What Are You Going To Do? 2555

You’re Going To Be Watched

Take a look at this. Take a look at that.

The record companies plan on keeping track of you.

Combine that with some of the initiatives being announced by MS and the hardware manufacturers, and I think the Evil Empire is getting ready to strike back.

Not saying Media Tracker is an end-all nuclear strike, probably isn’t, but it sure looks like the first shot in a war that’s about to start.

And it’s coming right at you and your ISPs.

What Will You Do?

Some day, maybe soon, you may get a letter from your ISP or from some lawyer. It may tell you your Internet service has been cut off or restricted. It may tell you to stop downloading, or further legal action will be forthcoming.

What are you going to do if you get that letter? (For some of you, the question might be, “What are you going to do if your mother or father get that letter?”)

I’ve heard enough bluster and posturing on this, plenty of “I’ll sue for invasion of privacy,” like there’s a provision in the Bill of Rights (or your national equivalent) saying, “The right of the people to steal MP3s shall not be infringed upon.”

All I’ll say is that if proper procedures are followed, I don’t think you’d have a Constitutional leg to stand on. You may have other grounds, but don’t think you can say “privacy” or “search and seizure” like it’s legal “Abracadabra.” If it were, you wouldn’t be there in the first place.

I recall one person saying, “If I ever get caught, I’ll just buy the CD.” First, a judge is not going to be very impressed by you buying a CD after the fact. Getting or forging an altered receipt will impress the judge even less. And finally, if the statement shows you downloaded several hundred MP3s, you’re going to go to the store and buy a hundred CDs?

Whether you know it or not, your stance is bluffing. And now that bluff is being called.

What are you going to do if you get that letter?

I’m not saying the record companies would have a slamdunk case against you, just saying that most of you certainly don’t have a slamdunk case against them.

But they do have plenty of money for good lawyers. Do you? Does your ISP? Do you think your ISP is really hellbent on protecting you? A few may be, but if you read the fine print in their privacy claims, there’s wiggle room.

Initially, I’d suspect most ISPs will just drop you on the spot. As time goes on, that may not be good enough. If push comes to shove, I wouldn’t bet ISPs wouldn’t release your name.

There might be some public interest groups interested in representing you, but the record companies will have more money than they do.

What we’ll probably see in the course of the next few years is litigation, lots of litigation. These issues are unsettled, at least in American jurisprudence, and I would bet in most (not all) other places.

But to have litigation, you have to have litigants, and that might mean you.

Where’s MP3 PAC?

What will probably happen in the course of litigation is that the record companies will win a lot, and lose some.

In those places where they lose because the law is not to their liking, they will lobby to get the laws changed to their liking.

Who is going to lobby for you? Where is the MP3 lobbying group? Where is the MP3 political action committee raising funds for political candidates?

We’re faced with the sight of a group of people whose only common interest is NOT paying needing to come up with millions and millions of dollars to try to keep not paying. This is a true fund-raising challenge.

If this doesn’t happen, and the record companies are spending millions, while the MP3ers aren’t, then the MP3ers are a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest.

Guerilla War?

The concept of electronic guerilla warfare is no doubt appealing to many. Even real guerilla warfare often seems romantic, until you get arrested, or lose your job, or get led to the torture chamber or firing squad, that is. Then many people start rather disliking it.

Not that the local police chief is going to start sweeping your neighborhood of teen downloaders and start lining them up to be shot (much as he might fantasize about it at times), but if you’re going to break the law, you’d better be ready to deal with the possible consequences.

All wars have casualties.

You’d better start asking yourself, “What price am I willing to pay for free music?”

At the very least, are you willing to deal with repercussions of being dropped by ISPs? Would you be willing to pay to support legislative lobbying and other political support? Are you willing to go to court and pay a lawyer to defend you against civil or criminal charges? Are you willing to pay fines? Are you willing to have your computer confiscated? Are you willing to have a criminal record as a result of your activities? Finally, are you willing to go to jail for this particular belief?

