RIAA’s Hostile Takeover of the Internet

Until recently, the recording industry were committing publicity suicide by routinely issuing legal threats to file sharers. Now, they seem to have changed the routine, going for fewer, but bigger targets. The goal is clear: if you own the Internet, you don't have to worry about pirates -- or anyone else.

Earlier this month, four Pirate Bay visionaries were given harsh fines and jail sentences. Their only crime: creating the largest, free, uncensored, versatile file sharing platform on the Internet. Soon after, Taiwan passed 3-strikes legislation for copyright violations. The recording industry is no longer targeting pirates – they are actually trying to hijack the very fabric of the Internet.

The apparent strategy:

1. Outlaw file sharing
2. Outlaw personal encryption and anonymization services
3. Set up a global, privately-run Internet surveillance program to spy on everybody all the time without a warrant — run by ISPs and paid for by the taxpayers
4. And finally, get the authority to block anyone from the Internet entirely, without the involvement of police, courts or any verifiable trail of evidence

We can not let this happen.

“It is poor civic hygiene to install technologies that could someday facilitate a police state.”Bruce Schneier

One of the main reasons why the recording industry are currently succeeding in this hostile takeover of the Internet, is that most people simply don’t understand what file sharing is, or why it matters to them in the first place. Whenever civil liberties are sacrificed, it is always on the bonfire of ignorance. We need to educate the world – neighbors, parents, judges and lawmakers – as to why the Internet must remain free, neutral, and uncensored.

It sometimes helps to explain that a file sharing technology like Bittorrent is the digital society’s equivalent of the wheel. It allows fast and easy transportation of data between users and businesses alike. But like the wheel, file sharing needs a stable, flat surface to perform at its best. In this analogy, The Pirate Bay is nothing short of the largest, best maintained, and most stable network of such ‘digital roads’ in the world. And it’s free to use for anyone, at any time, for any purpose.

Naturally, as is always the case where people congregate in a free society, some of the people who drive their wheeled carts on this network of roads will be carrying things in their carts of questionable quality, purpose or origin. In any system or society that is based on freedom rather than censorship or distrust, there is no question that individual transgressions can take place. This is the most basic cost of liberty.

As a digital society in its teens, we have yet to realize the enormous potential of file sharing in culture, education, knowledge sharing, and business. But already, we are seeing massive opposition against it from the likes of IFPI, the RIAA and the MPAA. This opposition, of course, stems from some of the aforementioned wheeled carts transporting ‘questionable goods’, in the form of copyrighted material.

The ensuing battle has been disguised as a legal matter concerning rights holders and ‘pirates’, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. It is true that the recording industry wants to stop criminals, but they are attempting to prohibit the wheel and all building of roads to pull it off. These lawyers are prepared to sacrifice our liberties, our privacy and our digital freedom in order to reach their goal. It is a grossly disproportionate and misdirected attack, and it has already begun: Once the verdict of the Spectrial was in, the Swedish anti-piracy office immediately began issuing legal threats against other file sharing networks. They are bulldozing every street and burning every car to prevent any possible (mis)use of the wheel. And worse yet – we are letting it happen.

The case of The Pirate Bay was not a case of artists vs. freeloaders, or even the recording industry vs. pirates. There were no artists on the accusing side, nor were there any pirates on the defending side. It was, and is, a case of misguided frustration by industry executives and lawyers, directed not against the actual violators of copyright law, but against the most outspoken proponents and enablers of a fundmental digital technology. A technology that allows fast and easy transportation af data – all data – between users and businesses alike.

We must never blame the network for the actions of individuals. Both rights holders and lawmakers must respect the fundamental principle of personal, individual responsibility. Let each peer be responsible for his own actions, just as every driver is liable for his own car.

The Pirate Bay is not illegal. File sharing is not illegal. Using file sharing for illegal purposes is illegal. The difference may be subtle to a layman, but in legal terms, the distinction is clear as day. The fact that the judges in the Pirate Bay case failed to recognize this, is a judicial travesty bordering on flat out corruption.

It cannot be stressed enough: this is not a question of copyright, of music, or of piracy. This is a question of a private organization now aiming to subvert several of the most important digital inventions since the World Wide Web, and our judges and politicians turning a blind eye in a staggering display of ignorance and corruption. This fight is about much more than The Pirate Bay. When our liberties are taken from us, we must rise, united in one voice, and fight for them.

It is a fight for basic digital liberties. It is a fight for our right to privacy. It is a fight for net neutrality. There is no getting around it. This is the fight of our generation, and it is too important to lose.

This is a guest post by Jens Roland. Jens is a computer scientist by training, but a technology forecaster by trade. He has worked at international think tanks as a consultant and researcher in emerging technologies and has written more than 300 articles and a book on the subject.

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