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Chris Ford: Dotcom Mansion raid - very over the top!

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford

The Dotcom Mansion raid conducted in the early hours of Friday morning was real overkill. Seventy New Zealand Police and American FBI personnel - that's way overboard. The well heeled neighbours of Kim Dotcom (known as Kim Schmitz) must have thought there had been a murder or a huge drugs bust going down.

But no, yesterday's over the top raid had more to do with illegal filesharing and uploading. Schmitz and four of his buddies have been accused of being part of a group called "Mega Conspiracy", accused of reproducing copies of copyrighted works including movies, television programmes, music, software and books. 

This raid has been done at the behest of the big American corporates who control the world software, movie, book and entertainment scenes - in other words the people who force us to pay big time to see their movies, download their music, etcetera. And because they overcharge us for these things, increasing numbers of people (probably over half of the computer users on the planet) are resorting to getting free downloads of from the internet. Of course I realise that copyright infringement does cost the entertainment and software industries big time and that it allegedly enriches small groups whom are involved in piracy.

But the Dotcom raid was totally over the top. I have to ask the American authorities - at whose behest our police acted - as to what were they thinking? Obviously, the raid was conducted in such a way that it would send a message to pirates everywhere that copyright infringement was worse than drug dealing or murder. But no one (so far as I know) has died due to illegal filesharing whereas people have died due to the actions of drug barons. And also, did the FBI consider the calls on our already overstretched and underfunded police? I hear stories of people whom ring the police after an ordinary burglary to be told that an officer will come to them in two days. But when it comes to theft against multinational corporates you can expect everything to be laid on. And you can't ignore a request from the world's most well known national policing agency, the FBI!

I hope that Labour and the Greens will ask questions of Police Minister Judith Collins regarding the raid when the House resumes in a fortnight. Even though the Minister cannot interfere in operational matters, she should still be able to wring out of her top brass the cost to taxpayers of the raids, what other reported crimes were committed during those raids that went without an immediate response, how many investigative hours were soaked up prior to the raids and what pressure the American authorities brought to bear on their New Zealand counterparts to go overboard. 

And the raids have also been staged to coincide with the campaign by corporate software and entertainment lobbyists to get the US Congress to pass two potentially repressive laws, namely the Protect IP Act (PIPPA) and Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Understandably, the corporate lobby are concerned about the amount of online illegal firesharing and copying that is being done out there. However, this week prominent websites such as the search engine Google and most notably Wikipedia staged online protests against the two bills. These websites were concerned about clauses in the bills that could impede freedom of speech such as those pertaining to government orders to internet sites asking them to take down illegally uploaded website content. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, for example, doesn't disagree with the intent of the proposed laws but questions as to whether asking internet sites to take down illegally uploaded content by government edict is the best way to go about tackling illegal filesharing and uploading.

Perhaps it's time for the corporate world to get wise to the fact that people are sick of paying too much to see a movie or enjoy music too. People already pay enough on internet plans to corporate telecommunications providers to source information and entertainment. Perhaps it might be better for corporates, for example, to provide free movie, software and book downloads. This could be done in conjunction with Internet Service Providers who would enter into agreements with corporates to do this and perhaps include these services as part of their existing user service charges with an agreed portion being passed to entertainment corporates to keep them happy. I would personally like to see this happen if it meant that I could view a new release movie online from a major studio at no extra cost from my own computer. The downside of this is that it might threaten the existence of the cinema industry and the jobs that go with it (and if this were to happen, then lowly paid cinema workers, for example, should be actively supported by the State to find new work and not just abandoned). But over time as people switch to viewing and/or using downloadable content, new jobs will be created in the IT and other sectors.

Overall, the Dotcom Mansion raid and this week's internet protests should remind us that we live in a changing technological world. Of course, we should tackle those who pirate content. But at the same time, the authorities should realise that crimes such as this are not life and death situations and merit a more appropriate and balanced response. And that should come with an increased recognition by multinational corporates that pirates are doing well because they are overcharging ordinary people to view entertainment content. The entertainment corporates have to recognise that there are better alternatives.


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