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Thursday, 27 September 2012

Between the US Justice, State and Homeland Security departments someone must by now be regretting copyright over-reach

No publicity is bad publicity, so things must be going pretty swell for the entertainment studios and US authorities trying to extradite Kim Dotcom for copyright crimes.

No doubt the music and film industry reps who pushed for the Mega Warrant and subsequent extradition arrests had originally intended to lap up the publicity, spinning objections from a highly vocal tiny minority into two clear messages: stealing music is wrong; and, wherever you live, we will get you.

If it wasn't for the fact that Dotcom & Co have come out of every spat so far looking like the good guys*.

The US authorities didn't even want Kim Dotcom out on bail.  Bail was granted and the international media bandwagon picked up pace.

An asset freezing order granted against Megaupload directors was so broad it left the defendants with no cash to pay their rent or lawyers.  The NZ High Court subsequently fixed this, and later ruled the Mega Conspirators should also have access to the evidence against them before extradition is granted.

No doubt these last two rulings came as a relief* to the world's shoutiest proponent of democracy*, what with access to legal advice and the right of the accused to challenge evidence against them being two cornerstones of democracy...

... So relieved were US government lawyers that they appealed the latter.

In the midst of all these legal moves, as the global media bandwagon burgeoned, the copyright enforcers fought back.

The US Department of Justice* argued in court it could keep Megaupload assets frozen "indefinitely", even if the case against the corporation was dismissed; a clear victory for justice!

And an internal MPAA strategy to turn bad publicity surrounding copyright extraditions into good publicity was leaked.

Good publicity

And, in the midst of all these legal moves and burgeoning global media bandwagon, Dotcom announced he would launch a new music service despite remaining under house arrest; an announcement which won him a free trail on the BBC, one of the world's most read websites.

But all the publicity to date was nothing compared to what was coming.  The NZ security services spied unlawfully on Dotcom and co-accused, and the Prime Minister John Key today apologised for the bungle.

Yes, intrusive surveillance powers most of us accept are necessary to keep us safe from foreign agents and terrorists were used to track those accused of music piracy.

This surely is a watershed moment when even the most ardent securocrats wake up and realise such abuses help no-one.  Without public trust in the security apparatus we can never feel free, even if we are.

The NZ spying controversy leaves one question unanswered - were surveillance powers abused in other countries in the name of copyright?

Are surveillance powers being abused in other countries in the name of copyright?

Earlier this year I attended a rather exclusive cyber-security conference in Belfast where a senior Home Office official rather proudly proclaimed the take-down of UK music website RnBExclusive was evidence of government action against cyber threats.

Has mission creep really gone so far that now copyright protection = cyber-security = national security?

There is some evidence that music and film industry bodies pressed for surveillance of copyright suspects in the UK.

After the UK trial of Anton Vickerman - a private criminal prosecution brought by the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) against the owner of  another UK-based website Surfethechannel.com - Vickerman made allegations that FACT had asked a police officer seconded to the Federation to get a police tap on Vickerman's internet connection. 

There's no indication this request was ever carried out, and only Vickerman's rant at the start of a four year prison sentence to document the request was even made.

Yet an anonymous source has since contacted me with a further allegation in this area.  I doubt I will ever be able to investigate; that's the trouble with secrecy, you rarely get to find out if secrecy is warranted, or whether secret powers were abused... Due to the secrecy...

Which is why today's apology by the Prime Minister of New Zealand is a welcome but sadly, for leaders, where secret powers are concerned, rare occurrence.

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