Intellectual property is a touchy subject. The Internet loves to steal it, and watchdog groups love to send threatening letters and file lawsuits in response. The problem is that it's really hard not to be a hypocrite when it comes to copyright issues. If you want to have a zero-tolerance policy with others, you'd better damn well exercise one in your own life.
But almost no one does, so we frequently get hilarious examples where the very people in charge of policing the Internet for potential copyright violations fall astray of the laws themselves.
#5. The Man Who Sponsored SOPA Stole Pictures for His Website
Remember when SOPA was going to destroy the Internet, and dammit, we weren't going to take it anymore? If you don't, SOPA was a bill introduced by U.S. Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) that would give law enforcement officials greatly expanded powers to fight copyright violations online.
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"We're using a broad interpretation of the term 'online'."
Proponents claimed that it was needed to fight overseas sites that use lax copyright laws in their respective countries as a means to provide American users with an unlimited supply of ill-gotten MP3s and pirated Hollywood hits. Sites like Megaupload and the Pirate Bay, for example.
Opponents claimed that the measure was written so broadly that it meant entire domains could be shut down for even the slightest copyright violation. For example, if you forgot to give the proper credit for one image posted on one page of your site, your whole site could be wiped out forever (in the industry, we call what just happened here foreshadowing).
"You've Photoshopped penises onto Prince's face for the last time, kid."
Complaints about the bill from several major sites only prompted angry responses from Smith, who seemed to be under the impression that the only entity that opposed his plan was Google. As stated earlier, though, he was wrong: The entire Internet wanted SOPA stopped, and they weren't above using humiliation to make it happen.
To those ends, a curious little troll at Vice.com scoured Lamar Smith's website in search of copyright violations and found that the credit-happy congressman was using an image taken by photographer DJ Schulte as the background on an archived version of his homepage. After contacting the photographer, it was discovered that, sure enough, the image was being used without permission. That's bad news for a man in the process of building his reputation by policing the Internet for copyright violations like the Prince Rogers Nelson of Congress.
If it weren't for Mitch McConnell, Lamar here would be the Republican politician who most resembles a turtle.
Shortly after the Vice.com story broke, the congressman's team had his website taken down, just like a dirty, copyright-infringing criminal would deserve, according to Smith's own proposed legislation.
Speaking of that, this fiasco happened over a year ago, and, you may have noticed, the Internet has not since been destroyed. After a massive online protest brought widespread attention to the finer and more harrowing points of SOPA, Smith called off his copyright hounds and the bill was effectively killed.
#4. Lily Allen Campaigns Against Stealing by Stealing
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There's a strong chance that a lot of our readers in the U.S. don't even remember U.K. pop sensation Lily Allen. To give you an idea of how long she's been out of the spotlight, her last album featured an anti-George W. Bush song.
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Allen, pictured here being totally original.
We told you back during her heyday that she had a batshit insane blog, but who could ever have just one of those things when Blogger gave them away for free? Certainly not Lily Allen. She started a second, also crazy blog called "It's Not Alright" for the sole purpose of taking a Metallica-like stance on Internet piracy. And you know what? She had every right to do that. As a musician, her livelihood in part depends on the willingness of others to pay money for her work.
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Always an uphill battle.
Unfortunately, Allen seemed to believe that copyright infringement only extended as far as the music we illicitly download from the Internet. That can be the only explanation for why, on a blog about why you shouldn't steal from others, Lily Allen posted an entire article from the website Techdirt without so much as a link back to the original source or even a mention of the fact that the words her fans were reading were written by someone else.
A post about the thievery on TorrentFreak called Allen out on her weak grasp of the rules of fair use. Before long, even Perez Hilton, a man who essentially built his career on stealing images from other sites and scrawling inane messages over them, was calling Lily Allen a hypocrite.
The sheer weight of all the irony collapsed in on itself, spawned a black hole, and killed everyone on Earth.
Things got even more embarrassing for Allen when it was discovered that, prior to becoming a huge star herself, she uploaded several digital mix tapes to a site called LilyAllenMusic.com. These downloadable mixes featured her songs interspersed with hits from other artists. One mix tape included a whopping 19 tracks that Allen did not have permission to use. According to the same RIAA laws she was stealing people's shit to uphold, she could have been sued for millions.
In the wake of that added wrinkle to her copyright fight, Allen promptly deleted her blog and retired from music, much to the dismay of pretty much no one.
"No. Please. Don't stop."
#3. Nicolas Sarkozy Is the Pirate His Laws Are Meant to Eliminate
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The policies of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy were effectively legislated out of existence after he failed to win re-election last year. That is, with one gigantic exception. Sarkozy introduced a massive anti-piracy effort in France during his reign that gives copyright violators two warnings before cutting off their access to the Web altogether.
"Ideally, we'd have some way to make their routers kick them in the nuts."
And according to those very loose rules of his own legislation, Sarkozy should have been banned from using the Internet a long time ago.
His first misstep in relation to France's rude and smelly copyright laws was at his own campaign stops. In 2009, he made several public appearances where the song "Kids" by MGMT, which admittedly sounds exactly what you think a French presidential campaign song should sound like ...
... was used without the band's permission. Lawyers intervened, and the Sarkozy campaign had to fork over 30,000 euros to settle things without the situation devolving into the most dance-friendly legal squabble in French history. It was an embarrassing slip-up, especially in light of the fact that a vote on whether to implement the anti-piracy laws we're discussing now was just a few short weeks away.
Hey, that's just one strike, though, and by French law, Sarkozy was still in the clear. But he would fall out of step with approved fair use practices again just a few months later when it was discovered that his "audiovisual service" was making illegal copies of Sarkozy's own propaganda videos.
Why would they do that? Well, when a firm called Galaxie Press produced a documentary about the president, they only shipped 50 copies, because who is honestly going to want to watch that boring shit, you know? Apparently, the answer to that question is "450," because Sarkozy had his campaign whip up an additional 400 discs to meet the overwhelming demand. They even went so far as to change the name of the producer on the forged discs, because the producer name is obviously where you look first if you're wondering if a DVD is legitimate. Somehow, that brilliant bit of deception wasn't enough to throw anyone off the scent. Strike two! Or Strike 401, depending on how you're counting.