War against digital pirates heats up

I’ve mentioned in the past my belief that the advent of digital piracy and its ability to suck profits from almost any creative endeavor — music, film, books — will result in an artless (and subsequently heartless) society which will descend into cannibalistic savagery. At this point in history, I see this argument as irrefutable.

Perhaps we’re beginning to see the dark at the end of the tunnel. The LA Times reports

Film director Penelope Spheeris’ new comedy, “Balls to the Wall,” had barely premiered in Europe when bootleg copies started popping up on the Internet, throwing its U.S. release into jeopardy. A Spheeris assistant sent out as many as 30 cease-and-desist notices a day in a desperate, but failed, attempt to halt the piracy.

That helps explain why Spheeris and other filmmakers are backing tough new legislation making its way through Congress that would give the Justice Department broad powers to shut down websites that host pirated material and would open the door for movie studios, music companies and other copyright holders to seek court injunctions against Internet companies they believe are aiding in copyright theft, which amounts to $58 billion a year.

The fight is curiously nonpartisan, with conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats teamed on both sides of the issue. Some of the split is based on which industry is more dominant in a lawmaker’s region. Many Southern California representatives back Hollywood’s position, and most Northern California members side with the Internet companies. But political philosophy also plays a role, leading anti-big-government conservatives to join with liberal civil libertarians in opposition to giving Washington what they fear would be broad censorship power over websites.

The following quote, illustrates what I’ve always viewed to be the issue.

“It’s the No. 1 issue for us,” said Scott Harbinson, international representative for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which has 113,000 members in the U.S. and Canada. “If people aren’t investing in motion picture production because of piracy, our guys don’t work.”

And why invest in making movies if they’re just going to end up on the Internet for free? And thus you see the clear path towards cannibalistic savagery.

That said, this bill looks troubling to me. Particularly this part…

The pending bills in the House and Senate would give the Justice Department power to seek court orders requiring U.S. search engines and Internet sites to block access to foreign websites hawking pirated material. Private companies such as Paramount Pictures and Sony Music Entertainment would also be able to seek court orders preventing such sites from receiving ads and payments services from the U.S.

That grates against my libertarian tendencies by putting the onus of the crime not on the person who clicks a link to a pirate site, but on the person or company hosting the website or search engine which links to the pirate site.

By the way, Penelope Spheeris was profiled at acid logic here.

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