When are people going to get this? This is no longer the Wild West of free music downloads and carefree file sharing. Times have changed, new business models are emerging, and peer-to-peer media sharing simply needs to die. As Ars Technica reports, isoHunt is simply the latest P2P-related site to fall to the copyright cops, and with good reason.
As the plaintiffs (media industry groups) pointed out,
The arguments that [isoHunt was] just another search engine that happened to pick up copyrighted content were torpedoed by a combination of the sites themselves and [site owner, Gary] Fung's own words. Evidence was introduced that the search code was specifically tuned to find copyrighted material
A wide variety of utterly damning evidence was introduced and the defendant's only rebuttal was that isoHunt was simply a search engine. This, of course, implied that the judge was an idiot. I mean, really? For what other ISOs might users be hunting besides copyrighted materials? Although it's true that you can actually find torrents for the latest Ubuntu release on the site, you can find almost 3 times as many seeders for a DVD image of The Blind Side (nice movie, by the way; buy the DVD).
One of my holiday guests this year brought his computer with him. Tonight, during one of my regular reviews of our home firewall to make sure my kids aren't doing anything too horrific on the Internet, I noticed a couple hundred inbound hits from IP addresses I didn't recognize. Inbound hits aren't usually much of an issue on my firewall anyway; I live in the middle of nowhere and have a dynamic IP, so people aren't usually trying to hack Dawson's network. A little digging took me to a bunch of Chinese malware and torrent sites that were all talking back to this guest's computer. It turns out that he had no clue about the practical consequences of using P2P software, let alone the potential legal consequences.
Is the MPAA or RIAA going to come after this guy? Probably not; they'd rather go after isoHunt. However, he, like so many of the students we encounter, had no conception of why file-sharing of this type is just a bad idea. I won't even get into the morality of it. Plenty of artists are happily (and successfully) releasing their work for free online, whether through MySpace or their own sites. Lots of people believe that music and movies should be freely available. Others think that copyright still means something. Whatever. My problem is that people are routinely breaking the law without any conception of the law itself or the possible problems that might results.
There's no excuse for this sort of ignorance, though. Even for those who aren't ignorant of the law (whether any of us agrees with it or not), many are so cavalier in breaking it that it hardly feels like a crime. It hardly feels like something that can have real, concrete, and substantial consequences. Whether it's simply a computer filled up with malware or a multi-million dollar verdict, file-sharing Limewire-style has to go. Enough already. Buy your bloody music. Or record your own. This is not, however, 1999, when Napster was the best thing since sliced bread and nobody knew what to do about it and malware authors were pretty bad at what they did. This is almost 2010, and the laws are abundantly clear, as are the legal precedents.
If our students don't like international copyright law, they should work to change it. Until then, we have to get it through their thick skulls that file-sharing is kind of like chewing tobacco. Chewing tobacco, as the surgeon general's warnings tell us, isn't a safe alternative to cigarettes. Guess what? File sharing is just not a safe alternative to actually buying the media they consume either.