< A Wild Week for Online Piracy

Transcript

Friday, January 20, 2012

BOB GARFIELD:

It has been a wild week in the world of online piracy. On Thursday the U.S. government carried out a multi-nation operation against the mega popular filesharing website Megaupload, arresting four people, including its founder Kim Dotcom. Yeah, Kim Dotcom, formerly Schmitz.

In the, as it turns out, not so safe "safe room" of his New Zealand mansion, Dotcom stood helpless as authorities shuttered his site and seized a reported 50 million dollars' worth of assets, including 18 Internet domain names, guns, artwork, one pink Cadillac and piles of cash.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Megaupload is — was — what's called a locker service. It allows users to upload files and give a link to others to then download them. The U.S. government claims that the website frequently and willfully facilitated piracy on an epic scale.

That, however, did not stop a host of entertainers, including Alicia Keys, Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, Chris Brown and P. Diddy from recording a song, commissioned by Dotcom, about their love for Megaupload.

[SONG]:

When I got to send files across the globe,

I use Megaupload

Mega, Megaupload

[SONG UP AND UNDER]

Predictably, immediately after the Megaupload arrests were announced, the e-vigilantes known as Anonymous, went on an Internet retaliation spree, taking down the websites of the FBI, the Department of Justice and the Associations for the Motion Picture and Recording Industries. As Fox News observed:

FEMALE JOURNALIST:

It is a kind of civil war that is happening right now on the Internet.

BOB GARFIELD:

CNN was slightly more circumspect, linking the Megaupload case to the other ongoing anti-piracy story that had been dominating coverage for the previous four days.

FEMALE JOURNALIST:

Well, they said that yesterday the shutdown of Megaupload.com was really the straw that broke the camel's back. We've seen Anonymous protesting anti-piracy legislation all week, legislation such as SOPA.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Ah, SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, the controversial House bill that would force advertisers to remove ads from websites deemed rogue by the Justice Department. Credit card companies would have to refuse payments from rogue sites. Search engines would have to drop them from search results. And Internet service providers would have to adjust their domain name registries so that the websites could not be reached in the U.S. Essentially, offending sites would be invisible.

Once cruising towards passage, SOPA became the object of a protest that swept across the World Wide Web, led by the likes of Tumblr, Reddit, Google and Wikipedia, which went dark on Wednesday is an act of civil disobedience.

FEMALE JOURNALIST:

Both Democrats and Republicans have been bombarded with calls and emails, and many are now backing off.

MALE JOURNALIST:

— bills in Congress seem to be on life support right now…

MALE JOURNALIST:

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a co-sponsor of the legislation, is pulling his support.

BOB GARFIELD:

Meanwhile, the White House announced its own reservations with the bill, and by week's end SOPA and its Senate version, dubbed PIPA, for Protect IP Act, had lost much of their support, forcing congressional leaders to postpone any floor votes.

But what exactly were the provisions, and what exactly made them so objectionable to the Weberati? Was it the lack of due process, or was it their redundancy with existing laws, such as the ones that underlie the Megaupload arrests? Was it the abuse of existing laws, which critics argue, already inflict too much collateral damage. To Michael Masnick, editor of Techdirt, the answer is yes.

MICHAEL MASNICK:

I think one study suggested that 30 percent of complaints under the DMCA, which is part of existing law, were being used against competitors, as opposed to, you know, being used against legitimate infringing content.

And so, when you expand that law with SOPA, the ability to actually take down complete sites, not just infringing content, the fear was very, very much that it would be abused to shut down sites that were legitimate competition that existing players just didn't want to deal with or didn't know how to deal with.

BOB GARFIELD:

You mentioned the DMCA, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which is the law of the land at the moment. It already requires websites to remove any infringing content if the copyright owners ask them to do so. Why did Congress or these bills' supporters in Congress believe that the provisions of the DMCA were not sufficient?

MICHAEL MASNICK:

Well, the argument here is that the DMCA only applies to US-directed sites, and US copyright holders have gone after foreign sites and foreign companies in the past in US courts, but the insistence of the copyright holders and of the supporters of this bill is that there wasn't enough. And this gives them a very broad weapon to go after those sites that they can't necessarily reach under the DMCA.

BOB GARFIELD:

Now, it's hard to light a fire under the American people to act politically. Zillions of words have been written about how complacent we are. And we're talking about a, a piece of intellectual property law that governs a fairly arcane and technical aspect of our economic life. And yet, came this groundswell.

MICHAEL MASNICK:

I think what got people enraged was you don't mess with the Internet. This was definitely positioned as an arcane bill, but companies that people use every day were put at risk by this.

BOB GARFIELD:

I want to ask you about the coverage of SOPA. It was widely covered in the print press, but there was almost nothin' on television.

MICHAEL MASNICK:

There's a lot of concern that the major TV news networks and the owners of the major cable TV news channels are all very, very strongly in favor of the bill. In fact, you could argue that some of them had a very direct hand in writing the bill.

And there were definitely reports very quietly [LAUGHS] from reporters at some of these networks saying, you know, we really can't cover this because our corporate parents don't want it to become an issue.

BOB GARFIELD:

The President of the United States and the Congress typically can't agree on the weather report.

[MASNICK LAUGHS]

And yet, the President finds himself a bedfellow here with his nemesis, Congressman Darrell Issa and, you know his [LAUGHS]

sub-mesis House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

MICHAEL MASNICK:

[LAUGHS] One of the more amusing moments in all this was at one point Nancy Pelosi expressed on Twitter her opposition to the bill, and immediately Darrell Issa tweeted back, if even we agree on this bill, something must be wrong.

BOB GARFIELD:

Let's assume that, in fact, SOPA as a legislative solution to piracy was an abomination. But let me ask you this, smart guy -

[MASNICK LAUGHS]

What is the answer to theft of intellectual property?

MICHAEL MASNICK:

If you look historically, and there's tremendous amounts of evidence on this, greater law enforcement has never worked. The issue often that leads to infringement and piracy is that consumers don't feel that they're getting what they feel is a good deal or a good service, whereas when you offer that to them, it reduces piracy because people immediately jump to these new services that are really good.

And so, I think the entire approach has been wrong. I don't think that this is a problem that requires legislative response. I think it's a problem that requires, you know, business innovation. And the thing that makes business innovation harder is if they were to dump bad legislation that puts all of [LAUGHS] the - burden on the innovative companies that build up those new services.

BOB GARFIELD:

All right, Mike, thank you so much.

MICHAEL MASNICK:

Sure. Thanks for having me.

BOB GARFIELD:

Michael Masnick is the editor of Techdirt.com.