5 Famous Online Copyright Crusaders Who Are Total Hypocrites
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.
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.
"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and found that the credit-happy congressman was using an image taken by photographer DJ Schulte as the background on an archived version of his homepage.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.
"Take my own picture? Of trees? You're mad, sir."
Lily Allen Campaigns Against Stealing by Stealing
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.
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.
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."
Nicolas Sarkozy Is the Pirate His Laws Are Meant to Eliminate
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.
Viacom Lays Claim to a County Board of Education Campaign Video
We could fill an entire article -- or book -- with nonsensical YouTube takedown notices by copyright holders (who could forget the infamous case of Universal Music demanding a takedown of some toddlers dancing to a radio playing Prince?). But perhaps no single example best conveys the system's absurdity and hypocrisy like the time Christopher Knight saw a corporate giant use his video and then demand that he take down his copy of their copy of his video. Confused?
Well, it started in 2006 when North Carolina politician Christopher Knight became an overnight Internet celebrity thanks to a geeky-as-all-get-out Star Wars-themed campaign commercial:
It became such a big deal that VH1's Web Junk 20 (the Tosh.0 of its day) featured the video on the air:
Pretty sweet for a guy who was just running for a spot on the board of education. So, rather than take offense to the fact that MTV's trashy cousin was using his work for profit, Knight posted their version of his video on his YouTube page, praising the touches of corporate comedy added to his homegrown video sensation. And that's when things got strange.
Not long after posting the Web Junk 20 clip, Knight received a notice from YouTube that, due to a DMCA claim from VH1's parent company, Viacom, the video was taken down. That's right: The video he made now somehow belonged to Viacom, and they were willing to get litigious to make sure it stayed that way. It seems absurd that he even had to remind everyone that he was the one who made the commercial that provided the basis for the entire Web Junk 20 clip in the first place. It seems downright criminal that Viacom acknowledged this point and still insisted that Knight take the video down.
Massive organizations using unreasonable force on plucky upstarts never backfires.
According to Viacom's logic, the fact that they added additional commentary gave them grounds to claim copyright over everything in the Web Junk 20 clip.
In accordance with YouTube guidelines, Knight responded by filing a DMCA counterclaim. This meant that Viacom either had to file an official lawsuit charging Knight with copyright infringement or allow the video to be restored to the lowly county board candidate's YouTube page. After the story began generating negative press for Viacom, they relented and allowed Knight to post the video. How very gracious of them.
The MPAA Is a Serial Copyright Violator
The Motion Picture Association of America has a lot of goddamn nerve. It's so in love with the idea of suing Internet users for downloading movies that it asked the feds to save the 25 petabytes of Megaupload user data compiled while building the case against that site so it can file some lawsuits of its own in the future. Former MPAA head Jack Valenti was fond of saying that there's no such thing as fair use, meaning you don't get to share any movie you own with anyone, ever, without paying, but they have no problem making illegal copies of movies when it serves their needs. For instance, the MPAA was once caught burning illegal copies of the documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated to distribute to employees.
"It isn't piracy if we don't call it that."
Like we said, a lot of goddamn nerve, and the MPAA's disregard for the same copyright laws it fights so hard to enforce doesn't end with a few illegally copied DVDs. A blogger who wrote his own blogging engine called Forest Blog found that the MPAA was using his work on one of its sites, but had removed any linkbacks or attribution that would indicate where the software they were using came from. The saddest part of that fiasco was that they were totally within their rights to do that if they had simply paid the developer in question a license fee of just $25. The MPAA argued that the site in question wasn't technically public yet (although you could obviously find it with little effort), and that they would have paid up in the event that it went live.
Meanwhile, the MPAA once forged ahead with a $100,000 lawsuit against a man for downloading one movie that it could not even find on any of his four computers. We added that emphasis because fuck these people so hard.
"He mentioned the movie twice on Twitter. I'm ruling that a green light."
And we still aren't done. The MPAA took its copyright watchdogging in a terrifying new direction a few years back when it introduced rootkit software to be installed on college campuses. They claimed that it was merely for each school's own internal data-gathering needs, but privacy experts pointed out that it would also be a great way to allow anyone to spy on your network while hiding the fact that they're doing so.
Thankfully, we never had a chance to find out. Shortly after posting their new weapon of awful online, it was noted that the software was based on a GPL (general public license) version of Linux called Xubuntu. That GPL requires any program built using that code to have its source code released and licensed under the GPL also. The MPAA refused to do that, forcing an Ubuntu developer to send a takedown request to the ISP hosting the shady software.
No one at the MPAA has a large enough beard to properly run Linux.
Not long after that, the link to the software was taken down. Count that as a minor victory, while also assuming that, in the days since this embarrassing incident, the MPAA has probably just found newer and better ways to spy on you.
For more people who probably should've quit while they were ahead, check out 5 People Who Screwed Things Up for Everybody and 6 People Who Died In Order To Prove A (Retarded) Point.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out The Worst Snack Slogan of All Time .
And stop by LinkSTORM because it's full of that humpty hump.
Do you have an idea in mind that would make a great article? Then sign up RIGHT NOW and pitch your first article today! Do you possess expert skills in image creation and manipulation? Mediocre? Even rudimentary? Are you frightened by MS Paint and simply have a funny idea? You can create an infographic and you could be on the front page of Cracked.com tomorrow!