Jeffrey Tucker

Last week’s violent government attack on the hugely popular site Megaupload — the U.S. government arresting Belgian citizens in New Zealand, of all places, and stealing at gunpoint servers bank accounts and property — has sent shock waves through the entire digital world.

The first shock was the realization that the gigantic protest against legislative moves (SOPA and PIPA) that would smash the Internet turned out to be superfluous. The thing everyone wanted to prevent is already here. SOPA turns out not to be the unwelcome snake in the garden of free information. The snakes have already taken over the garden and are hanging from every tree.

The second shock took a few days to sink in. It could mean that the whole way in which the digital age has functioned is in danger, or even doomed. This is not a forecast. This doom is all around us right now.

The problem is this: Megaupload was accused of violating copyright through its file-sharing technology. This permits users to upload their own content and permit other users into their space. If anything that one person uploads is of uncertain copyright status — it could be anything, really — sharing it would then seem to amount to a crime.

For some years, the feds have unnecessarily harassed people for nonviolently streaming or sharing content. This has had something of a chilling effect and increased the use of IP-scrambling proxies to keep online habits from being traced. College kids know this all too well. Masking IPs is just the way they live and work.

The attack on Megaupload takes all of this to a different level. This was not some wholly surreptitious, sketchy institution that was trying to get around the law. It was already becoming a legitimate service for launching careers in music and art generally. It seemed to be doing exactly what we expect in the digital age. It was reinventing an old model for new times through innovation in production, delivery and profit sharing.

As I wrote before, this was most likely why the old-line industry came after them. It was not the illegal activities, but their legal ones that made them a target. The moguls do not want change. They crushed the competition.

At the same time, the actual legal rationale that the feds used to blast these people away was their supposed violation of intellectual property through file sharing.

Which raises the question: Is every site that makes file sharing possible in danger? Consider Dropbox, the hugely popular service that allows you to put your files in the cloud and create special folders that share them with others. This allows people to work on shared folders in a collaborative way, and prevents the inevitable problem of version control that comes with emailing back and forth.

How exactly is Dropbox different from Megaupload? It is not that different. It is staid and scholarly, rather than flashy and jazzy. It’s interface is plain and neat, rather than colorful and upbeat. Otherwise, it is hard to qualitatively distinguish one from another.

Dropbox is hardly alone. As TechCrunch puts it:

“Several digital locker services operate like Megaupload. RapidShare and MediaFire are two of the larger services. But these sites have undergone a face-lift recently and at least appear to be much less nefarious than they once were. Other services like Dropbox, iCloud, and Amazon S3 are open to hosting any file type a user uploads. They also make sharing easy, but in a way, that’s a lot more private than Megaupload. Still yet, there are sites like Zoho in which users can easily share content, content that could be copyrightable. But the prime goal of all these sites is open file sharing — just like Megaupload.”

It is hard to see how any file-sharing site can pass muster under the new regime. There are plenty more like SugarSync and FileSonic. As Ghacks points out, users of the latter were greeted with the following ominous message just this week:

Question: What value is a file-sharing site if it doesn’t permit the sharing of files? It becomes a thumb drive in the cloud. Maybe that is a bit of convenience, but it is not highly marketable or useful.

Another tactic that file-sharing sites are using after the Mega attack is to outright ban U.S. users in hopes that this will somehow immunize them from the terror attacks being used by the U.S. government. Thus were American users greeted with the following:

Americans look at China with shock that the government doesn’t allow access to a huge amount of the World Wide Web. But look: It is happening right now in the United States, but in an indirect way. This has been called a “virtual Iron Curtain” that is being thrown up around U.S. borders. It has already happened to banking. We are seeing the first signs of this on Internet access.

Another site called uploadbox.com has decided that it will no longer deal with the risk of these kinds of terror tactics and plans to shut down completely at month’s end.

What else? Google Docs allows file sharing and has solved so many problems as a result. This has been a great advantage of this innovation. I use it every day. It is essential. But it is in danger. What about Facebook? I could post a copyrighted image there right now and share it with thousands. Facebook thereby becomes an accessory to the same crimes that Mega is alleged to have abetted.

For that matter, what about email? When I send a file, it doesn’t remove it from my machine. A copy is made and made and made again. Who and what is to say whether what is sent or received is proprietary and made it through all the legal hoops? In the last several weeks, I’ve actually received emails expressing fear of sharing links to public sites!

All these changes go beyond the traditional “chilling effect” of random attacks on free speech and free association. This is a sudden and outright freeze, one that is devastating for the whole way in which the Internet has come to exist. What is called “file sharing” is the unique service that the Internet provides. Without that, the Internet becomes an efficient post office or another means of delivering television-style content.

The reason that the Internet has been the driving forced behind economic growth, political change, social progress and the general uplift of humanity is its capacity for taking scarce goods and converting them into nonscarce goods of infinite duplicability and availability. Information, media, data and images that were once captive of the physical world — paper and ink, film and bankers boxes — have been freed into another realm so that they can serve and enlighten the whole of humanity.

This has happened because of the miracle of duplicating digital goods that are driving economies in the digital age. To ban duplication and file sharing today is no different from banning flight in the 1920s, banning steel in the 1880s, banning the telegraph in the 1830s, banning the printer in the 1430s and banning the wheel and sail at the beginning of mankind’s advance out of the cave.

