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Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Online activism and online theft are two different things

Part of the fallout from the death of Aaron Swartz is a slew of news stories critical of US laws dealing with theft of digital property and the way they are applied by the US administration. Two days ago Crikey's Bernard Keane got his light sabre out for a bit of mortal combat with the Man, telling us about the "exemplary punishment" being meted out to people like Swartz and Assange - Keene glibly ropes together true activism such as Assange has practised with the far more humdrum theft that Swartz had his hand well-and-truly in - and asserting that "authorities are wildly overreacting to the threat posed by online activism". Again, Keene talks about true activism such as Assange practises, and the bogus kind of activism that Swartz foolishly dabbled in, as if they are the same thing, when they're not.

Comparing Kim Dotcom with Julian Assange? Madness. The loonies in the Pirate Party might spin the tale in this way but more intelligent and discerning observers can see that stealing digital copyright material such as academic papers, pop songs, or news stories is as unlike the service Assange set up to facilitate the activities of whistleblowers, as chalk and cheese. Or an orc and a hobbit. Or whatever.

But it doesn't stop there, and likely won't, as bleeding-heart journalists (such a soft-centred bunch of idealists, they are, really) come to do battle against the forces of evil. Today, we've got Fairfax economics journo Peter Martin in the Sydney Morning Herald warning us that "[Swartz's] suicide should ring alarm": "Legal anvil hovers over the unwary tech user," Martin yells, as though those in geekdom, like Swartz, were merely "unwary" rather than actually very determinedly working to steal information from an online repository. Kim Dotcom was also hardly "unwary".

These people are thieves, unless you subscribe to the fuzzy kind of thinking that seems to be rife in geekdom, where corporations that own digital property are a kind of hellish vampire intent on sucking the lifeblood out of innocent consumers. Believe me, I've come across this kind of thinking on numerous occasions. Copyright holders such as Disney are irrelevant "middlemen" who add nothing to the final product and whose services, therefore, may legitimately be dispensed with by heroic geeks on a crusade to free information from such damned shackles as publishers and entertainment companies apply to work they help produce. It's such a load of hogwash, and you shouldn't shed too many tears over those who openly flaunt good laws, such as the US Computer Fraud and Abuse Act that Martin points to, and which was used to prosecute Swartz.

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