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Tuesday
Dec202011

The Just Us League

Internet Piracy: You're Whining, They're Winning

People who comment in Internet "Comments" sections drive me crazy. Rotten Tomatoes is the worst. Look up the "Rotten" reviews on any given film and you'll see dozens of snarky, uninformed mouth-breathers taking cheap shots at any critic they disagree with. It'd be one thing if they'd set out to open a spirited exchange of ideas, but more often than not, these misspelled, emoticon-and-abbreviation-infested mini-missives are the equivalent of yelling, "You suck!" in a lecture hall.

These cretins' bogus sense of authority and entitlement is truly unsettling, and it reminds me of the well-worn adage: "The best thing about The Internet is that it gives everyone a voice. The worst thing about the Internet is that it gives everybody a voice."

I'm sorry, but calling out Christy Lemire, Peter Travers, or even Armond White as being hacks, idiots, or worse is just silly--especially coming from people whose inability to articulate disagreements without resorting to the tired, "did we watch the same movie?" only reinforces the assumptions one might develop based on a commenter's photo avatar (the fuzzy web-cam portrait of a scrawny, basement-dwelling college drop-out, the vacant smile of a fat soccer mom whose opinion of most foreign films could likely be summed up by "Hunh?", etc.).

While these critics, and a hundred others, might not agree with you, they've often done the heavy lifting of watching movies and writing substantively about them. Many are career professionals with, if not degrees, then decades of experience. So when one of them suggests that, just maybe, Captain America is a big, dumb waste of time, a proper response might be to write your own essay and link to it--rather than offer up, "This guy prolly dosnt like action anyways hed rather watch some artsy shit. Cap rules!"

What does all of this have to do with Wolverine and Internet Piracy? That's a great question. In truth, this post is only tangentially about commenters. I'm really here to discuss the recently announced sentencing of Gilberto Sanchez, a New York man who received a year in federal prison for uploading the workprint of 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine. I hadn't intended to write about it, but the comments on IMDb's version of the story drove me absolutely crazy.

The long and short of the issue is that  the Justice Department has made an example of Sanchez. They want to send a loud, clear message to anyone who's thinking about uploading or downloading illegal content that, yes, the worst could happen to them. To me, it's an open-and-shut case. Since at least the 1980s, with the advent of VHS tapes, the feds have placed impossible-to-miss anti-piracy warnings on movies, CDs, and most other forms of purchasable media. They're the annoying, can't-miss-'em, badge-looking things that you frequently try to fast-forward or next-chapter through--the "bullshit legalese" that no one's ever read, 'cause it's 'stupid".

Well, it's not stupid. It's the law. And one's opinion of the law has no bearing on its validity as an enforceable policy--meaning there's no reason to complain if one gets caught breaking it. In Sanchez's case, there's really no getting around the fact that he knew that what he was doing was wrong. At 49 years of age, unless he beamed to the Big Apple from the rain forest, he must have known about copyright laws, or at least that pirating material is illegal. Additionally, given his history of drug convictions, Sanchez should have been even more savvy to the fact that people really do get busted for breaking the law.

Worse yet, after uploading Wolverine to the Web, he boasted about his achievement and was totally shocked to find the FBI on his doorstep two weeks later.

On the IMDb message board--as well as other sites, I imagine--commenters rail against the injustice of Sanchez's imprisonment. Many of the so-called arguments boil down to the following:

 

  • A year in federal prison is too harsh a sentence for a "crime" that didn't hurt anyone.
  • The feds spent a lot of time and money prosecuting a movie pirate instead of Wall Street crooks, drug dealers, and pedophiles.
  • "No one" can prove that Fox lost money due to the piracy; besides, Wolverine was a terrible movie, so who cares?
  • Even if an amount of lost revenue could be calculated, Fox and star Hugh Jackman are rich enough that they won't miss the money.
  • Going out to the movies is too expensive, especially for families.

 

Aside from the first point, I agree with all of the above. But none of these things has anything to do with Sanchez's conviction. The law states that people who are caught pirating movies are subject to large fines and/or prison time. Sanchez wasn't even caught; he pretty much scrawled his confession on a virtual sandwich board and stood outside FBI headquarters to see what would happen. Oh, he also has kids.

Fuck this guy.

Sorry for the language,* but Sanchez and his defenders need to understand just what kind of a world we live in. If there's a common belief that the government is in league with corporations to protect moneyed interests and squash easy targets, why on Earth would anyone tempt fate by becoming an easy target?

If you think a year in prison is too harsh a term for piracy, either run for office and work on changing the sentence, or support someone who will. Become a scholar or an advocate. Don't just complain about consequences that should surprise absolutely no one.

I think this all goes back to the commenter mentality; there's a perceived notion of both anonymity and invincibility when it comes to all matters digital. People write things on blogs and in feedback sections that they most likely would never say to someone's face, and they believe that Big Brother isn't interested in their modest corner of cyberspace, where downloading songs and music for free is the ultimate middle finger to iTunes or whatever corporate devils foolishly believe that artists and artists' agencies should be paid for their wares.

But I feel like I'm tiptoeing into a different argument here. Let me just step back and reiterate that I don't care about issues tangential to Sanchez's sentencing. I'm only interested in the misdirected anger towards a system that people think is corrupt for all the wrong reasons. Movie studios and record labels may be monolithic, spirit-crushing, greedy entities that are afforded unfair protections by a back-scratching federal government. But they at least give everyone the courtesy of a plain-English warning: "If you steal from us, we will take your money and put you away."

And if you think things are unfair now, just wait until SOPA becomes law. We may be entering an era where even posting a picture from the Internet in good faith (such as the one accompanying this piece) becomes a sticky legal issue.

To all the prospective Gilberto Sanchezes of the world, I offer nothing but the best of luck in your endeavors. I sincerely hope you're skilled enough and smart enough to get away with whatever it is you're doing. But when you hear that over-loud knock at your door, I hope your first thought isn't, "Woe is me", or "Damn the Man", but instead, "I'm happy to go up the river knowing that I gave the world a fuzzy, partially complete version of Wrath of the Titans!"

*Not sorry enough to delete it.

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