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Court Issues First-Ever BitTorrent Conviction
Hong Kong ruling draws software innovator into the ongoing war against peer to peer file sharing
David Kootnikoff (kaspian)     Print Article 
Published 2005-10-26 10:33 (KST)   
Peer to peer (P2P) sharing was struck another blow on Oct. 24, when a Hong Kong man became the first in the world to be convicted for using BitTorrent technology. Chan Nai-ming was found guilty of illegally distributing three Hollywood movies on the Internet by uploading them to a server and enabling others potential viewing access. Chan is free on bail and sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 7. The maximum sentence is a four-year jail term and a fine of HK$50,000 (US$6,447).

Designed and distributed for free by Bram Cohen, BitTorrent (BT) is part of a new generation of file-sharing technology which has been downloaded more than 20 million times. Based on the principle "Give and ye shall receive!", BT technology distributes large files quickly by enabling users to upload and download content at the same time.

Chan's conviction has been hailed by the entertainment industry and the mainstream media as scoring "a first in the global war against Internet piracy." The South China Morning Post, Hong Kong's leading English language daily, noted in an editorial that convicting individuals such as Chan, a 38-year-old unemployed man, was how "creativity can be protected and flourish."

Biased Discourse

However, critics, such as influential U.S. author and Stanford University Law Professor Lawrence Lessig, Chairman of Creative Commons disagree. They argue the opposite -- that the real "global war" being waged is against creative freedom and that the discourse being used by the media and entertainment industries is biased, unnecessarily vilifying the Internet, technology and their users. The Internet is repeatedly blamed for enabling pirating, when in essence all it is responsible for is delivering content faster and more efficiently to users than ever before in history.

Lawyers for big media conglomerates, such as the Hollywood interests behind Monday's verdict, are joined with voices in the mainstream press calling for tighter restrictions on available technology. They are advocating that limits be placed on the Internet -- a highly successful and democratic form of technology -- in favor of protecting the narrow copyright freedoms of a select few.

In his 2004 book, "Free Culture: how big media uses technology and the law to lock down culture and control creativity," Lessig points out that U.S. copyright law, which is setting global precedents and norms, is "imbalanced" because it is increasingly being used to hold technology responsible for enforcing the control of copyright. Lessig argues that technology "has both good and bad uses" and that guns, let alone their makers, are not held responsible for the deaths they cause. As the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June makes clear, the entertainment industries are doing just that by seeking ways to limit the Internet and innovation to serve their interests.

It has long been the practice of those in the entertainment industry to blame technology for drops in sales. Entertainment industries repeatedly cite incredible losses attributed to piracy. For example, in 1997 they claim Hong Kong-made films generated HK$700 million (US$90.2 million) in revenues, and by 2004 this had almost halved to HK$380 million (US$48.9 million). What the media often fails to report is the declining quality of films during that same period.

In 2002, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) blamed Internet piracy for a drop in CD sales from 882 million to 803 million. However, what is often not mentioned is from 1999 to 2001 the average price of a CD rose from $13.04 to $14.19.

Lessig also notes that the tendency of many in the content industry "to use the law to directly regulate the technology of the Internet so that it better protects their content," is eroding public culture. He adds, "Never in our history have fewer had a legal right to control more of the development of our culture than now."

As history has demonstrated, nothing is quite as powerful as an idea whose time has come.
©2005 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter David Kootnikoff

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