Point of View: Are you guilty of piracy by association?

Note: I particular liked this PoV because it explains the other repercussions of the SOPA and MegaUpload take down. After all it is about precedence sometimes. And how sometimes good intentions can lead to bad repercussions.

 

They say birds of a feather flock together. Does that mean that if you happen to use the same cloud storage and file sharing service that’s also used by people who violate the law, you should be punished, too?  Some of the folks who had perfectly legal files stored on Megaupload.com must have felt as if they were being found guilty by association when their data was seized last week along with that of copyright violators.
The site was shut down by the U.S. government and its founder was arrested in New Zealand, with the FBI calling this one of the largest criminal copyright cases ever brought by the United States." I still remember back when copyright violation was a civil matter, not a criminal offense. If I copyrighted my work and you used it without my permission, I had to take you to civil court and sue you. Then if you were found liable, the court ordered you to pay me monetary damages and/or to stop using my work. Today, though, government has gone wild, criminalizing almost every "bad act." Remember the old saying, "it’s not a federal crime." Well, now it probably is.
This is a scary precedent, in more ways than one. If someone stores illegal material (child porn, for instance) on his or her SkyDrive account, are my documents and the photos of my dogs that I have stored with that service subject to government seizure?  Even worse, are Bill Gates (founder) and Steve Ballmer (CEO) of Microsoft going to be arrested for letting it happen? That may sound extreme, but the way things are going, it’s not unthinkable. There are already extant laws that hold a bartender criminally responsible if someone has too much to drink in his/her establishment and then gets behind the wheel of a car and kills someone. And I can guarantee I’ll get feedback from readers who think that is fair and right.
It all seems to be part of a broader legal trend that seeks to be "proactive" and outlaw not just the commission of wrongful acts, but also the use of anything that might possibly ever be used to commit wrongful acts. It’s like making it illegal to own a telephone because it could be used to place harassing or obscene phone calls, or making it illegal to own a gun because it might be used to commit a robbery – oh, wait; some jurisdictions do that, don’t they?
ComputerWorld says the moral of the Megaupload story is that we should be careful about what cloud services we use to store our stuff, and while that’s true, I think it misses the bigger picture. Something’s happening here and there are too many "Mr. Joneses" who don’t know what it is (let’s see how many of you are old enough to recognize that reference).
It’s easy to be cynical and say there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s the federal government, after all – they can do whatever they want. They have the superior firepower. But not everyone was quite so accepting of that idea. The "hackavist" group Anonymous responded to the shutdown of Megaupload with a series of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks against the web sites of the Department of Justice, the FBI, the U.S. Copyright Office, the RIAA and the MPAA.
Shortly before all this, an Internet-wide protest against two anti-piracy bills in Congress, SOPA and PIPA (reported in last week’s newsletter) resulted in the withdrawal of legislation by its sponsor.  Obviously it’s possible for online activists to exert influence in top political circles, even if the music and movie industry lobbies do have more money.
We may be witnessing the declaration of a new kind of war here. It’s going to be interesting to watch how it unfolds. Share your thoughts and opinions on this our forum  or email me.

From WinNews newsletter (Sorry, no direct link this time).

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