Saturday, April 22, 2006

Internet Hash

Have you ever read an Internet copyright infringement raid press release, and noticed how often they try and link into other, actual, crimes? (as opposed to the civil law infringements they purport to be crimes). The usual three are drugs, terrorism, and paedophilia. They're not chosen by accident – two tend to target young people, and all target the innocent. Well, I read this morning about two press releases from the RIAA, and a third from the MPAA. All crowed about actions against people. In the background, my kids were watching Clear and Present Danger on the DVD player (a good film, since they took out Clancy's rampant xenophobia, excessive stereotyping, and bovine fetishes) and it struck some resonance in my mind between the two, helped, I'm sure, by an episodes of cops I saw recently, featuring a customs/narc unit drugs bust at some docks.

The resonance is that of the Hydra. Its references to the drugs industry are many and varied*. In Greek folklaw, the hydra was a creature that had three heads. Whenever Heraclies chopped off one of its heads, two more grew in its place. Such is the drugs industry (regardless of the number of drug busts that goes on, product still comes through, still widely available) and such is the copyright infringement field. There are thousands of dedicated personnel, millions of dollars, and huge public support for anti-drug operations, and it hasn't stopped the industry. It is, as its basis, criminal, and is a one-time-only product (in that for each one unit that reaches the end user, one unit has to come down the chain) and still its unabated. End users are prosecuted, incarcerated, fined, confiscated from, and otherwise punished, and it carries on still. Why does the copyright lobbies think that the same tactics will be effective against copyright infringement. There are so many more drawbacks – for a start, distribution is not one-to-one, its one-to-many (a single upload can spawn an infinite number of copies), its not at its basis, entirely criminal (copyright infringement is a civil matter for many end users, and many places have significant fair-use protections, similar to certain 'personal use' laws for narcotics), and international distribution of data is not subject to any border inspection, nor does it have a distinctive detectable signature for the electronic equivalent of sniffer dogs.

I will also point out something else. These lawsuits that target people tend to be settled for somewhere between $5,000 and $15,000. That's end users. How many end users of crack, or heroin do you see getting punished to that financial amount? Places which deal with end users , the equivalent of a dealer, get hit with lawsuits for $150million in many cases. If it were drugs, you'd have to be at, or very near the initial bulk production to be looking at monetary penalties of anywhere near that amount.

In short, if we can't win the war on drugs with these methods, what hope has anyone for stopping copyright infringement with those same methods? Why also are copyright infringers, and their dealers treated to heavier penalties than their illegal narcotic equivalents? Unlike drugs, where the users and the general populace is hurt by the 'product', the main casualties are the large record media companies. Of course, which has the ear of the politicians who make the laws giving these punishments. Looks clear to me that what's in the interests of the general populace is less important that the interests of the cartels.

Why these methods? Its misdirection. These associations would be otherwise unable to put out press releases, saying how much money they feel they're not getting, and stick to only saying how much they are. They won't be able to say how much people are stealing from 'the artists' and instead admit its them keeping the money. As usual, its down to greed, and publicity.

Ben Jones.

* For a great example of the hydra phenomenon when it comes to drugs, I would suggest

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