It’s been a big couple of days on the international copyright-enforcement front, as Lamar Smith put SOPA on hold, Harry Reid postponed the vote originally scheduled for next week on the Protect IP act, and the federal government shut down Megaupload, prompting a wave of Anonymous attacks. Over at the Technology Liberation Front, Jerry Brito makes a point that I think ties all of these moves together (though his conclusion ultimately goes in a somewhat different direction). He writes: “The Megaupload folks are not the most sympathetic defendants, to say the least. They likely knew very well they were profiting from piracy, and they probably induced it as well. Anonymous’s attacks in retaliation for the arrests and domain seizures, therefore, threaten to destroy the good will the Internet community generated the previous day with the SOPA protests.”
As Brito points out, the Megaupload move proves that the federal government already has quite a bit of power when it comes to shutting down sites that are intentionally profiting off the distribution of copyrighted material for free. But I’d also be curious to hear if there are strong solutions companies could be using to detect pirated material before users are able to distribute it. I know that scanning every upload would be incredibly burdensome. But if there was some way to crawl enough material to act as a deterrent, and to give tech companies a way to both ban offenders and report them to appropriate government agencies, that seems like something the tech community might want to look into developing if it hasn’t deployed it already. I have no idea if that’s possible — my screener copies of things tend to have a number imprinted on the image that would be an immediate red flag. It doesn’t necessarily solve the problem of enforcement beyond U.S. borders. And it would be hard to get an overall consensus to adopt such techniques — someone’s probably always going to consider it worth the risk to keep distributing pirated material. But it would be a way for the tech community to go a step beyond the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, which requires creators to give notice that their work is being ripped off, and to stand in clear solidarity with artists — and also demonstrate that the tech community can handle problems without government intervention.