and it's a middle finger to freedom and due process.  They simply did what SOPA was supposed to allow them to do, and they didn't need the legislation in place to do so.

In the fallout from this, multiple websites set up for similar purposes to MegaUpload are now shutting down or getting rid of their file sharing features.  It doesn't matter if you were using it for legitimate purposes, it doesn't matter if you were relying on it or paying the company for a certain level of service.  You, the customer, are now screwed, because your rights are less important than the rights bought by large content owners.  Now a lot of people are in the same boat, and will obviously not be spending money on these companies in the future - which will lead to them shedding jobs and eventually going under.  Hollywood won't make any more money than they are making already, and even if they did they would just absorb that into their shareholders.  These anti-piracy measures are doing nothing positive.  They won't preserve jobs, they will destroy them.  They won't spread money more fairly to the creators of content, they will just widen the disparity.  They won't stop hardcore pirates who know what they are doing, and will probably just foster more retaliatory attacks.  It is a purely destructive war that is only causing collateral damage.

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