Archive for RIAA

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A much-needed Party of Pirates

Here’s a fun thing to cheer up your Monday: a new political party is in formation in the United States. The Pirate Party of the United States is part of an international response to the crackdown on the sharing of intellectual and creative products.

I wrote about this issue briefly in June, but the main catalyst for the Pirate Party was the US-MPAA-backed Swedish raid on the file-sharing site The Pirate Bay back in the spring. Support for piracy and filesharing was already very high in Sweden – the Pirate Party already existed there – but this gave it a huge boost.

Apparently, the barriers to entry for a political party are very low in Sweden and the Pirate Party seems to be on the verge of actually capturing seats in the parliament, which could give it some leverage in shaping the government there.

They’ve also inspired allies to launch parties in Belgium, France, and Italy. There is also an international pro-piracy lobby.

The situation is very different in the US, of course, where third parties are relegated to the margins. It makes one question if that is the best way to build a movement around this issue here. On the other hand, one can imagine how this issue could energize young people here the way it does in Sweden.

The Bush administration is moving in the opposite direction, towards a more repressive online environment. Congress recently ratified the Convention on Cybercrime, a really bad treaty that basically requires the US to enforce other countries’ Internet laws. They’re on the verge of passing DOPA, the Deleting Online Predators Act, which would ban social networking sites (as defined by the FCC) in schools and libraries. These changes are in addition to the corporate-sponsored closing of the Internet that we know of as the loss of net neutrality.

The Pirate Party is focused on copyright reform, privacy, and net neutrality. This has the potential to be a very popular and radical undertaking if they can articulate their message in a plain and compelling way. It’s not easy and I don’t have any reason to assume that they will be able to do this, but I find an issue-based party more compelling than, for example, the Green Party, which just wants to be more progressive in general than the Democrats. I think issue-based third parties have historically had more impact on US politics, too.

Defending the Internet might just be enough to get this party off the ground – at least in Second Life.

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Big Copyright carries a gun

The Recording Industry Association of America – the same people that brought you the harrassment suits for filesharing – is now training police officers to spot "bogus CDs."

A police officer in Virginia recently justified a search of a car because he saw in plain sight during a traffic stop what he believed to be "bogus" CDs in the vehicle. He called for backup from the Copyright Squad:

Officer Goins suspected the CDs were "pirated," because they were in a "poor quality made CD case with the labeling." He requested assistance from two other officers that had received training concerning CDs. Minutes later, Officers Barker and Perkins arrived. Officer Barker testified that he saw CDs on the front passenger seat and on the floorboard of the car. He testified that "based on [his] training with the recording industry the thin cases and the homemade labels in the cases led [him] to believe they were bogus CDs." He explained:

"They were thin case CD's and the labels on them were real blurry. You couldn't really make out the reading on them that well. You could just look at them and tell that they were bogus."

Concluding that the CDs were illegitimate, the officers seized the CDs they saw and searched the car for others.

The search turned up a brick of marijuana, but the appeals court judge threw out the search because the officers had no reason to suspect that the burned CDs were illegal copies. According to Virgina state law, they would have been illegal had they been intended for sale, for example. Read the appeals court judge's decision and narrative of the case.

Granted, the cops might have been looking for any justification to search the car. Nevertheless, it's pretty remarkable that not only is there a special RIAA-trained copyright squad on this Virginia town's police force, but that the squad is overzealously misinterpreting the law to bust anyone who might have made a mix or a personal copy of their own CDs.

Why am I surprised? The person leading the charge of RIAA's anti-piracy operation, including its relationship with law enforcement, is a former director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms: Bradley Buckles.

Last June in New York City, the NYPD raided Kim's Video, a long-time source for hard-to-find movies and music. RIAA representatives were at Kim's directing the police towards hip hop mix CDs that they claimed violated copyright laws. MPAA, the motion picture trade association, also had reps there. The police arrested five people.

The RIAA also has their hands in Congress. The House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property recently marked up the little-known Section 115 Reform Act (aka SIRA). The act helps pave the way for partnerships between music publishers and the online music services, in part by shutting out everyone else.

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the potential act would require licenses for "incidental reproductions…including cached, network, and RAM buffer reproductions."

For anyone who understands how the internet works – the way files go from server to server to server before reaching their final destination – that restriction is just bananas. Also with your own home computer, you store files in a cache or buffer when making backup copies or listening to a stream.

You can assisting the EFF in fighting this bad law, called SIRA, by contacting Congress.

The RIAA was emboldened by a Supreme Court ruling last year that got less attention than the Brand X decision, but was just as bad for end users in the way it limited technological innovation. In MGM vs. Grokster, the Court determined that companies that offer filesharing software can be held liable in some cases when their members use the software to violate copyright laws. The RIAA followed up the decision with a burst of 700 new complaints against people they say are illegally sharing music and films.

While this case was specifically about peer-to-peer filesharing, the implications could go much further. The ruling could conceivably apply to any technology that is used for illegal purposes. It modified the standard that was applied to VCRs in the 1980s, that they were legal because they had "substantial non-infringing uses." Under the new standard, providers of technology can be held liable if they "induce" people to infringe on copyright. With such a vague measure of intent, all programmers and software developers will have to worry about the potential for large-scale civil suits.

I'm not sure what, if any, direct fallout there has been from the decision in the year since it came down. The point is simply that we are facing a situation where all three branches of government, from the cops to the courts, are working hand in hand with an industry trade group to impose corporate law.

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