It will set humanity back. It violates liberty. It attacks everything that constitutes and defines the times in which we live. It replaces a world of sharing and thriving with a world of violence and technological regression. The Internet will continue to exist, but it will take a different form. Large sectors will have to thrive behind very secure pay walls and only within private digital communities.

And who is doing this? The U.S. government. Government in league with old-line corporate elites.

And what is the official reason? To enforce “intellectual property.” It has really come down to this: Either the whole basis of copyright, trademark and patent are scrapped or we could see the death of the digital age as we know it. So long as IP is enforced, the U.S. world empire can continue to roam the world seeking whom it may devour.

Regards,

Jeffrey Tucker,

Jeffrey Tucker
  • Cheri

    Why is JT the only guy writing? I enjoy his articles, but also enjoy the diverse W & G opinions creating a bigger picture.

    I just keep shaking my head as I type and backspace. The conflicting existance of IP, open formats, free markets and free enterprise each clamoring for priority. The speed of ideas and product development renders some conventions mute, but doesn’t negate the need to protect IP for thorough developemnt and distribution by the originator justifing the dedication of resources. The US government (too general a term, but no better came to mind) is undeniably overreaching and increasingly on the “wrong” side of issues infringing on personal and economic freedom and the “pursuit of happiness”.

  • Old Hickory

    So you thought that us old f$^@s were just going to sit around and let you kids smash and grab everything intellectual with nary a thought of paying for it? That you can steal from whomever you want with no consequences? WRONG!
    Love, hope, and dope doesn’t make the Internet run, $$$$ do. No such thing as “free” (unless it’s common knowledge).
    The list of photographers alone, who have had clearly marked “copyright protected” images illegally used by cyber-punks, would fill thousands of web pages. Your answer to them is: tough luck, drive a truck? Tell someone you are going to openly steal their life’s work (how they put bread on the table) just because you can??
    These people have been violated, and like anyone else who has been robbed, they turned to the cops.
    The cops did what cops do, and that’s arrest the thieves.
    The ‘Net is growing up. The Net is going to go behind firewalls, walls whose gates will open only to those who have $$$$ and are not known criminals. Law and order has arrived at the Wild West of the 21st Century.
    Get use to it, boys. There’s a new sheriff in town, and he’s got a mighty twitchy trigger finger.

  • Silverhandorder

    Old Hickory I don’t think you understand what the outcome will be. The outcome is not going to be that punks all of a sudden will not be able to fileshare and start paying to all the people holding intellectual property rights.

    What is going to happen is that everything will go underground. Any attempts to stem that will just hurt everyone equally. Either way we will either have free internet or no internet at all. As Jeffrey Tucker pointed out that one can even share files by email. Can you imagine functional internet without any type of filesharing? I can’t. Get back to me if you can.

  • Paul

    As silverhand pointed out, the morality of it does not even matter. You cannot stop it. The only way to stop it, would be to shut down the internet completely.

    Even then, people will still share their copies of movies, burn them, etc..

    You cannot stop it. Fighting this is a pointless waste of time and money, and it’s threatening to destroy what is so amazing about the internet, freedom.

  • Rico Masters

    It would be interesting to see what effect on the economy a 10yr moratorium on IP would bring.

    I suspect it would unleash VAST amounts of creativity if all IP law was suspended for at least 5yrs and possibly 10yrs, just to see what would happen.

    The rightsholders would be more than compensated by the other content they would obtain “freely”.

    And we could disband so many agencies dealing with IP theft.

    It would just be interesting to see what would happen.

    Otherwise we are all forced to register IP just to have a bargaining position.

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  • floweringmind

    Old Hickory you are so foolish. The reality is only 1 filesharing company has been shut down. Developers have already created the next generation of filesharing: http://www.oneswarm.org/

    The only way piracy is going to be reduced is making it easier for users to purchase the digital goods that they desire. The music and movie industry is in the dark ages with their approach to making money. Slowly it is changing with Netflix streaming, Amazon Prime and iTunes.

  • adzik

    Freenet it is then…may take a while to establish it properly, but it’s there.

  • cavebear

    wake up sheep the govt is taking over its no longer by the people for the people its for the business by the business wake up sheep wake up wont be long when you are born you will have a chip inplanted in your tail so the govt can find you at any time and know what u doing wake up sheep

  • TR

    A major distinction is that megaupload (ML) was knowingly PROFITING from the sharing of copyrighted material. And if you google “dropbox” and the name of any popular movie/album/program will a download link immediately pop up? Once the case goes to trial we will see the extent to which they knew illegal content was being downloaded… this is a federal case guys… they likely have an extremely solid case.

    I am not a fan of SOPA at all, and illegal file sharing will ALWAYS exist. ML seems to be an extreme case where the (multi-million dollar!) business model actually centered on a large volume of downloads, which let’s be honest, was more than likely illegal downloads.

    I know software developers and they aren’t particularly too perturbed if a few college students share licenses. But they do not want to see their work widely available for free, while someone ELSE is making money off their hard work.

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  • SaaSaFRaaS

    For the Internet to continue to drive society forward technologically and economically, it must be subject to the rule of law. I cannot open a brick- and-mortar flea market, allow vendors to peddle or even give away stolen or pirated goods and expect not to be shut down by the authorities. Why should the Internet be any different? It’s up to the Kim Dotcoms of the world to clean up their act or face the consequences. That is simply reality.

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