Media outlets report that the hacktavist group Anonymous brought down the websites of the DoJ, FBI, RIAA, MPAA, and others yesterday in supposed retaliation for the high-profile arrest of four accused online pirates associated with the cyberlocker company Megaupload, and, ostensibly, Congress’ efforts to pass online, anti-piracy legislation SOPA and PIPA.
The backlash to the outrageous acts of Anonymous from defenders of property will come. It must.
It is true that I generally don’t believe that government regulation is a proper, or default manner, in which to address purported market failures or public policy challenges wrought by technological change. In the present context, SOPA and PIPA – while seeking to correct a real problem for rights holders (as opposed to a Net Neutrality-like mirage) – are imperfect attempts to address a serious problem.
I would rather place faith in the evolution of technology, industry best practices, consumer education tools, reputation management techniques, vibrant competition and existing law to deal with the scourge of online property theft.
That said, Anonymous’ actions clearly suggest to me that online piracy has become a Right on the Internet. And this greatly unsettles me.
It is not. It is stealing, poaching, thievery. No one has a right to rip the bread out of content creators’ mouths.
This has me thinking – perhaps changing my mind on legislative attempts to combat online piracy. To suggest that legislation is never warranted would be foolish. Online piracy does exist and is indisputably rampant. It may need to be that at some point Congress comes back to SOPA / PIPA – perhaps sooner than we think – and decides that narrow legislation must go forward to bring down the digital thieves and stop their five-finger-discounting habits, ones which undermine innovation, economic growth, jobs, and the rule of law.
CNET reporter, Molly Wood, feels Anonymous’ actions may have brought that day closer, surmising:
…[A]n attack this big on this many government sites will effectively erase those good Internet vibrations that were rattling around Capitol Hill this week and harden the perspective of legislators and law enforcement who want to believe that the Web community is made up of wild, law-breaking pirates. That, ultimately, may help strengthen the business–and the emotional–case for the pro-SOPA, pro-PIPA lobby. Did the feds just get the last lulz?
Maybe she’s right. I don’t know about new legislation, but if Anonymous has brought attention to the skenky underworld of the piracy economy, and, in doing so, boosts the idea that content creators get to decide their bundle of rights on the Internet instead of scummy miscreants, faux public interest groups, and exploitive edge providers, then so be it.
Danny Weitzner, Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Internet Policy at the White House tweeted last night:
Advocacy (web blackouts & grassroots lobbying) vs crime (anonymous DDOS attacks): one = free speech and the other = threat to freedom #sopa
Will the defenders of the “piracy-is-the-fault-of-the-content-providers” status quo – i.e., the Internet’s elite edge providers and their thought leaders – possess similar strength and moral clarity and forcefully condemn the alleged actions of Anonymous? And perhaps more importantly, when this and the SOPA / PIPA dust clears, will they work in earnest – and not just pay lip service – to help end the scourge of Internet piracy, and truly self-police the bad apples that bring such misery to the Internet?
One hopes. The Internet, as a safe and thriving medium, depends on it. So, too, do the good brand names of Google, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook and others that helped spawn this greedy, hate-filled, thuggish, anti-SOPA, anti-property environment – one which played no-small role in inciting Anonymous to its illegal acts of disruption.