Media Interests Now Dictating To Two Branches of Government
Big Media Extends Its Reach
Apparently, not content bullying lawmakers into killing Net Neutrality and throttling the Internet before the public gets wise, Big Media has turned its attention toward the courts. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry copyright laws goes unpunished. So where is the problem?
Old Dog New Trick
Copyright laws were written long before the Internet came into its own. This means that lawmakers never considered things like iPods or downloading music. Thankfully for Big Media, courts have been rather generous in interpreting old copyright laws to cover new activities. Even though the original drafters of the Copyright Act never could have anticipated people would be uploading music to the Internet, courts interpret this new activity to be an infringement, even under the old laws.
Problems arise as the activities become more and more attenuated. What if you merely own the computer used to download the music? What if you know your roommate is downloading music, but take no steps to stop him or her? Ostensibly, laws are written to inform people what they can and cannot do. When courts start applying laws to activities far outside the scope of the law, innocent people go to prison and the public ceases to respect the rule of law.
The Pirate Bay
The Pirate Bay is a Web site which stores the location of file fragments stored on personal computers all over the world. These files may be music files, documents, video, et cetera. If someone wants a copy of a music file, instead if downloading the file from one computer, a user can use The Pirate Bay tracking system to locate fragments of the file located on various other computers and download all of the fragments simultaneously. Despite not actually downloading, uploading, transmitting or storing any infringing files itself, the Web site has been accused of being "one of the world's largest facilitators of illegal downloading."
On Feb. 16, 2009, Swedish prosecutors haled The Pirate Bay's principals, Frederik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, Carl Lundstrom and Peter Sunde, into court. Within two days, the prosecutor dropped half of the charges. Within nine days, the trial was over. The defendants all admitted what they had done, but staunchly maintained their innocence, contenting no law prevented them from doing what they had done. Applying the evidence to the law, the public and the defendants felt comfortable they would be acquitted of all charges.
Not only did Judge Tomas Norström not acquit the defendants, he sided with record industry cronies, handing down Draconian sentences of one year in prison and a $3.5 million fine. The verdict shocked the online community. The IFPI however, was likely less than surprised.
Not only was judge receptive to the claims of the IFPI, he was in league with them. Judge Tomas Norström was a member of several pro-copyright plaintiff organizations, including the Swedish Association of Copyright (SFU), the Swedish Association for the Protection of Industrial Property (SFIR), and the SE (The Internet Infrastructure Foundation). Notwithstanding, Judge Norström unilaterally determined his affiliation with these organizations did not constitute a conflict of interest. Ironically, Judge Tomas Norström actually recused one of the original lay judges on the case, when it was discovered the lay judge had been involved with a musical rights group.
While the short term effects of this case may by minor, the long term effects are devastating. Even the appearance of impropriety in imprisoning innocents at the behest of corporate interests cannot help but irrevocably undermine the public's faith in the judicial system. Even though this case occurred in Sweden, it sets a dangerous precedent. According to Rick Falkvinge, leader and founder of Sweden’s Pirate Party, "The copyright lobby has really managed to bring corruption to Sweden" with the judge's actions reflecting “corruption on a completely unforgivable level.” How long before this case emboldens similar interests to take action in the United States? Once corporate interests are allowed to use old laws and tough cases to improperly convince judges to make bad decisions, the rule of law is lost.