CableGate shows Copyright as The Emporer’s New Clothes

CableGate shows Copyright as The Emporer’s New Clothes

As I mentioned earlier, the copyright lobby has been evolving information dissemination over the past 15 years or so off the back of expanded copyright law (expanded and propagated largely by the US Congress and State Department respectively).  The underlying premise of this legislation is (hopefully) not that it is solely an avenue for a medieval display of vengeance against individuals, but, rather, that the expansion of legal sanctions through the copyright law will (or at least can in theory) have the effect in practice of reducing the distribution of information.

Many people have commented that this outlook is out of touch with reality.  “Have they not heard about the Streisand Effect?” might go the argument. “Oh no,” comes the reply, “sure we might have a problem now, but that’s only because the Copyright Act isn’t ‘strong’ enough.  Financiers need more ‘protection’, that’s all.  Just make it illegal to decrypt our content, or make third parties liable for infringement or have customs strip search travelers at the border for us, then we’ll win the ‘war’ on piracy”  The beauty of this argument is that no matter what is put into the Act, you can always ask for something even more extreme next time. “Oh, that wasn’t enough, we need even more ‘protection’.” Well, that argument now will seem a little ridiculous, even to those who would have earlier politely suspended their disbelief.  Cablegate will be where the rubber hits the road as a very practical demonstration that it doesn’t matter how much power you have, you really, truly can’t control information.  In its wake who will be able to take seriously the proposition that copyright law will have the effect of reducing distribution?*

While Cablegate is yet to play out in its entirety, with the recent release of 500 700 (and growing) mirrors of the Wikileaks website, and the nuclear option of an encrypted unredacted tarball seeded to torrentland only the most hardened government would not give serious thought to throwing in the towel.  The coming weeks will tell.

In the course of a week an astounding array of extra-judicial force has been brought against Wikileaks with mind boggling swiftness:

  • they were kicked from Amazon
  • then kicked from their French hosting provider
  • then their paypal account was suspended
  • their mastercard payments have been stopped
  • their Swiss bank accounts have been suspended
  • Ecuador offered them asylum, then withdrew the offer (join the dots)
  • they were DDOSed
  • their domain name was revoked
  • a dead arrest warrant against their public face has been revived and re-issued
  • they’ve had death threats made against them and their legal team

This is a response truly worthy of shock and of our awe.  It is raw power being put to work, largely extra-legally.**  No court ordered Wikileaks off Amazon, it chose to kick them, albeit likely based on comments by US Senator Joe Lieberman and others and possibly by a tap on the shoulder from someone in the Executive.  The exercise of this power has been extremely effective, remarkably quick and unburdened by judicial oversight – it is the sort of response a copyright ideologue dreams of.***

How can anyone take the copyright proposition seriously anymore?  This is raw power, exercised by not just any old government, but by a very motivated Superpower – and one which is aided by other governments large and small who also have a joint interest is keeping diplomatic cables secret.  If this raw power can’t contain this information how could copyright holders backed only by a Copyright Act possibly do so?  How is it possible to argue for extensions to the Act other than on the basis of vengeance?


* This issue is independent of the view you take of the wisdom or advisability of the Cablegate leaks and, indeed, on whether Wikileaks itself survives.  I am taking some licence here in assuming that control of the cables will ultimately be unsuccessful.

**  The exception being being the Interpol warrant.  Hopefully you’ll forgive the assumption that this power is being exercised by the US Government.

*** As an aside, this form of exercise of power is one of the criticisms of communism in that a government which controls the economy can, if it choses, deny a livelihood to those out of political favour.


1 Response to “CableGate shows Copyright as The Emporer’s New Clothes”

  1. 1 yogi 8 December 2010 at 6:00 am

    I think the point is deterrence – everything is being done to make it clear that the price for discovering and spreading such information will be very high. This will frighten away most people, especially in light of the silence of the media of the FREE WORLD (for crying out loud!), which speaks volumes, silently, as to is actual loyalty and mission statement.

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