One subject that has been circulating in the aether is the criminality of internet piracy. In other words, mass copyright infringement has been the subject of many campaigns by Copyright groups and Movie studios. For those unfamiliar with internet piracy then this next paragraph is for you, if not, you might want to read for nostalgia:
Over the past decade, internet piracy has been on the rise. Basically, people use services like Limewire, Gnutella, eDonkey, and Bittorrent to share everything from music and movies to eBooks. If there is something in electronic format, it is probably available for free through one of these programs. Many of the things available on these sites are under copyright and therefore illegal to download. However, many things are not under copyright and are free to anyone who wants them. Internet pirates are those that download copyrighted materials without the owners permission.
While the downloading of copyrighted materials is illegal, Limewire, Gnutella, eDonkey, and Bittorrent are NOT illegal programs. Many of these programs have been used less frequently due to the ease it takes anti-piracy companies to find and prosecute offenders. One of the largest players in the piracy game is Bittorrent (which offer more anonymity). It is used to transfer large files very quickly to many people. This lends itself to piracy. However, very reputable companies and sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and the US Treasury department use Bittorrent to help spread information.
Many new bands and studios willingly offer their movies and music to Bittorrent in order to be heard. And for many bands this allows them to become relatively famous in the music scene. (1) This is a great arrangement because bands can be heard and fans get good music for free. Sites like Vodo.net offer free and legal movies to download, including the first Bittorrent exclusive TV-show, Apollo One. (Which is a great show by the way.)
Now to get to these shows and movies, one must go to a torrent site. However, this is where problems occur. In 2008, GW Bush passed into being the ‘Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008’ which is directed towards IT departments on university campuses across the US and “strongly encourages the use of technical measures to monitor and block illegal P2P” (2). Campus IT department are required to inform students about the illegal nature of downloading copyrighted materials, but many go further. “Strongly Encourage” may sound like an option to you, but many campus IT groups are trying to cover themselves from legal liability by blocking access to sites that are perfectly legal. When attempting to access some sites like ThePirateBay.com, local campus IT services have blocked access to these sites, citing “P2P/Filesharing” as the reason (keep in mind that these are neither illegal nor immoral if used as the programmers intended). Unfortunately some universities have blocked access to some of these sites that provide access to free and legal software, books, music, and games. When I asked my local IT department why they were blocking several of these sites, I received the following:
I wrote back and informed him that these sites are not illegal and are used by reputable companies. They have not seen fit to reply to further questions or remove the restrictions. Does any university have the right to deny access to free and legal information and resources because the medium has been used for criminal activities? No, it does not. This is same thing as banning the use of vehicles because people have committed crimes witvh them. Information Freedom is tied to Freedom of Expression, a fundamental human right written into our Constitution and present throughout history. One biographer of Voltaire attributed him the phrase, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” The internet is a great place for freedom of expression. However the regrettable setback of censorship will always be present as long as we do nothing to stop it.
I will not condone illegal copyright infringement, but I will speak against censorship by both government and educational institutions.
Until next time…