In order to know where you’re going, you sometimes have to take a look into the past and what that truly represents. An inspiring notion is to look into the circumstances that brought us to the world we currently have. The United States in particular had some very particular Acts that caused their revolution:
Boston Port Act – the first of the acts passed in response to the Boston Tea Party, closed the port of Boston until the East India Company had been repaid for the destroyed tea and until the king was satisfied that order had been restored. Colonists objected that the Port Act punished all of Boston rather than just the individuals who had destroyed the tea, and that they were being punished without having been given an opportunity to testify in their own defense.
The Massachusetts Government Act – unilaterally altered the government of Massachusetts to bring it under control of the British government. Under the terms of the Government Act, almost all positions in the colonial government were to be appointed by the governor or the king. The act also severely limited the activities of town meetings in Massachusetts to one meeting a year, unless the Governor calls for one. Colonists outside Massachusetts feared that their governments could now also be changed by the legislative fiat of Parliament.
Administration of Justice Act – allowed the governor to move trials of accused royal officials to another colony or even to Great Britain if he believed the official could not get a fair trial in Massachusetts.
Although the act stipulated that witnesses would be paid for their travel expenses, in practice few colonists could afford to leave their work and cross the ocean to testify in a trial. George Washington called this the “Murder Act” because he believed that it allowed British officials to harass Americans and then escape justice. Many colonists believed the act was unnecessary because British soldiers had been given a fair trial following the Boston Massacre in 1770.
The Quartering Act – sought to create a more effective method of housing British troops in America. In a previous act, the colonies had been required to provide housing for soldiers, but colonial legislatures had been uncooperative in doing so. The new Quartering Act allowed a governor to house soldiers in other buildings if suitable quarters were not provided. While many sources claim that the Quartering Act allowed troops to be billeted in occupied private homes, historian David Ammerman’s 1974 study claimed that this is a myth, and that the act only permitted troops to be quartered in unoccupied buildings.
Now where have we heard of these acts in recent copyright history?
Let’s look at the Boston Port Act and how restitution is to be paid for violating crimes.
Operation In Our Sites is best represented by all of the domain takedowns, including TVShack.net and megaupload. There has been no economic evidence of harm inflicted but the government insists that private industry is harmed. In order to make up for this, they have gone on to harm alleged pirates with the demand for restitution for ‘damages’ done. Bear in mind, no trial has found anyone guilty, but the innocent have been found to have no rights under this program. In the case of Ninjavideo, the accused had to wait a year and a half to find out the charges, their domain was seized without any type of notification, and the accused are “guilty before proven innocent”. The hardships of those accused is ignored for the rights of the highly privileged who can afford better protection by law enforcement.
The Massachusetts Government Act can be summed up by the Obama Administration’s insistence on the Internet Service Providers of America to become the copyright cops for the trade industries. The result will be higher prices for products as well as even less innovation in online broadband. Further, I’m sure that more people will use anonymous means to avoid the prying eyes of the government in their homes. Even though this type of enforcement has not worked in other countries, the continued insistence on the trade industries shows their lack of understanding the digital world.
The Administration of Justice Act can be found in the continued use of extraditions in other countries. How ironic that Richard O’Dwyer, a UK citizen is to be extradited for something that is legal in his country. Of course, the US has successfully done this before, namely with an Australian, named Hew Raymond Griffiths, who was put under the bus by his own government through a criminal copyright proceeding. The problem is that he had never visited the US, was imprisoned for four years, then given a hassle by his government when returning to his native country. Now, the New Zealand country wants to do the same with Kim Dotcom and Megaupload.
The Quartering Act of the New Millennium comes to us in the form of the Content ID and the Hotfile tool that has come under fire from the MPAA. People aren’t able to fight against false accusations without a considerable investment in time to log a fair use defense. Although there has been news of people actively defending against takedowns, they can be devastating to a small business or individual.
History only repeats itself when people don’t learn from it. The people being persued for piracy crimes right now are people that seem unable to defend themselves, whether it’s bad advice from lawyers or continental extradition, the Intolerable Acts of the New Millennium will truly have an impact on copyright as we know it.