Friday, March 23, 2012

Horse thieves and the Copyright Posse

I don't need a horse, and wouldn't benefit from having one. And had I lived the life of a surf in the Middle Ages, I wouldn't have needed a horse then either.

But had I lived in the Wild West, I would have an entirely different attitude. I would need a horse, and I would be very angry with any entity that denied me one. To deny me a horse in 1880's rural Oregon would be to deprive me of the ability to make a living. I would be unable to farm my land, bring food to market, or bring food back home. I would be unable to escape in the event of an emergency. I would be unable to call upon a doctor.

Such was the necessity of having a horse in those times, the law recognized the taking of a horse as being a crime as severe and terrible as murder itself. Horse thieves were not merely frowned upon, they were killed.

And likewise, the law wouldn't, generally deprive someone of their horse, as a punishment or anything else, especially for a crime considered by most people as minor.

I mention this because I want to illustrate the fact that while certain items are, at certain times, luxuries, they're not always. The telephone was once a luxury item owned by the rich, few people would consider one a luxury today. And fewer still would have considered a phone a luxury ten years ago. To be deprived of telephone access would handicap the ability of the victim the ability to call for help, to look for work, to be in contact with their employer, and to access essential services they rely upon.

Today, the same thing could be said about the Internet. It is becoming harder and harder for people to be a part of our functioning society without Internet access. Those who have Internet access unquestionably have an advantage over those who don't. And if it is possible to live without it today, it will become less and less possible as time goes on, as businesses and other parts of society ignore the unconnected and focus on the efficiencies they can extract through this awesome network.

Which is why I think laws that propose disconnecting Internet users who violate copyright laws are ridiculous. It's not that I disagree with copyright law, far from it, but I think as time goes on, you're turning the content industry, and a government working for it, into modern day horse thieves. You're proposing depriving people of their ability to function within a society over such acts as making available a broadcast television show to people on the Internet.

You don't have to create an underclass of former copyright abusers to punish copyright abuse.

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