Politics Technology

Download Yourself To Jail

This is the stupidest thing I’ve seen in months – and I am a connoisseur of stupid., a music download site, has been taken down by an organisation calling itself the Serious Organised Crime Agency.

This is what it used to look like. This is what appears there now.

The image above though – click to see it full size – is what it looked like yesterday; a page put up by this SOCA plainly intended to scare anyone who visits. I kid you not. And despite their Captain Scarlet-class logo, the Serious Organised Crime Agency are an honest-to-goodness branch of UK law enforcement which, when it’s not busy, does real work against real crime. Which means that making music available for download is serious crime now, alongside drugs, extortion, and human trafficking. Thanks to the lobbying of the entertainment industry. Indeed the notice reads like it was drafted by industry spin merchants:

“The individuals behind this website have been arrested for fraud”

Arrested, not convicted. The logic is that some of the tracks made available were not officially released yet and so obtained by illegal means, and that constitutes fraud. Seems tenuous, but we’ll let it pass.

“The majority of music files that were available via this site were stolen from the artists.”

Copyright infringement is not theft – not even in law. If they are implying that the majority of tracks on the site were obtained from record companies by illegal means then that, let us say, seems unlikely to be true.

If you have downloaded music using this website you may have committed a criminal offence which carries a maximum penalty of up to 10 years imprisonment and an unlimited fine under UK law.

You can get ten years for downloading a music track? Absolutely untrue. The penalties for copyright infringement are not that draconian – yet. The tortuous logic of this seems to be that by downloading the file you are participating in a conspiracy to defraud. This should be laughed out of court.

“The above information can be used to identify you and your location.”

This is designed to frighten children. Of course a website you visit knows your IP address. Unless of course you actually are a criminal, in which case you’d take the trouble to disguise it.

“You may be liable for prosecution and the fact that you have received this message does not preclude you from prosecution.”

You may have already won $1,000,000. Again they are trying to scare kids with vague half-truths. Which is not what I thought law enforcement was about.

“As a result of illegal downloads young, emerging artists may have had their careers damaged. If you have illegally downloaded music you will have damaged the future of the music industry

Still trying to make kids feel bad. Trying but failing; the kids know that illegal downloads are as likely to promote the careers of “young, emerging” artists. They also know that the music industry has no future if it goes on like this.

This page has been taken down now, because “that stage of the operation is over”. Well yes. Over because it was widely and rightly criticised. It now links instead to SOCA’s own site, which among various other questionable claims states:

“IFPI estimates losses to legitimate businesses and artists caused by the site to be £15m a year.”

The IFPI is the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry – a lobbying group. So what the SOCA is saying here is “We report entertainment industry PR bullshit as fact.” Again, not what I thought law enforcement was about. In the minds of the industry every illegal download is the loss of a full-price sale, and copyright infringement costs them more money than the record-buying public ever had to spend. Yet it’s they who are convincing politicians to sponsor terrible laws like SOPA and ACTA, laws that if passed will curtail real freedoms that we legitimately enjoy. All because these people submit present masturbation fantasies as evidence.


Emergency At 2 a.m. – Aftermath

That was a new battery

So late last night, I left the house because I heard strange sounds and found what I recognised as a neighbour’s car burning in the road outside.

Disorientating. This is a quiet village, crimes don’t happen here; I don’t know when there was last even a chimney fire. But now I’m looking at a car engulfed in flames, surrounded by sleeping people.

And of course, I had no way of being sure whether the guy who owned it was still in there or not. The heat – indeed the light – made it impossible to see if there was a body inside.

I won’t keep you in suspense, he wasn’t. But it was a long time before I knew that for sure.

He hadn’t left it here of course. It had been broken into and pushed a little way from the house, we guess so they could start it out of earshot. When they found it wouldn’t start they must have torched it to hide any evidence. It wasn’t the sort of car you’d steal for resale, and it’s not probable that someone would come way out here to find one for a joyride; most likely they’d wanted a random vehicle to carry out a robbery.

