Friday, January 20, 2012

Cyber Police

Yesterday the feds shut down the popular file sharing site Megaupload as part of anti-piracy campaign. Also this week, the government was considering two laws known as SOPA and PIPA that were also aimed at stopping online piracy. (They have since backed off after massive online protests on nearly every major site and retaliatory attacks by Anonymous). Not that I'm defending piracy, but both of these actions are extremely misguided and dangerous for a number of reasons.

Megaupload, for those not aware of it or it's like sites, is a place for people to upload their files for offsite storage and for easy sharing. Given the extremely slow transfer rate and file size limits when sharing large files via email, these sites have become very popular. Megaupload actually accounted for 4% of internet usage. Naturally these sites have also become very popular for sharing music, movies and video games illegally. However, these sites in my experience have always taken down any file that violates copyright law once they are informed of it. Some people say that's not enough. I disagree.

Essentially, the carrier is being held responsible for the content of its users. Now most of these files are uploaded as compressed files, meaning the carrier would have to invade the privacy of its customers by expanding the file and peering though its contents. The post office doesn't open your boxes to see what it's shipping, how is this really that different? And if they shut down a site like this for conduct of some users, then why couldn't they conceivably shut down Yahoo if someone sends a album via email to people? Same thing.

The SOPA and PIPA bills being considered are even more misguided. They will give broad powers to shut down sites that have very little illegal piracy going on. Essentially every forum type site is at risk. The laws would also give the U.S. police state more powers to go after sites overseas. I'm sorry, when did our nation's jurisdiction cross our borders?

Because it's too difficult to track down the individual uploaders, this has been the response. But what's really at stake here is file sharing of any kind. All services that allow open sharing of information will be a target. The internet is the world's greatest forum for information sharing. It's what the internet is all about. We can't allow them to shut that down for the sake of wealthy corporations. I fully agree that piracy is a major problem. But impeding free speech and communication is not the answer. Figure out a better way. That's your job.

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