4 Reasons the Feds and Hollywood Shouldn't Fight Piracy Together

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In an internationally-orchestrated raid, federal officials in concert with European authorities shut down nine popular movie-piracy websites and seized assets from 15 banks. The federal crackdown was announced at Disney Studios and is unusual in that it involves Hollywood studio reps in partnership with law-enforcement officials.

For years, the entertainment industry has been lobbying the government to "get tough" on Internet piracy, an offense they say costs the U.S. economy over $20 billion a year. The latest raids come a week after Vice President Joe Biden equated piracy to theft saying, "It is smash-and-grab, no different from smashing a window at Tiffany's.”

However, some fear the federal government is overstepping its bounds. Four reasons the U.S. and Hollywood are pursuing a flawed policy:

  • This Crackdown Is Absurd, writes Mike Masnick at Tech Dirt: "Copyright infringement is mostly a civil issue, between two private parties... However, the entertainment industry has been working hard to convince the government to act as its own private police force... The whole thing appears to be a gross misuse of government resources to protect a few movie studios, which are unwilling to adapt to a changing market place. People should be outraged over such a misuse of government powers, but because these are 'pirate' sites, everyone will look the other way."
  • Not a Homeland Security Issue  Jay Hathaway at Download Squad writes that "This whole thing rubs me the wrong way. ICE is part of Homeland Security, and acting as police for private movie studios hardly seems like a Homeland Security issue. Also, shutting down streaming movie sites, even if you seize their assets (as ICE has), is almost a futile pursuit. ICE says it will take a year for a new site to grow as big as the ones they just shut down, but I'm betting at least 2 will start up for every one they close."
  • This Violates Due Process, writes Michael H. Berkens, editor of an industry news site on Internet domains: "The report did not cite under what law the domain names were seized. As far as I know there is no federal law that allows the seizure of domain names. That of course is the troubling part. Although I have no love for sites that allow the distribution of protected works for free, when the federal government starts making up their own remedies for violation of laws, its a problem. Moreover all that happened here was a claim by the government of improper conduct by the site. There does not appear to been a hearing where any of the domain owners got notice or what you would call due process, which is an opportunity to defend themselves prior to the domain seizure."
  • The Government Just Looks Silly, writes Chris Morran at The Consumerist: "For some reason, it took 100 agents working in 11 states and the Netherlands to bring down these sites. Funny... all my movie-downloading friends have had to do to find one of these sites was to use Google... In an effort to make himself sound like a real badass lawyer you might see in a movie or TV show, the U.S. Attorney for NY's Southern District dropped this memorable quote: 'If your business model is piracy, your story will not have a happy ending.'"

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.