Tuesday, April 25, 2006

'Culture War', the war against war, piracy and porn

The other day I noticed an article in the Bemidji Pioneer newspaper about a High School teacher sentenced for felony child porn possession and I was disturbed by the light sentence and the lame excuses made in his guilty plea. The sentence imposed 30 days with work release, a $300 dollar fine, and did not call for the revocation of the teacher's teaching license. The teacher's bullshit excuse - he "told authorities that he was attempting to download music by the rock band the Sex Pistols off of the file-sharing program Limewire when the he inadvertently downloaded the sexually explicit material" and then he downloaded a file removal program to attempt to remove the material.

It occurs to me that the response of downloading the "scrubber program" shows some history of trying to hide similar evidence of a furtive, illegal addiction. A rational, law-abiding person who accidentally downloads or discovers child porn calls the FBI and helps them stop the distribution of illegal images of criminal child sex abuse. Further, the claim that he "told authorities that he had not shared or allowed others to view the images" is likely a lie or at least a misrepresentation of the technology involved in peer-to-peer filesharing networks like limewire which typically allow sharing of downloaded files by default.

Using P2P technologies to find porn is dangerous and stupid. Most P2P networks require that you share the files you download, and this often happens even as you download your first file, you end up uploading to other peers discrete chunks of the file you have successfully downloaded. This potentially makes you a distributer of pornography subject to certain legal restrictions and vulnerable to law enforcement action if the peers you are redistributing your free porn download to are minors. You are much better off if you avoid the temptation to save a few pennies and instead go to a legitimate, legal porn website (featuring professional adult performers) and whip out your credit card. Thanks!

Also, I think it is an indictment of our society that the penalty for successfully downloading the "Sex Pistols" album and infringing copyright would likely result in harsher penalties than this school teacher received.

I do find value in P2P technologies employed for the distribution of Open Source Software or shared culture unencumbered by restrictive copyrights, and so I will defend the technology, but others do that better than I can - see this short clip on Google Video by Lawrence Lessig:

Who Owns Culture?

Anyway, the Culture War is on again, and heating up as Bush & Co. try to milk any remaining enthusiasm out of their radical right-wing base. Following on the heels of the anti-abortion amendment in South Dakota, COPA amendments are introduced and legislation is introduced in South Carolina outlawing sex toys. Clearly the U.S. Attorney General and his legislative friends want to place burdensome and unconstitutional restrictions on sex to try to drive people crazy enough to vote Republican one more time (before the rapture) by suppressing legal outlets for the healthy and natural interest in sex that most adults have. However, the COPA amendments will just force legal adult internet operators overseas and/or force otherwise law-abiding citizens to seek out untrustworthy porn resources on the illegal underbelly of the internet in filesharing networks operated by pirates and paedophiles. These new attempts at establishing COPA are overly burdensome restrictions on internet publishers designed to stop legal porn, not aid law enforcement one bit in enforcing existing law or help prosecutors impose meaningful penalties on the consumers of illegal child porn. COPA was previously struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional. I don't even know what to say about the ban on sex toys...

The best way to defeat the prudish impulses of our ideological enemies is to take an active role in creating the culture we want to live (and not just consume) by wisely employing the technological tools at our fingertips. I have done my bit for the day and now it is your turn... Have fun!

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