Monday, January 23, 2012

On controlling the internet.

For those who haven't been paying attention, the US Department of Justice inadvertently provided the best argument imaginable against passing such insane legislation as PIPA or SOPA. They took down Megaupload.com, seized millions in assets and have begun extradition proceedings against the company's principals.

I've seen some commentary to the effect that there are no serious due process issues as Kim Dotcom et al will get their "day in court" to argue their side of the case. Of course, this is nonsense. This same sort of "due process" is responsible for the destruction of [Veoh]. Despite an eventual court victory, the company no longer exists, its assets drained and its marketshare eviscerated by the expense and time of the court proceedings.

Megaupload appears to the next victim. The grand jury indictment makes for lurid reading, certainly, with references to conspiracies, money laundering, child pornography and terrorism. To be fair, this seems to be a reasonable basis for seizing millions in assets. After all, if the authorities have reason to believe that there have been illegal transfers of funds, seizing assets equivalent to the alleged amounts seems to make sense -- as is done, for example, in the case of drug cartels and weapons smugglers.

What's unreasonable, and makes all claims that due process is being followed ludicrous, is the arbitrary seizure of all Mega-related domains and taking all sites offline. There is no serious argument, even in the indictment, to the effect that all content on Mega's servers is illegal. Furthermore, there is clearly at least a legitimate angle to Mega's business, as with any cyberlocker. So, the federal government of the United States has seized millions of files, legitimately owned and uploaded, and closed a legitimate business venture. None of which was necessary; it would be a relatively simple matter to keep the servers running and allow users to access their files upon submitting proof -- such as a sworn affadavit -- that they were the copyright holders.

And all this is besides the jurisdictional issues involved. Mega is owned by Hong Kong-registered businesses. Kim Dotcom is German-born, holds citizenship in Finland and Germany, and, apparently, splits his time between Hong Kong and New Zealand. Much as with Richard O'Dwyer, and for that matter Julian Assange, the US government is attempting to impose its will on the rest of the world, regardless of whether their targets have any business or personal connection to the US. Here's another free idea for US law enforcement: if you're targetting a New Zealand resident, why not prosecute him in New Zealand under New Zealand law? (The official justification for prosecuting Dotcom in the US is that Mega leased some servers in Virginia. Seriously. That's all it takes to get, potentially, dragged into an American court to face charges under American laws.)

And the worst part is the rest of the world is going along with it. As the Australian government cheerfully abandoned Assange, despite his appeals for consular assistance (including a direct televised appeal to PM Gillard, if memory serves); as the UK courts abandoned Richard O'Dwyer, despite his total lack of any connection to the United States, for the grievious crime of linking; so, too, the New Zealand government has given up seven people to the tender mercies of the American justice system.

This is, you'll recall, the same justice system that has been censured and criticized multiple times for its practice of keeping prisoners in solitary confinement for extended periods of time. The same justice system that remains the only one in the Western world to still apply the death penalty to civilians. It is appalling that other governments will trust their citizens to its consequences.

I'm starting to think that the only way to convince our elites that they are failing in their basic responsibilities towards us is to outright rebel.

(The ripple effect is also worth noting. This past weekend, Uploaded.to blocked all US-based visitors entirely, while Filesonic.com no longer allows files to be shared by uploaders. One wonders exactly what sort of cloud storage could pass muster under even current US law. Mediafire.com is particularly worth watching, as they are a Texas-based company. The DOJ is probably smart enough to leave Google and Amazon alone. Other major cyberlockers are based outside the US -- Rapidshare in Germany, iFolder and Turbobit in Russia, and so on. I would expect that non-US lockers will either follow Uploaded's lead, or divest entirely from US servers and adopt a "user beware" policy for US-based downloaders. US-based lockers will have to drastically limit what they let their users do, which means Mediafire is probably going to shrink rapidly.)

2 comments:

Catelli said...

New Zealand is one of the signatories under ACTA (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Counterfeiting_Trade_Agreement) so I'm guessing this treaty is the legal cover for the extra-territorial action undertaken against Meg-Upload.

Western governments are in an awful rush to destroy the internet, the repercussions of which may be more financially devastating then the "piracy" they claim to be fighting.

ADHR said...

Actually, it's not ACTA. ACTA isn't ratified by, I believe, anyone, so the signatures aren't anything more than an expression of intent. (Canada has signed it too, BTW.)

No, the justification is that Mega had servers in Virginia -- that gives the FBI jurisdiction, according to the American courts -- and because the domains were .com's, they're also governed by American laws, including warrantless seizure and redirect.

The attempt to get Dotcom et al into an American courtroom is actually covered by standard extradition treaties. Which were signed to prevent real criminals (murderers and the like) from fleeing across international borders, not to protect the profits of media companies.

My best sense of what the criminal copyright infringement statutes were supposed to address is counterfeiting -- so, fraudulently passing off something as a legitimate product. The idea that they can be manipulated into going after someone who might have affected industry profits is the best argument against SOPA, PIPA and ACTA that I can find.