After failing to defeat iiNet, will AFACT attack the internet itself?
Some people would say the carrot is mightier than the stick when it comes to battling online piracy, but such sentiments seem lost on the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft. Yet AFACT's court battles against Internet Service Providers such as iiNet have repeatedly failed to deliver a killer blow. After once again failing to take out the middleman ISPs last week, AFACT's options are to target end users or to attack the problem at its source.
AFACT has made it clear in the past that it's not keen on urban warfare. It doesn't want to drag everyday Australians through the courts, a stance it reiterated at Friday's press conference after the High Court verdict went against it. That would seem a wise strategy considering that such actions in the US turned into a PR nightmare. Courtesy of Wikileaks we know that AFACT is merely a puppet of the Motion Picture Association of America, so I'm sure they'll be coordinating their next move carefully.
Moving up the chain from end users, striking ISPs obviously seemed like a wise strategy until those pesky judges got in the way. AFACT was even smart enough to attack a smaller ISP like iiNet in an attempt to strike fear into the others, rather than tangle with the more powerful Telstra and Optus. AFACT has made some progress negotiating with ISPs over the last few years, but its legal threats now ring hollow.
Of course there's more than one way to target piracy and the copyright police have invested considerable resources in legal assaults on high profile BitTorrent search engines such as TorrentSpy and The Pirate Bay. These cases might have claimed a few scalps and made a few headlines but they failed to slay the multi-headed hydra that is file-sharing. It's still easier than ever for anyone to download files via BitTorrent and other methods.
The recent takedown of Megaupload is an interesting development, but it's only applicable to websites which actually host content. BitTorrent file sharing doesn't work this way, it just puts people in touch with other people so they can share directly. There's no central BitTorrent storage point to strike, unless you're prepared to attack the entire internet. So that's exactly what the copyright police are planning to do. They want to destroy the internet in order to save it, in a backroom strategy that would make Nixon proud.
Rather than shut down BitTorrent search engines or perhaps target the initial uploaders, Plan B in the copyright war is to push through draconian laws allowing the copyright police to rewire the internet. Forget targeted attacks, they're aiming to bomb the entire internet back into the Stone Age with weapons such as the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), Protection IP Act (PIPA) and the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA).
Under SOPA for example the US government would have the power to make websites disappear -- removing them from DNS directories, erasing them from search results, preventing them from accepting advertising and blocking them from processing online payments. After a public backlash SOPA and PIPA have been put on hold, but they're far from dead and will likely reappear although perhaps in a different guise.
All these various legal manoeuvres have the same basic goals -- to strip away people's online rights and to seize control of the internet by tearing at its very fabric. The Motion Picture Association of America and its goons would in effect become an occupying force on the internet, but they'll be fighting on foreign soil and face a determined and resourceful indigenous resistance movement. You don't need to be a history student to know how these things tend to end.
Coming back to Australia, the government's mandatory internet filtering plans aren't dead either, they've just been on the backburner while the iiNet trial played out. Now AFACT has failed in the Australian courts it's calling on the government to act. Expect the filter to be back on the table, although also perhaps in a different guise. Meanwhile a Federal government review of Australian copyright law is coming next year. Also keep an eye on the IP sections of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, which aims to build on the free trade agreement between Australia and the US that saw Australia inherit all the worst parts of the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
Even if Australian lawmakers don't succumb to powerful copyright lobby groups, it might not matter if US laws such as SOPA come into effect. If you're thinking this all sounds a bit Orwellian you're right, but that doesn't mean it can't really happen. To win this war, the copyright police are clearly prepared to attack the entire internet. They should brace themselves, because the internet is going to fight back.