Cyberlaw, Department of Justice, Quote of the Day, Technology

Quote of the Day: Cheap Tricks

The [Megaupload] prosecution is a depressing display of abuse of government authority. It’s hard to comprehensively catalog all of the lawless aspects of the US government’s prosecution of Megaupload[.]

— Eric Goldman, Professor at Santa Clara Law and editor of the Technology and Marketing Law Blog, criticizing the government’s prosecution of the infamous cyber locker and its eccentric leader, Kim Dotcom, in a post earlier this week.

(Goldman had a lot to say about the Megaupload case, most of it quite critical of the government. Keep reading to see more of his blunt analysis.)

It’s worth reading Goldman’s entire post, but here is the meat of his legal analysis (gavel bang: Torrent Freak):

1) Trying to hold Megaupload criminally liable for its users’ actions. Criminal copyright infringement requires willful infringement, a very rigorous scienter level. I discuss the implications of this high scienter requirement in more detail in my decade-old article on warez trading. Megaupload’s business choices may not have been ideal, but Megaupload has a number of strong potential defenses for its users’ activities, including 512(c), lack of volitional conduct and more. Whether it actually qualified for these is irrelevant; Megaupload’s subjective belief in these defenses should destroy the willfulness requirement. Thus, the government is simply making up the law to try to hold Megaupload accountable for its users’ uploading/downloading.

2) Taking Megaupload offline. Megaupload’s website is analogous to a printing press that constantly published new content. Under our Constitution, the government can’t simply shut down a printing press, but that’s basically what our government did when it turned Megaupload off and seized all of the assets. Not surprisingly, shutting down a printing press suppresses countless legitimate content publications by legitimate users of Megaupload. Surprisingly (shockingly, even), the government apparently doesn’t care about this “collateral,” entirely foreseeable and deeply unconstitutional effect. The government’s further insistence that all user data, even legitimate data, should be destroyed is even more shocking. Destroying the evidence not only screws over the legitimate users, but it may make it impossible for Megaupload to mount a proper defense. It’s depressing our government isn’t above such cheap tricks in its zeal to win.

He also makes a bold, almost personal dig at President Obama, which internet advocates will appreciate (defenders of the entertainment industry, not so much):

[T]he government’s prosecution of Megaupload demonstrates the implications of the government acting as a proxy for private commercial interests. The government is using its enforcement powers to accomplish what most copyright owners haven’t been willing to do in civil court (i.e., sue Megaupload for infringement); and the government is doing so by using its incredibly powerful discovery and enforcement tools that vastly exceed the tools available in civil enforcement; and the government’s bringing the prosecution in part because of the revolving door between government and the content industry (where some of the decision-makers green-lighting the enforcement action probably worked shoulder-to-shoulder with the copyright owners making the request) plus the Obama administration’s desire to curry continued favor and campaign contributions from well-heeled sources.

Way to pull out those razor fangs, Professor.

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