Down the Hatch

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It seems that Senator Orin Hatch hit a raw nerve with his comments about damaging computers. For some reason, the thought of getting arrested or sued for MP3ing doesn’t bother people, but the thought of one’s computer being zapped does. From some responses, you’d think it was a personal body part for some.

The irony is that getting arrested or sued is a far bigger threat now or in the foreseeable future than any computer zapping. Getting arrested or sued can and is happening now. Computer zapping is a rather dubious possibility that even its advocates don’t see happening until lesser means fail.

Personally, if I had to choose, I’d rather lose a computer than get busted or sued, but then, I don’t consider my computer a personal body part.

However, it seems like most people reading these stories (including mine) didn’t get it.

Contrary to what most people believe, Senator Hatch didn’t introduce any legislation. He did not submit a bill to make computer zapping OK under the law. He doesn’t plan to any time soon. All he did was ask about the possibility of doing such a thing if everything else failed.

I explained yesterday, and sure enough, his office issued a statement for those who were comprehension-challenged:

“I am very concerned about Internet piracy of personal and copyrighted materials, and I want to find effective solutions to these problems.

“I made my comments at yesterday’s hearing because I think that industry is not doing enough to help us find effective ways to stop people from using computers to steal copyrighted, personal or sensitive materials. I do not favor extreme remedies – unless no moderate remedies can be found. I asked the interested industries to help us find those moderate remedies.”

Vigilantes Denouncing Vigilantism

It is unintentionally hilarious to see people denounce the idea of companies playing vigilantes, then turn right around and with a straight face try to justify the exact same thing when they’re doing it.

Anyone with even rudimentary logic circuits would conclude that if vigilantism is a bad thing for people to do (which is generally is), it’s bad for everyone to do, including you.

To say “The law is meant for you, not me,” simply shows the mind of a simpleton or shows simple, brazen hypocrisy. Neither carries much weight in the real world.

But He’s A Hypocrite, Too, He Steals Software, Too!!

More than a few have pointed out reports that Senator Hatch’s office steals software. Uhhh, no. You can see a story that at least has most of the facts here.

Unfortunately, most either didn’t read it or comprehend it.

From some of the comments being made about it, you’d never know that this was free software for non-profit organizations. Did you?

Apparently, the webmaster in his office (who is not the Senator) hadn’t registered the free software and added a link to the programmer’s website, but did you know that they have since done so? The programmer’s website now says “there are no longer any licensing issues with reference to the above website.” Did you know that?

To call forgetting to register free software the same thing as stealing Photoshop is . . . well, not smart.

The Simple Bare Facts

Copying software, music or movies without payment or permission from its owners is illegal. U.S. law (and most other national law) calls it a type of theft. These laws apply to you. If you do it anyway, depending on the specifics, you can be sued or imprisoned.

These are undeniable facts. To say, “I don’t believe so,” or “I don’t agree with that” is about as bright as saying “I don’t believe in or agree with gravity.” You can, but your opinion means nothing when it comes to law enforcement. You either obey the law, or you don’t. If you don’t, you can be punished for it, no matter what you think about it.

This seems to be completely beyond the comprehension of many, many people.

Unlike natural laws like gravity, man-made laws can be changed. If you don’t like a law, you don’t change it by breaking it. You change it by changing it, and you do that by convincing lawmakers to change it. These are the rules of democratic societies. Period.

There are those in such societies who don’t accept these rules. We call them criminals, and they often find themselves occupying not cyberspace, but cell space.

This is also apparently beyond the comprehension of many, many people.

You know, this notion that stealing is illegal isn’t exactly new or radical. It’s pretty hard to have any kind of functioning civilization when stealing is OK, simply because people stop making things just to have them stolen.

They Heard You, And Here’s The Result

The committee which Senator Hatch now chairs asked for public comments last year, which you can see here. From most of the comments, you would think the only stealing problem was theft of constitutional rights.

In general, the comments can be summarized as, “Go away.”

You can see what at least one Senator learned from it. He didn’t learn, “Oooh, I’m scared, better leave them alone.” He learned, “These people don’t seem to have any respect for the law, and it may take a 2X4 to beat it into some of them.”

Or, as Senator Hatch actually put it, damaging someone’s computer “may be the only way you can teach somebody about copyrights.”

And I can’t say he’s wrong in at a lot of some cases.

They’re Not Going To Leave You Alone

The geek community, with their heads up nether regions, seems to think that if they just say “No” long and loud and obtusely enough, that’s that.

If that’s the case, then why did this happen?

The reason why this did not happen is that the opinion that electronic theft is OK is so far out of the political mainstream that such opinions are given no more weight than if every burglar in America wrote his congressman demanding that armed robbery be legalized.

It’s just not going to happen, and the more such opinions get expressed, the more they will convince the powers-that-be that they have a bunch of obtuse wackos out there that have to be dealt with firmly, and if necessary, harshly.

If geeks had any political brains at all, they might try tactics like arguing that if high quality, flexible music audio were available, MP3s could serve as a sort of radio, or might be available very cheaply.

But nooooooooo. So long as the geek position is, “It’s none of your business what we do,” their opinions will be dismissed.

I know what’s going to happen. Eventually, once TCPA gets functional, there will be a bill which will require it in all new U.S. computer equipment (which in all likelihood will end up meaning all equipment, period). If there’s an attempt to bypass it, doing so will become a criminal act.

Geeks will scream and yell and carry on and have temper tantrums, which will do absolutely nothing to stop such a bill from becoming law, because few if any Congressman will cast a vote their political opponents can call a vote for stealing. Then the less-deluded geeks will find out how much political power and influence they don’t have.

The major hardware companies will all obey such a law, as will the major OSs. They aren’t going to give up the biggest market for their equipment just to make you happy. MS certainly will obey any legislative mandate. So will any major distribution of Linux (true, you may be able to strip that part out, but that will become a criminal act).

Most people will drift away at the point where doing this becomes too much hassle and/or they think they can get caught, and for those who don’t get it, well, we’ll have the electronic equivalent of the drug wars.

Nor is this some American peculiarity. The European Union is in the process of doing much the same thing. For instance, the Swedish government plans to specifically make illegal downloading copyrighted material from P2P networks. doing much the same thing.

This is what is going to happen, sooner or later. It has to happen; there’s too much at stake here. It sometimes takes democratic institutions a long time to take action, but they eventually do.

You can believe me now, or believe me after it happens. Anyone who tells you that things aren’t going to change is either clueless, deluded, stupid, or just pandering to you.

Sorry, but that’s the truth.

Ed

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