Two years ago, Kim Dotcom — the founder of Megaupload, one of the Internet’s most popular file hosting service — was arrested by New Zealand Police based on an American criminal copyright indictment. The indictment alleged that Dotcom cost the entertainment industry $500 million through his allowance of pirated content to be shared over his network, which had 150 million users.
While the fallout of the situation — in which Dotcom’s funds and property were seized and his company was shuttered — deeply embarrassed the New Zealand government, the drive against a man who Hollywood insiders once called “Dr. Evil” represents a disturbing trend. As the entertainment industry continues to adapt to democratic nature of the “free Internet,” it is increasingly using the government to fight its battles.
In November, WikiLeaks disclosed a complete draft of the Trans-Pacific Partnership’s Intellectual Property Rights section. The TPP is a wide-sweeping economic treaty between the U.S., Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam (The European Union explicitly objected to the treaty) that was drawn up without the input of the public or Congress, but various corporations working with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
The treaty, which would be sent to the Senate for ratification without the ability for the Senate to amend it, would radically change the way intellectual property rights are administered. For example, TPP would extend copyrights to at least 70 years after the protected piece’s author dies, weaken safe harbor laws that exempt sites such as YouTube from copyright infringement lawsuits, and extend American copyright laws internationally. Ultimately, the TPP’s intellectual property section amounts to what the Washington Post called a “Hollywood wish list.”
Historically, Hollywood has been a major supporter of the Democrats. According to the Guardian, the entertainment industry spent $91 million lobbying Democrats toward the passage of the Stop Online Piracy Act — which would have empowered the government to issue court orders ordering Internet Service Providers to block access to copyright infringing websites and would criminalize the streaming of copyrighted materials. SOPA and its companion bill, the Protect Intellectual Property Act, were defeated after a major public and online outcry made passage politically unpalatable.
Increasingly, Democrats are being compelled to give in to the entertainment industry’s demands, which is growing increasingly frustrated with the failures to pass an expansion to copyright protection in the U.S.
Former Democratic Senator Chris Dodd, the current head of the Motion Pictures Association of America, commented to Fox News in response to President Obama’s statement that anti-piracy legislation must protect content creators and the tech industry equally, that Hollywood’s funding of the Democrats is not a guarantee.
“Don’t make the assumption that because the quote ‘Hollywood community’ has been historically supportive of Democrats, which they have — don’t make the false assumption this year that because we did it in years past, we will do it this year,” Dodd said.
Hollywood’s campaign against piracy is forcing the government to act against services that would otherwise be perfectly legal on the suspicion of electronic theft or aiding such an act. As detailed by Vice, a Northeastern University study showed that of an examined 35 percent of Megaupload’s database, 10 million files — which were ordered destroyed by the U.S. government — were clear of any copyright infringement.
“We had 15,000 U.S. soldiers—based in Iraq and Afghanistan—on Megaupload,” Dotcom told Vice. “They used Megaupload to stay in touch with their families. They would make these video messages, upload them to Megaupload, and then send the link by email to their families and loved ones, because the military net could not handle large attachments … This is just one of the wide range of perfectly legitimate uses that Megaupload had.”
The push to shut down potential copyright infringers, such as Hotfile — which the MPAA succeeded in closing in 2013 — and isoHunt — which closed after being sued last October — has led to a chilling effect among content creators and innovators who rely on file sharing and streaming to communicate and collaborate over the Internet. As increasingly the government allows Hollywood to attack and bully who and what it does not like — with little consideration for the other side of the story — more creators are forced to weigh if their work is worth a lawsuit or possible imprisonment.
While this may be exactly what Hollywood wants, it’s coming at the cost of the free Internet.