Anti-piracy zealots go overboard


Lately, we've seen several disturbing examples of anti-piracy campaigns run amok and its time for content owners to stop fighting the Internet and start embracing it completely. The problem is, the owners are trying to protect their content beyond reason, and it only gets worse when industry groups get the government involved to be their mouthpiece.

One of the most common reactions to Internet disruption by traditional media has been to attack the distribution channel, even when the channel is completely legitimate. GigaOM reported on an incident recently where authors found a website they believed was linking to electronic versions of their books illegally. A social media firestorm ensued and authors began bombarding the author with takedown notices under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The site, which was run by a sole owner, was in no position to deal with this, and was forced to shut down.

The trouble is the site was completely legitimate. It acted as a clearinghouse for Kindle and Nook owners to share books, something that it is allowed by both companies. What was truly disturbing though was some authors, who upon learning that the site had a right to do what it did, still didn't see their campaign as wrongheaded. It's akin to authors attacking libraries because they lend their books for free. I thought we were past this, but apparently an Internet repackaging of the library idea didn't sit well with these authors, and they attacked.

It got even worse for a British man, Anton Vickerman, who ran a website that linked to a variety of streaming media sites. He didn't merely have to deal with the burden of takedown notices though. Instead, he might have to go to prison. In spite of the fact that he didn't display any content on his site, he was recently sentenced to four years in prison. What's interesting is that they didn't even prosecute him under anti-piracy statutes, but instead for "conspiracy to defraud," probably because they couldn't get him for piracy when his site didn't have any content on it.

And as Ars Technica reports, it was a case of British prosecutors working hand-in-glove with a movie studio trade group called the Federation Against Copyright Theft. The article claims, in fact, that it was FACT that built the case against Vickerman, going so far as to hire private investigators, building a case against him and then getting the British government to freeze Vickerman's assets.

And Vickerman was hopping mad about it as you can imagine. According to an article in The Guardian, Vickerman wrote an 18,000 word treatise explaining in detail how FACT screwed him. The Guardian article stated that early on, Vickerman claimed to have had deals with the likes of  Warner Brothers and A&E--completely legitimate content.

The issue here isn't whether Vickerman was doing anything wrong though, it's the idea that the government is acting as a lap dog for Big Media, and forcing prosecutions at the behest of industry trade groups, even when the site didn't post any actual content.

If linking is wrong, I don't want to be right.

These two cases represent anti-piracy campaigns that are out of control. Of course, we all want to protect our work. As I've written before, I'm an author, I understand the need for some controls, but when the law works in such a way that will scare people away from setting up websites for fear of nuisance takedown notices, or worse, persecution by big media trade associations, it's time to step back and reassess copyright in the digital age. Right now, we have an anti-piracy mob and it's time to bring it under control. - Ron