"Illegal content" (Re: Megaupload.com seized)

Carsten Bormann cabo at tzi.org
Fri Jan 20 10:48:36 UTC 2012

On Jan 20, 2012, at 11:25, Robert Bonomi wrote:

>  Public distribution without the permission of the copyright owner is
>  illegal.

This is veering off the purpose of this list, but maybe it is operationally significant to be able to use the right terms when a law enforcement officer is standing in the door.

Mark Andrews was pointing out that content being file-shared is rarely illegal.  By itself.  Examples of "illegal content" might be hate speech, child pornography, lèse-majesté, blasphemy, with the meaning of these terms depending on your jurisdiction.

What you are pointing out is that distribution of content may be illegal.  That does not make the content itself illegal.  The legality of transfer under copyright is bound to many legal issues, such as fair use, right to personal copies, and of course licensing, again depending on your jurisdiction.  But all this is divorced from the content.  Content is never illegal with respect to copyright.  (It might have been copied illegally, but once it's sitting somewhere, it's not illegal by itself.  A license would suddenly make it legal.)

The point is important because a lot of idiots are running around shouting "he had all this copyrighted material on his computer!".  Of course he had!  There are very few computers that don't carry copyrighted material, starting from the BIOS.  Without examining the legal context, such as purchasing histories, supreme court decisions etc., it is sometime really hard to say whether all of it got there in a legal way, and its presence may be an indication of previous illegal activity.  But (at least wrt copyright law) it is never illegal while sitting somewhere on a computer.

So the next time somebody says "illegal content", think "hate speech" or "child pornography", "lèse-majesté" or "blasphemy", not copyrighted content.  Almost everything on a computer is copyrighted.

Now let's return to the impact of this heist on network utilization...

Grüße, Carsten

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