That’s the full spectrum of possible consequences. You may scoff at the latter ever applying to you, and statistically, you’re probably right, especially if you’re a consumer rather than a supplier.

But there are a few serving hard times for software copyright violation. Granted, a handful. But I’m sure they didn’t think that was going to happen to them, either.

We’re moving from no way to unlikely (very unlikely for the stiffer penalties), but very unlikely is riskier than no way.

I think in a few years, we’ll probably see a legal/law enforcement environment roughly in the same ballpark as possessing small quantities of soft drugs. The differences will probably be that the odds on getting caught will be higher, and the punishment will be lower, and usually financial rather than criminal (though there will be some of those).

Just as there’s a underground for drugs, there will certainly be an underground for this in most places. The odds on you getting caught will vary quite a bit depending on where you are and when you happen to be doing this. However, there’s no doubt in my mind we’re going to start seeing casualties.

Statistical Likelihoods Work Both Ways

How many steal CDs from record stores? Some.

How many people take MP3s? Quite a few more.

What are the difference between the two? It’s generally easier to get an MP3 than to sneak a CD out, and a lot safer.

What do you think happens when it becomes less safe? The number willing to pay that price starts dropping down towards the CD-stealer level.

The record companies are betting that they can at least create the perception that you stand a good chance of getting caught.

The MP3 hardcore is either betting that there will always be safety in numbers and/or that the record companies will not be able to get the legal/law enforcement system to create that impression.

I find the first hardcore argument foolish. If the record companies succeed, the MP3er audience will meltdown faster than snow in the Amazon. A hardcore will still remain, but the fewer there are, the more vulnerable they are. Should this happen, MP3s become a problem as managable as CD theft.

The second argument has much more merit. It’s going to take a sustained effort and will by the record companies to fight what to some degree will be an unending war.

But the record companies don’t need complete victory. 80-90% is good enough for their purposes, and I have no doubt they’ll get that if they succeed in their quest.

The only question is, “Will they?”

Separating the Men From The Boys

I’ve always been a history buff, so I’ve read a lot about wars and guerilla wars, and what people do or don’t do in these situations.

In any war situation, you have four types of people:

1) The hardcore rebels and sympathizers(usually a small minority)
2) The hardcore authority supporters and sympathizers (also a small minority)
3) The opportunists (who’ll play either side), and finally

4) The majority (who mostly will do what it takes to have a quiet or at least quieter life)

The majority will sway either way depending on the external forces placed on them.

Do you know what? If you just listen to people talk (and people feel pretty sure the other side isn’t listening in), you often can’t tell the difference between groups one, three or four.

I don’t doubt that most of the people who will bluster the most about their inalienable rights to get MP3s will crumple the instant it costs them anything.

I doubt just as little that some won’t.

Which will you be? I don’t know. Good chance even you don’t really know, even if you think you do, and you won’t until and if the moment of truth arrives.

In war, sometimes the people considered the bravest just hide and cry when they first come under fire. Sometimes, the people who are considered real wusses are stonewalls. Quite often, a man can be a hero one day, a coward the next.

The point of this piece is not to tell you what to do, but rather to tell you that a fight is coming, and you should consider just what you are going to do if it comes to your doorstep.

Do, Or Don’t Do. Don’t Just Whine

If you look at this and think, “the gravy train is over,” you know what to do, or, more accurately, what not to do.

If this is really important to you, and you are willing to pay the price, at least find out what you need to start doing to protect yourself.

For anybody else, what are you willing to do about this? If you’re willing to say anything, but do nothing; you’re a useless bag of wind, and worth about as much. Giving me or a forum or a website or a newsgroup a speech means nothing. Give a judge that speech instead.

I’ve mentioned some concrete actions that need to be taken if the record companies are to be thwarted. There’s also other actions you can take. Talk to your representatives, get organized.

But just don’t babble, do something.

Email Ed

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