The Skeptical Informer 2013 number 2: Kim Dotcom and Intellectual Property

The IT Skeptic's Skeptical Informer newsletter for 21st January 2013.

Kim Dotcom is making a splash. Despite all the technical woes, the launch of his Mega site today is a wild success, with quarter-of-a-million reportedly signing up on Day One. The bumbling handling of the legal attack on him by the FBI and the NZ Police would have had him changing his pants on the day, but it has now turned into the sort of publicity money can't buy. He's not been slow in helping the publicity along either: he threw open his mansion for a local school charity, and again today for the launch party; he promised New Zealand free broadband; he handed out free ice-cream in the main street of Auckland; today he recreated the police attack on his house, with choppers and guys abseiling down the walls.

When the story first broke, I'd never heard of Kim and didn't know he lived in NZ (though even a technology Luddite like me knew of MegaUpload). When I heard the first reports, I hated him and hoped he went down. A German grown fat on a piracy site. As a passionate proponent of intellectual property rights and one who aspires to make all my living off content, of course I wanted him taken down. Make an example of him.

Then I saw the footage of the police operation. It made me slightly ill. That's not how we do things in New Zealand. Maybe to take out a camp training terrorists with guns and Molotov cocktails, though many Kiwis agree even that was a bit over the top considering the dumb clowns they were dealing with. But to arrest a businessman doing something dodgy on the internet? On his birthday? I was embarrassed by our normally fine police force. (Interestingly one of the senior cops was involved in both operations).

Maybe there was more to this. I got thinking. I started out wanting to be an internet entrepreneur. I had aspired to be Kim Dotcom. From the start I ruled out crime, spam and porn, which is probably why I'm not Kim Dotcom :) But what was his crime? Is a courier service committing a crime if drug-dealers use them to deliver packages? Are the Swiss banks committing a crime by allowing stolen money to be deposited? I don't think so. Distasteful, yes. Illegal, no.

More importantly, are they committing a crime if they have some awareness of the criminal activity channeled through their business? I'm no lawyer but I still think no.

Sure it's a fine line. Pirate Bay deserve to go down. They explicitly promote and facilitate piracy. But Mega Upload? They provided a legitimate file storage and distribution mechanism, used for legal and illegal content alike. They co-operated with the authorities when asked - not enthusiastically but they did what they were obligated to do.

They knew piracy was flowing through their business. It was probably a large part of their business model. But I can't see that as any worse than an accountant or lawyer who works for a criminal. Or a tradesman or cleaner. I don't see it as illegal to provide legal infrastructure to criminals. Unsavoury but not a crime.

And certainly not a crime that requires armed cops to burst into a family home with wives and kids about.

Then Dotcom made me laugh with one simple picture. Shades of Weekend at Bernie's (Turns out it's not Kim floating in the pool but I didn't even know what he looked like at the time). This was the beginning of his PR blitz as he fought back with ice-cream and mockery and wild promises. It doesn't make me like what he does but it makes it harder not to like the guy.

In the modern world we're driven too often by hysteria. We attack certain phenomena with a rabid zeal that is reminiscent of witch-hunts of old: radiation, terrorism, political philandering, pedophilia, copyright violation. All are bad things, all have been with us forever and will be forever, and all are reacted to these days out of all proportion to the actual threat to the community:

  • Countries shut down or shun one of our few hopes of actually reducing carbon emissions: nuclear reactors
  • The TSA erode civil rights and disrupt the travel of millions, whilst London looks on in bemusement.
  • Some of the USA's greatest presidents and rulers everywhere couldn't keep their dicks to themselves, and many countries consider the ability to handle multiple partners as an indicator of political nouse
  • Children cower at home and are shuttled everywhere in SUVs, learning nothing about the real world and how to deal with it (and not getting much fresh air and exercise either)
  • Armed police burst into homes because somebody is copying stuff

This became very personal for me recently.

I wrote a book Owning ITIL®. The book is published and printed by ITIL is a trademark of the UK government. TSO, the for-profit publisher of the ITIL books, is also contracted to enforce trademark (anyone see a conflict of interest here?).

TSO wrote to Lulu (not me) saying they objected to a small graphic on the cover of my book which said "ITIL V2 and V3" meaning the book covers both versions of ITIL (It came out not long after the V3 launch. Yes TSO have only just got around to attacking it). TSO claim that little sticker-like dot on the cover implies my book is an official ITIL book. This is of course absurd. Incidentally the back cover states in 12-point type "This book is neither part of nor associated with the IT Infrastructure Library®. This book and its author are not endorsed by any organisation."

Lulu's reaction? They deleted my whole frickin project, THEN emailed me to tell me they had done it. No discussion, no clarification.

My ability to discuss or appeal? None.

Dear Account Holder,

Lulu has sole discretion under the Lulu Membership Agreement and Terms of Use to remove content from our website. We have removed your content at this point based upon receiving information that there is a dispute as to whether intellectual property rights of another party have been infringed. If that dispute is resolved we may revisit our decision.

Questionable Content Team,

Exactly how would I "resolve" the dispute when the book and cover have been deleted?

Pro tip: want to eliminate a competitor's book? Just write to Lulu claiming an IP dispute and they'll delete it for you, no questions asked.

World's gone mad. We're losing all sense of proportion (which is a subset of that equally diminishing resource: common sense).

Photo Andreas Bohnenstengel

Related posts from the blog (don't forget to check out the comments! Always good):

ITIL intellectual property
OGC published a brochure describing their intellectual property rights over ITIL. Please do not rely on that document to guide your decisions on usage of ITIL.

TSO embraces open public information
I like to think I'm skeptical not cynical but some days it's tough. This initiative from TSO, OpenUp, has got me (and others) plunging into cynicism.

The bull in a china shop
at least two volunteer contributors and a Ph.D. student trampled over by bumbling lawyers who have clearly recently been prodded into action after years of doing sod all. And they don't apologise when they got it wrong - they just back off, like snarling curs on a chain.

The IT Skeptic does not condone IP theft
The IT Skeptic has zero tolerance for copyright violation. It is theft, pure and simple. On the other hand we support fair use. Almost all theft online is clearly not fair use.

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