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The Net Is Not Invincible... 
Comment by The Centaur
August 16, 2002

Occasionally I get into an argument with friends about whether the Net will remain free in the face of the growing movement to limit it to what corporations and the government wish us to see and hear. 

The argument usually boils down to one of the digerati claiming that "Nothing can stop the Net ... it percieves censorship as damage and routes around it" and my typical reply "If They really want to stop you, They will really go after you personally and anyone who helps you ... and the Net can't route around that."

The argument usually peters out at that point, with mutual individual apathy carrying the day while the drones of the corporate machines march on, trying to find ways to turn the men with guns to their advantage. 

And don't doubt that They are trying: Napster is dead, Internet radio is on life support, and well-paid congresscritters have asked that standardbearer of civil liberties, John Ashcroft, to start targeting music lovers who trade MP3's.

That's the "going after you personally" part of my argument.  Now there are millions of "you, personally" in this argument even by the Enemy's count, and quite frankly it's about as frightening as the prospect of the FBI breaking down your door because you're taping Seinfeld for your brother

No, it's when They begin to attack "anyone who helps you" that things start to get frightening ... because then the individual patriot must stand on his own in the face of the most powerful government in history .


It begins.

The major record labels have decided to sue the Internet backbones because the Internet can be used to copy music.  More specifically, someone set up a music swapping haven in China that has resisted the attempts of the music companies to investigate it.  So they are suing the major Internet providers for simply routing packets to and from the site.

I shouldn't have to tell you that this is as ludicrous as someone suing the Post Office because they shipped a package from someone that had been accused of being a video pirate.  The only way the Post Office could know if it was piracy would be to open the mail ... as the courts effectively tried to force ReplayTV to do when they asked them to hack their software to spy on their user's viewing habits. Ultimately this ruling was overturned and the case has been looking up...

... but every case that is filed is a potential bonehead decision waiting to happen. And all They need is one good win.  It's not just that a good court win is a "moral victory", or even a legal precedent -  it becomes a powerful deterrent, by making citizens into criminals.  If Sony had not fought the Betamax case all the way to the Supreme Court, video cassette recorders could have been pulled from the shelves.

Imagine a world where the last videotapes recorded on legally sold equipment were ancient copies of first-run episodes of Columbo and Kojak.

Sure, this would not have stopped videotaping.  There would be professionals with their own video recording studios, illegal imports of video cassette recorders from Japan, or maybe even hobbyists building their own illicit systems. It would have not stopped videotaping. But it would have crippled it.

Before this hypothetical decision, individuals videotaping shows in the privacy of their own home would simply be engaged in activities of debatable legality. Afterwards - they would be participating in a black market in defiance of a court order. And the courts do not like to be defied.

If Sony had lost their case, videotaping would continue ... but the videotape revolution would never have happened. It's not just that there would be no VCR section at Circuit City. There would be no Blockbuster ... and no Disney on video ... and no SUVs with built-in backseat VCRs to lull your little ones to sleep with the latest magic from the Mouse. 

And yet ... Sony is one of the companies that is suing the backbones ... trying in effect to stop the flow of music to Sony's own computers, the popular VAIO brand optimized to play digital media .

It is amusing to watch Them consume Themselves ... but I have no intention of lying back and merely hoping my rights do not get devoured in the process. And neither should you.

-The Centaur

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