|The Net Is
Not Invincible... |
|Comment by The Centaur
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
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
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
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
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
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
... 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
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
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.