US swaps constitution for Big Content

A few years ago,  I wrote that one day the US would go to war over copyright infringement. Before that, I claimed the US would bring in the death penalty for P2P pirates and would send an entire generation to death camps.

It was a gag of course. In 2008, the RIAA was just dragging a few file sharers at a time into court and was often losing.

What was sensed, at the time, was that the US was making this copyright thing far more important than it really was. Instead of working out better ways of flogging music and film, the industry wanted everyone to use the technology it dictated.

It was not happening, and the RIAA appeared to be backing off somewhat. Instead, what it did was rely on its lobbying powers to bring in law changes. The thing with the US is that it has that constitution which was formed as a reaction against governments imposing too much power on citizens.

While it was an over-reaction on the part of the colonialists, it did set the scene for what America was supposed to be. In short, it was designed to prevent a government, for whatever reason, creating laws that would impose on individual freedom.

Americans love to bang on about freedom as if their country was the only one that supplied it. To be fair in the US you can be free, particularly if you have a lot of money or your own television show.

But lately, the US government seems keen to trade in those freedoms by being seen to back RIAA law changes. If they were enacted, it makes anything done to the US by the British real or imagined look benign.

A free-faced Senator Alex Padilla, for example, has drafted a law which will allow coppers to enter a person’s home or workplace without a warrant and take anything they think might be used for the production of pirated movies and music disks.

How it would work is that the movie or film industry just has to suspect that someone is a pirate and the police will trash your home looking for evidence to prove it. If they don’t find anything they won’t have to say they are sorry, or pay for damage, they would “just be doing their jobs”.

This is a jolly strange law, as one would think that the Founding Fathers of the US would have been opposed to it automatically.

Many of them were smugglers and had suffered at the hands of British stop and search laws.

Everyone has seen the Mel Gibson movies where the wicked redcoats burst into a random house looking for revolutionaries, bayoneting a hay bale and turning over a few tables before moving on.

It is hard to see how the US’s first spin merchant and bootlegger Paul Revere would have let that one through.

In a press release,  Padilla thundered that the crime of illegal mass reproduction of music and movies is a serious problem.

Fraudulent CDs and DVDs undermine California’s economy role as a global leader in music and film. They steal revenue from artists, retailers, he claimed.

True – but aren’t the police powers to arrest for fraud enough? Padilla claimed that last year there were 820,000 illegal disks found by law enforcement authorities in California. This indicated, he claimed, a growing problem.

We would have thought that showed existing laws were doing rather well in knocking over illegal production of disks. So why is there a need for law changes?

Padilla is relying on statistics provided for him by the RIAA, which claim there are 70 million counterfeit music disks pressed each year from 70 plants just in California.

If you do the math that means that the coppers only shut down one plant last year. Which they clearly didn’t.

Given that the RIAA tends to adopt a biblical approach to numbers and say 700 when it means seven, we are not sure that the estimation is valid.

While it is unlikely that Padilla’s law will pass the constitutional watchdogs, he is just part of a wider mood among lawmakers to reject the ideas of the constitution in favour of appeasing Big Content.

Lately we have been seeing the likes of the Department of Homeland Security seizing 200 infringing websites by invoking the same statutes used to seize drug houses. How did P2P pirates become equal in significance to drugs gangs in law enforcement priorities?

What US politicians need to be careful of is listening to the toe-rags who cannot run their own businesses properly and want the government to step in to police their cock-ups.

The great unwashed do not care, or particularly understand the issue.

In New Zealand, one politician read off the hymn sheet and voted for a law damning the P2P pirates to hell and then went home and illegally downloaded some music.

At some point they have to say no.

They have to tell these big content bozos that they are not important. Sorting out health care, tackling crime, making the country function is a lot more important than wasting legal resources trying to prop up Big Content’s business model.

If the politicians don’t, then my nightmare scenario where America sentences a teenager to death for sharing a copy of Rocky IX and arms for a war against Russian and China, edges a little closer.