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Why is Department of Homeland Security worrying about file-swapping?

Previous Politech messages:

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: 	Re: [Politech] Hollywood foots bill for LAPD spy cams: How
generous! [priv]
Date: 	Wed, 08 Jun 2005 09:31:08 -0400
From: 	Paul Rapp <paulrapp@adelphia.net>
Reply-To: 	paul@paulrapp.com
To: 	Declan McCullagh <declan@well.com>
References: 	<42A65CF8.5070406@well.com>

Surprised Homeland Security isn't in on this, too.  Or maybe they are.
See the attached article I wrote for an Albany alternative weekly on the
Elite Torrents bust.
Also available online (until, I think, tomorrow) at

Paul C. Rapp, Esq.
348 Long Pond Road
Housatonic, MA  01236
MA Phone 	413.553.3189
NY Phone 	518.935.4568
Fax       413.528.2079

Metroland Magazine; Albany NY  June 2, 2005		

Terror-Level Infringement?

Since Sept. 11, 2001, most folks agree in principle that we ought to be 
on a heightened state of alert. There are bad people who want to get us: 
They’ve shown they can do it, and stopping them before they do it again 
is a good thing.

And when we tell the government to circle the wagons, it’s to be 
expected that mistakes will be made. There will be overreaching, and 
rights will get stepped on. It’s inevitable. But it is the citizens’ job 
to tell the government when it has gone too far, because the government 
isn’t equipped to stop itself. Like a nasty fungus or a bad roommate, 
the government will expand to fill any available space. Along the way, 
the government will gobble up everything in sight—including fundamental 
rights—until somebody stands up to the inertia and says “stop that.”

This column is supposed to be about intellectual-property issues, so why 
am I harping about the “war on terror”? Because the two things have 
become joined.

Last week, a multilevel governmental strike force, apparently led by the 
Department of Homeland Security, shut down the Elite Torrents Web site, 
where bit- torrent-based peer-to-peer file trading was taking place. 
(Bit torrent is a new and superfast peer-to-peer networking technology.) 
If you go to www.elitetorrents.org, you will see, between the official 
seals of the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, the following 
running the Elite Torrents site are being criminally prosecuted by the 
Federal Department of Justice.

Maybe I’m missing something here, and I hope that I am, but the 
Department of Homeland Security (according to its Web site, www.dms.gov) 
“has three primary missions: Prevent terrorist attacks within the United 
States, reduce America’s vulnerability to terrorism, and minimize the 
damage from potential attacks and natural disasters.” And Elite Torrents 
was allowing the free distribution of copyrighted materials over the 
’Net. According to news reports, Elite Torrents made the new Star Wars 
movie Revenge of the Sith available six hours before the movie’s 
premiere, and was responsible for more than 10,000 downloads of the 
movie before the site was shut down.

One of these days I’ll discuss the legal ins and outs of file sharing 
over the Web, but suffice it to say that right now in this country, 
downloading free music, movies, and software without the copyright 
owners’ permission is a lot more illegal than legal, and it’s likely to 
stay that way. So the folks running Elite Torrents should have had an 
inkling that posting new movies—especially Revenge of the Sith—for free 
download on the Web would bring the wrath of the Motion Picture 
Association of America (MPAA) raining down upon them. The MPAA has 
always been super-aggressive against piracy and counterfeit goods, and 
of course it’s going to be absolutely tenacious as technology begins to 
allow for the quick and easy transfer of movie-sized files on the Web.

But the Department of Homeland Security? What are they doing here? 
Shouldn’t they be doing things like making sure some fanatic doesn’t 
bazooka a chemical plant or fly another plane into a building? Are we 
supposed to feel safer because geeky college kids can’t download pirated 
Star Wars movies any more?

What’s particularly distressing here is that we’re talking about the 
movement of information. OK, pirated information, but information all 
the same, and fairly benign information at that. Yeah, piracy’s a bad 
thing, and infringement can often be a bad thing, but frankly, not 
always. There are civil penalties for piracy and infringement, and if 
the activities are bad and systematic enough, there are criminal 
penalties as well. There have always been policies and processes to 
punish bad guys.

But it appears that the resources that are supposed to be used to keep 
the country safe are being used instead to keep the information industry 
happy and profitable. And beefed-up laws and mandates that were supposed 
to be used against enemies of the state—you know, the freakin’ 
evildoers—are being used against, at best, high-tech common criminals.

Dwight D. Eisenhower wasn’t a flaming liberal, and nobody ever accused 
him of being unpatriotic. Eisenhower warned in 1961, in his last speech 
as president, that the titans of national defense and of business, if 
allowed to run together, could nibble away at normal citizens’ basic 
liberties until the liberties were all gone:

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of 
unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the 
military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of 
misplaced power exists and will persist.

“We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties 
or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an 
alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the 
huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful 
methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

—Paul Rapp

Posted by Declan McCullagh on Jun 08, 2005 in category intellectual-property

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