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Abusive Practices are Not the Answer to Piracy

April 21, 2012

Guest post by Teresa Oswald

In 1999, Napster was released into the world. For the public, it was a way to get free music and share yours with your friends. For the recording industry, it was The Worst Possible Thing. It was clear to the RIAA that Napster was a tool designed for copyright infringement, and in 2001 shut it down after a year-long lawsuit. But the filesharing saga was not over yet.

The public had gotten a taste of filesharing and did not give up easily. In 2001 Bittorrent, the first client to support the newly-invented protocol by the same name, was released. Torrents rapidly became the newest way to share files, and they had the added bonus of being decentralized and harder to track. Control was rapidly slipping the hands of the recording industry. They had to do something. Still, no matter how many lawsuits they brought and how many torrent trackers they shut down, nothing seemed to work.

The Abusive Retaliatory Strike: SOPA and PIPA
For the most part, the American public did not care about the RIAA’s pursuit of copyright infringers before the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). There had been plenty of smaller incidents before SOPA that various technology-related blogs touted as abusive, but the general public for the most part was not aware of these abuses.

SOPA was a bill designed to crack down on infringement and give extra rights to law enforcement agencies when pursuing those who infringed. However, the bill was extraordinarily vague and overreaching with the powers it granted. Yes, it could help companies shut down copyright infringers, but it made web sites liable for the actions of its users, which opened the door to abusive behavior by bad actors (opponents of a site uploading or linking to infringing materials could get the site shut down, even if the owner of the site did not have any knowledge of the material).

When people raised objections, the RIAA’s initial reaction was to dismiss criticism as being ‘pro-piracy’. No matter how many people wrote about the possible abuses and the departure from due process, the RIAA was deaf to those pleas. It was right, you see. Pirates were wrong. Anyone who criticized this bill had to be a piracy supporter. The bad behavior of the pirates, in the RIAA’s worldview, justified any and all reactions to stamp it out.

The RIAA and SOPA is not the only example of this (nor was the RIAA the only one involved with its creation), it was simply the most recent issue that made it into the mainstream. Sony’s attempt to arrest George Hotz for hacking his own PS3. The DOJ’s abusive practices in its lawsuit against Megaupload. The RIAA seeking $75 trillion in its lawsuit against Limewire. Companies implement strategies that actively harm legitimate users in an effort to strike back at piracy.

I do not think this is a new phenomenon, but it is one that is becoming more visible. It is an irrational, destructive behavior that helps no one, least of all the company implementing the policies. There are many legitimate problems that these companies are facing, but harming people who are not involved and who would otherwise be loyal, paying customers is not the way to win hearts and minds. With the prevalence of the internet, public image is becoming more and more important as new alternatives to traditional methods of content distribution are cropping up.

People have choices now, whether or not the content industry wants to believe it, and the less sympathetic the industry makes itself look, the less people are going to feel bad about piracy. These overreaching, abusive attempts to control the situation need to stop, and the people who are implementing them need to take a breath and stop thinking that because they are right, they are justified in harming their customers. They are not.

I think they teach this in kindergarten. Oh, he hit you first? Well, too bad. You aren’t allowed to hit him

Being right is no excuse for bad behavior.

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