[Piracy] Torpedo In The Water!

We definitely live in strange times. The infamous French law named Hadopi was supposed to give the French government a whole new range of options to deter and sanction illegal copies of licensed material.

I’m not up to speed in all the minutiae of the legal procedures and stuff, but the base rules were thus:

  1. Some guy in some office with a license to hunt pirates down (but apparently not a cop, whose job it should be) peruses the web to find the IP of your computer participating in an illegal download.
  2. You get sent an email saying close to nothing except that your IP has been flagged for further investigation.
  3. You get a hardcopy of the email through the postal system
  4. If you are flagged again (or maybe not next time but after the third time or whatever, I’ve always been hazy on the details), your internet connection is shut down, and you might (or might not) see the cops at your door some time later.

Now, this mess has been up and about for a couple of years. And it’s dying a slow death, having cost taxpayers millions.

Why?

Because, apparently, the people at the head of this brand new agency get their seats for 2 years and someone forgot to renew the mandate of put other people in their places. Since the agency has no legal jurisdiction if the quorum can’t be satisfied, the whole thing just can’t legally work anymore.

It sounds nuts, doesn’t it? Unfortunately for our French pride, and until the murky waters can be cleared, it seems to be true.

And that’s only the tip of the iceberg, albeit arguably a summit in crazy stupidity.

This legal system (the agency and the laws to back it up) are what we call in the tech trade clearly “ad hoc”. It’s jumbled up together without any real plan, strategy or even common sense. To the people who actually understand how bits and bytes move around, it’s just (and I quote) “crazy bat-shit stupid”.

First off, since only the IP can be flagged, the law stipulates that if you get hacked and someone uses your network to do something illegal, it is somehow your fault. I am technically conversant, and I could probably spot some downloading activity going on through my WiFi network, but I live in a very dense area packed to the brim with computer students. That, plus the fact I willingly give authorizations to my visiting friends means that I wouldn’t bet anything on the safety of my own network. So how could someone who doesn’t even know how to change the fricking password on the WiFi relay do anything about it?

But it doesn’t stop there. Your IP has been flagged, but there’s no proof you’ve been engaged in an illegal activity until some duly appointed law enforcement agent inspects the contents of your hard drive. That means invading privacy in the name of justice, which requires a warrant. In order to get a warrant issued, you have to find a reasonable and plausible cause. In order to get that, you need to have something like a listing of the hard drive, because, frankly, “hey I think some bytes went towards this computer” may be enough in a movie, but in real life, suspicion isn’t proof. I don’t even know how they worked a loophole around that plausible cause in any case, but I guess it’s not such a done deal as they seemed to indicate when the new law was pushed through everyone’s throats.

And then, of course, there’s the official chitty. If memory serves, a warning has to be acknowledged to be acted upon. You can’t say “it’s the third time this guy has been warned” unless you have a proof that the piece of paper has been handed to the person. Theoretically, this is done through a receipt. A friend of mine got the email, but not the piece of paper. He never signed any receipt either. So, legally, he never got it. Is that tricky or what?

In the end, the only person that has any kind of certainty (for a given value of “certain”) as to anything in this process is the guy who flagged you in the first place. He has done his job properly, noted something and pushed it down a pipe.

I don’t know if it’s the case everywhere in the legal system, but I know for a fact that for circulation-related tickets and fines, the name of the officer who flagged the unlawful behavior has to put his name down. For speeding ticket where the flagger is a camera, you have its serial number on the ticket. And I’m waiting to be convinced that, somehow, it’s not the case in every legal procedures in the country.

I’ve read the mail, it is a funny thing to receive in and of itself. There is nothing on it that identifies the person who flagged the deed and initiated the procedure. If memory serves, there’s a date and a time of the alleged perpetration, but that’s it. Shady huh?

So the whole thing starts to smell, doesn’t it?

I’ve said it and I stand by it: piracy will always be around. There is no way to eradicate it totally, just like any other (more spectacular) kinds of crimes. By ridiculing the whole anti-piracy rhetoric this way, to my mind at least, they just make it even more OK… “Hey, even the government can’t do anything about it, so, who cares?”

The key lies in education. If the end user has good motives for buying licensed material (because he likes it, sees the just price for it, can afford it, and has easy access to it), he will. There’s no way that an abstract crime can be avoided in this fashion (no one infringed on any physical, tangible, integrity – there is no trace; no one has less money that they started with; everything is close to anonymous). You have to somehow make it real to the person who’s not supposed to commit it. Physical injury is real. Anyone can relate to that. Therefore it can be a crime, given a set of rules. Ditto for theft. Piracy, when it’s done well, leaves no trace, only actual sales figures that are lower than projected figures. How real can that be to warrant punishment?

Not enough.

So, time to put together positive reinforcement that will simply make piracy obsolete. Because it hurts someone you could like. Because piracy is uncool, for losers. Because pirating something is so much more difficult than getting a clean copy.

  

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