Friday, September 2, 2011

Idi Amin: 'Download a Jail Bid, Punk'

Note: every week, news aggregators address hundreds of worthwhile stories or opinions that never catch on, either because they lack an obvious follow-up or because sites that live off ad revenue would rather bang high-traffic drums over and over. Idi Amin's Briefs Rodeo provides a summary of good stuff you might have missed. He has a Bachelor's degree in political science, the rank of Field Marshal and was the last ruler of a free Uganda. He has not eaten anyone since 1980.

Entertainment Industry Blazes New Avenues of Public-Private Partnerships

If you're a Tennessee resident and share your Netflix, Hulu Plus, or other premium digital service accounts with individuals who don't have paid accounts, you've committed a serious crime. In early June, the governor signed into law restrictions not shared by any other state, ones that enable you to be charged with a Class E Felony.

If you get caught sharing your Netflix password enough, you'll lose your right to vote and can face jailtime and fines. As the violation is considered "theft of property," here is the potential range of punishments you can face:
1. A Class A misdemeanor if the value of the property or services obtained is $500 or less.
2. A Class E felony if the value of the property or services obtained is more than $500 but less than $1,000.
3. A Class D felony if the value of the property or services obtained is $1,000 or more but less than $10,000.
4. A Class C felony if the value of the property or services obtained is $10,000 or more but less than $60,000.
5. A Class B felony if the value of the property or services obtained is at least $60,000.
This is another great example of the Government doing the bidding of the entertainment industry, and serves as a great sidearm to the Protect IP Act introduced in the Senate. The Protect IP Act makes it a felony to stream movies online, and was introduced by liberal hero Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

For the entertainment industry to limit its lobbying efforts the legislative branch would be silly, which is why they've also been taking their efforts to the judicial branch of government as well. Copyright infringement lawsuits didn't dwindle after Napster was shut down in 2000. The Recording Industry of America (RIAA) and Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) have been suing individuals for sharing songs and movies over peer-to-peer filesharing software for almost a decade, which wouldn't be too noteworthy were it not for the exorbitant amount of damages they demand from defendants.

The judicial system has been totally complicit in assisting the RIAA with extorting unreasonable penalties for users who have never been proven to actually have perpetrated the actions the RIAA said they did. Evidently, the word of an unlicensed investigation company and their screenshots suffice as "evidence" if you've got fucking billions of dollars.

After filing these kinds of lawsuits, the RIAA initially demanded a $3,000 settlement from defendants, whose only alternative was to fight the RIAA in court. Once trial began, damages could range from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars — the maximum penalty being $150,000 per song. Three thousand dollars becomes a comfortable and plausible level of extortion for billion-dollar companies who already pay a lump sum to in-house legal counsel, who then have every incentive to drag your lawsuit out as long as possible and coercively drive your legal fees above $3,000.

There were a few stumbles at the beginning of this journey. Among the first dozen lawsuits, they targeted 12 year-old honor student Brianna Lahara, who lived in public housing with her single mother. When they discovered the family's financial situation, they generously agreed to cut the settlement by one third, meaning the Laharas only owed the entertainment industry $2,000. As horrible as this story is, tragedy isn't as sexy as "stupid," and the tale was drowned out in a sea of other RIAA fuckups like suing the dead and people who don't own computers. They tried suing a woman they caught using Kazaa to share copyrighted songs, except she only had an Apple computer and thus wasn't capable of running the software, was 66, and the "copyrighted songs" were gangster rap.

Perhaps it's not fair to the RIAA to classify only the early lawsuits as stumbles. Much like Lahara's case in 2003, in late 2008 they sued 19 year-old Ciara Sauro, who has spent most of her life in and out of hospitals because of a condition called pancreatitis. Her single-parent household was described as being overwhelmed with medical debt, and despite the mother's open plea for justice and fairness, the RIAA asked for a whopping $8,000.

If anything, the beginning of these legal campaigns wasn't marked with missteps so much as the RIAA was just going through conditioning exercises before a litigious marathon. Once they realized they could sue a preteen in public housing for $2,000 and face no consequences, why hold back? Go all in. Shit, is a pancreas worth anything on the black market? A libertarian will not only tell you that yes it is, but that we should also decriminalize elective living organ harvest as a free-market counterpoint to market forces like "suing people into oblivion." (Note: the proliferation of anonymous free filesharing is not a market force or corrective. It is a crime wave.) Let's not even talk about the time they dropped a case against yet another single mother while simultaneously filing another lawsuit, this one against her 13 year-old daughter.

At this point, it feels fair to say that the RIAA have been established as consistently amoral and only intermittently fuckups, using these lawsuits to serve dual purposes. First, they introduce a new revenue stream to buttress falling sales owed to their inability to adapt to the digital marketplace in a manner that satisfies consumer demands. Second, they serve as a nice go-to point for their shareholders when explaining the cause of their falling sales, showing that they're "taking action." History will show that the music's industry failure to adapt to new technology has never killed it before, as eventually they adopt to it in a semi-acceptable manner several years too late.

Those several years later, the RIAA has still found it useful to keep that revenue stream of lawsuits open. One of their more recent high-profile lawsuits is against Jammie Thomas. Jammie works a job that pays around $40k a year, and, you already know the tune: she is a single mother. While Thomas's guilt is dubious at best, she saw the "settlement" they asked her to fulfill in light of a lawsuit as complete bullshit, and actually fought them in court. After various different trials and appeals, Thomas was found to owe the RIAA a fuckton of money, with the amounts varying only by severity and lack of perspective.

For the third — and thought to be final — trial, Thomas was rung up for $1.5 million, $62,000 per song for 24 songs. On August 22, 2011, the RIAA again appealed to the court, arguing against the damage reduction and demanding that she pay millions of dollars she clearly doesn't have in addition to the debt she's already accumulated, and the near-decade of her life she's spent being terrorized by billionaires because she might have shared a half dozen Aerosmith songs.

Barack Obama has nominated — and the Senate confirmed (72-16) — Donald Verrilli Jr. to the post of Solicitor General of the United States. Verrilli was the prosecutor for the RIAA in the first go-round of Capitol v. Thomas, and was a member of the Obama administration when it publicly stated that it supported penalties of up to $150,000 per track "shared." While being some lawyer in the Obama administration has its reach, it's nowhere close to the post of Solicitor General. And the current Solicitor General apparently sees it as good business practice to sue single mothers for thousands to millions of dollars for maybe sharing an Aerosmith song on Kazaa.

You're welcome.