Definitely no one dead there
The skeleton of a seat only

Intriguingly, another car was torched shortly after only a mile or so away. It must have been the same people, this isn’t the kind of place things like that happen ever, never mind twice a night. Maybe that was a second attempt to take a vehicle that refused to start.

I hope so. We’ve a way to go before we get to the bottom of this, but I like to think the cars of my neighbours helped foil a crime last night.


Confession Under Pressure


Is the seal of confession above the law? It’s a question that’s been asked over and over again, in one crappy TV movie after another. The answer – if any final answer there can be – is no of course not, don’t be stupid.

Characterizing this as some sort of revolutionary break with church domination is the sort of nonsense we can leave to others. A priest who, to take a fiction-friendly example, knows that a murder has been committed cannot escape criminal charges by saying he was told about it in confession. He escapes criminal charges because failing to volunteer information is not a crime. It’s up to his own sense of right and wrong. That’s why you can get a good hour and a half out of it.

So this measure is revolutionary, but its effect on the lives of priests is of trifling importance compared to how it affects all of us. It creates a new crime of not telling what you know – something that does not fit at all well with basic ideas of a free society. To commit a crime you have to actually do something wrong. It is not a crime merely to know something, and it is not a crime not to do something. Exceptions are specific – you can commit a crime by omission only if you have a specific duty of care. If you don’t feed your horse it’s a crime. It’s not a crime if I don’t feed it.

Professionals have specific duties of care that come with the job. A doctor has to act if they believe someone is endangered for example. Under common law principles, the rest of us don’t. You would think that a priest or bishop could be said to have a professional duty of care over the children of their parish or diocese, and I don’t know why this legal route was not taken. Perhaps it would involve the state in the professional regulation of clerics, something it feels it’s better well out of.

Instead, this proposed law would seem to create a universal duty of care towards children, incumbent on all adults. Your kids actually will be my responsibility. I think this is actually civilizing and might be a good idea anyway, but I can see big objections and big potential problems.

It may simply be unworkable. If it is a crime to not report suspected sexual abuse of children, how can you ever convict someone? You’ve got to establish, beyond reasonable doubt, that they had reason to suspect abuse which was specifically sexual. What’s more, in the one situation that everyone is assuming this applies to – the sacrament of confession – you will never get a conviction anyway because it will always be one person’s word against another’s.

So if a law is both useless in practice, and breaches a fundamental principle of the common law tradition, I’m very much afraid it will either never happen, or actually be worse than nothing. We will need to think hard about this.

Wouldn’t it be simpler to just ban priests?


Don’t Call It Hacking

News of the World (album)
I'm Seeing A Whole New Meaning In This Now

Calling it “hacking” makes it sound difficult and technical, when basically what the News Of The World did was phone voicemail boxes that, like most, had easily-guessed PINs. It was spying. It was intrusion. It was burglary. It invaded the lives of innocent people every bit as violently and recklessly as breaking into into their homes and ransacking their bedrooms. Where they had a reasonable expectation of privacy, they find a stranger there, manipulating their lives for money.

‘Hacking’ once meant something very different; it was a morally neutral or actually positive word, simply meaning skilled use of computers. Ironically there was even a hacker code of ethics – a concept these debased editors would have to look up.

This has added a great deal more fuel to an already raging debate over libel and privacy law. That reform is desperately needed is, as the “superinjunction” debacle showed, beyond question, but such difficult decisions would be better not made in the context of newspapers carrying out criminal acts. Laws made in anger and haste are likely to be bad for all journalism and all freedom of speech, not just Murdoch’s papers and their like.

And it should be remarked that other British tabloids are quite capable of doing breathtaking violence to basic moral concepts. Look at today’s Daily Express. In the light of a study that failed to find a link between salt and early death, they label all people who discouraged eating salt as ‘fascist’.

That’s what the Daily Express thinks fascists are. Not people who overthrow democracy, who rule by fear, who murder all opposition. People who say you shouldn’t eat too much salt.

Evil is infantile.

(Updated 22:00)

%d bloggers like this: