Anonymous' devious and speedy campaign to undermine the defenders of copyright yesterday served both as revenge for the loss of Megaupload and a demonstration of the futility of trying to police the Wild West of the Internet. Within minutes of the Justice Department's triumphant announcement about the seizing of the massive file-sharing site, their own website was taken offline by a massive denial of service attack. The Web presences of the FBI, the MPAA, the RIAA, and several entertainment corporations involved in the case soon followed, as those tasked with protecting the Web from piracy were once again unable to protect themselves.
The speed and ease with which those sites were taken down should certainly give pause to those who think that any Congressional act is likely to stop troublemakers on the internet. As Gawker's Adrian Chen explained, the method used to launch the attacks was both simple and crafty — supporters simply distributed an innocent looking link that, once clicked, temporarily turned the user's computer into attack bot, often without their knowledge. There's little harm to the user, but it allows those doing the attacking to quickly and easily enlist thousands of Internet users to join in the fun/mayhem.
All of this happened, of course, just one day after an Internet-wide protest led by Wikipedia and Google appeared to drive a stake through the heart of two major anti-piracy bills. But yesterday's events were both good and bad news for those hoping Congress will keep its mitts off the Internet. First, the shutdown inadvertently proved that the U.S. government already has all the power it needs to take down its copyright villains, even those that aren't based in the United States. No SOPA or PIPA required.
Of course, no government is ever satisfied with "just enough" power, which is why opponents lashed out at the regime that already exists. But rather than forcing Congress to back off, the shutdown of government and corporate websites is likely to anger and re-energize those anti-piracy zealots who think the web needs to be brought under control. Instead of surrendering in fear or even taking a more measured approach, they are more likely to double down on new legislation and harsher penalties meant to corral those who thumb their nose at the government. That in turn will lead Anonymous, LulzSec, or some other group (perhaps one with even more nefarious intentions) to raise the stakes even higher, causing more chaos and keeping the cycle going.
In other words, there can be no grand compromise. In the end, we get neither air-tight copyright enforcement nor an "anything goes" digital freedom, but instead see an escalation of "scorched-web" tactics and a never-ending war where more and more people lose.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.