The hypocrisy of the new Copyright Alert System

The beginning of this week saw the implementation of the new Copyright Alert System (CAS), the latest attempt by the music and movie industries to curtail internet piracy.

1206711_41147487The system will aim to identify those internet users who are participating in illegal fine distribution. The system will feature “six strikes” that will escalate from warnings to bandwidth throttling to even temporary internet shut off. The largest internet service providers in the US, including Verizon, Comcast and AT&T, are expected to begin implementing this new system this week.

Naturally, this new Copyright Alert System has reignited the rarely cold coals of the seemingly endless and fruitless struggle against media piracy and copyright violation being waged by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and Record Industry Association of America (RIAA). As several officials have admitted, this new Copyright Alert System is not aimed at the worst offenders – who can easily mask their internet identity, sidestepping the new system entirely – but rather small time downloads. Believe you’ve been acted against wrongly? You can file a $35 review fee which may be refunded to you only if your appeal is approved. Fair or not, the system clearly aims to make examples out of internet customers and to intimidate them into curtailing their illicit habits. (Here is a great little overview of the various options one could take to avoid CAS and its consequences.)

My question is: Will CAS apply to the FBI and RIAA in the same way it will to the rest of the country? In 2011 TorrentFreak revealed that individuals at Sony, Universal, Fox, the RIAA and the Department of Homeland Security had participated in the downloading of music, movies, and software illegally via bittorrent at their offices, equivalent to dozens of millions of dollars in pirated media. Earlier this month the FBI, the world’s foremost anti-piracy government agency, was also revealed to have in-house pirates. So will these agencies be the subject of bandwidth throttling and other punitive measures by their ISPs? Somehow I wonder whether or not those who promote a policy of “doing what we say, not as we do” will get treated differently.

It’s a great example of corporate interests waging a losing war against social and cultural trends and a shifting morality. Despite the many impassioned arguments against the immorality of piracy, major studies suggest that nearly half of all Americans (and over two thirds of adults under 30) have participated in media piracy in some form, and that as many or more do not disapprove of family and friends doing so. And clearly those working against internet piracy are not entirely convinced of the supposed destructiveness of piracy.

Maybe the question should not be “what can we do to stop piracy” or whether or not it is morally tolerable – but ask what prompts such widespread majority participation and support of internet piracy. In the United States the percentage of earnings going toward utility bill and rent each month for many middle to lower income households continue to climb steadily, while the costs of music, movies, and video games have only increased for the consumer despite decreased manufacture costs – this while wages have not increased to keep pace and hours are cut.

Studies show that people aren’t just pirating but that they also buy legally. Though the traditional wisdom has been that piracy always equates to lost sales, there are those suggesting that this is likely not true; if anything piracy may actually boost retail sales. Speaking from personal experience, I believe it might also be reasonable to say that, given a livable wage which doesn’t go almost entirely to the necessities of bills, rent, debt and food, piracy might decline drastically. Lowering, instead of continually increasing, the costs of entertainment media would also go a long way.

Regardless of your moral stance on creative rights and internet piracy, the general consensus is that not only is it acceptable but that short of draconian internet restrictions a la China, it won’t be going away. And perhaps this is what is most alarming – rather than realizing this and seeking pragmatic solutions, the powers that be choose to escalate censorship and privacy-violating measures. As much as Americans disdain the authoritarian Chinese economic and government model, there sure seems to many who are eager to press the nation into emulating them.

Gun control actually expands our freedoms

The blog has a new host, and if you’re here to read this article and join in the current conversation, please check it out here!

 

When it comes to debate and discussion around what should or shouldn’t be done with regard to gun control, the matter of whether restrictions reduce our freedoms as US citizens is frequently brought up, typically by the pro-gun faction. Through extremely reductionist thinking many of this group have come to believe that more restrictions imposed by the government, especially on their ability to own firearms (to protect us from a tyrannical government that can apparently only affect our lives negatively at gun point) is a dangerous concession of freedoms. It is understandable why, given the many unnecessarily ambiguous interpretations of the all mighty Second Amendment, many citizens come quickly to such conclusions. But I’m going to tell you today that, in fact, sensible gun restrictions can actually be freedom expanding.

 M16 ShadowLast month a man walked into a Charlottesville, Virginia grocery store with loaded semi-automatic AR-15 (the same controversial weapon used in the Aurora shootings). He was not charged by police because he owned the weapon legally and was not concealing it – the man broke no laws. While it’s clear the man was trying to make some point about his Second Amendment rights, it’s also a reminder that his “right” to carry his weapon around impedes on everyone else’s right to do go out into the public for simple things – like going to the grocery store – without fearing hot lead death from a stranger. How are we to differentiate a grumpy man bearing an assault weapon from a psycho bearing an assault weapon? I know that if I were to find myself in a situation like that in Charlottesville, I would be immediately assuming the worst, fearing for my and others’ lives.

Even before this incident, gun “rights” have been curbing Americans’ behavior out of fear. In the wake of last year’s horrific theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado during the midnight opening of “The Dark Knight Rises,” ticket sales were notably impacted. I personally knew several people who, had the event not occurred, would have gone to the theaters opening night but feared for their lives. Though, rationally speaking, very few shootings actually occur in theaters and if anything, theaters would be safer than they’d ever been on the following night as a result of police presence, this was a common reaction and who’s to say that isn’t valid?

Without going into the many other aspects of the gun control debate, I believe it’s reasonable to say that gun “freedoms” are getting to the point where they are treading on much more important freedoms: my right to live and at the least, assemble publicly without fear. It’s coming to the point that poor GPS directions can even get you killed by a legal gun owner. And now in Arizona public school children are being put under the watchful eye of Steven Segal and armed convicted sex offenders.

When asked what the solution to gun violence and mass shootings are, LaPierre and his NRA supporters respond with a lackluster shrug and the highly illogical suggestion that the only way to be safe is to be packing heat at all times. Well, some Americans, including myself, either don’t want to own a tool of death or at the least do not want to carry one with them at all times. How is this suggestion freedom expanding? Ironically that’s how such notions are presented – as a way of maintaining our “freedom,” as manifested in firearms.

But let’s just stop for a moment and think about whether or not we want to live in a society where we have to fear every stranger we see, constantly feeling a need to maintain vigilance as an exercise in life-or-death, or worse yet, cowering in the home, to hide from others?

That is not a free society.

What is subjectivity, exactly?

I’d better clarify on the matter of subjectivity, as it is the core thread binding the process behind this fancy new blog. You may be familiar with the fact that there is a timeless philosophical debate which revolves around two perspectives of the nature of reality: Objectivity and Subjectivity.

Now I don’t have to get too esoteric or heady to explain what this is about and why it is the most important philosophical consideration for any sentient being. However, in many ways Subjectivism can be best defined as a contrast to Objectivism, so let us begin with that.

Objectivism is perhaps the first philosophy. In many ways, it is a very “natural” way to understand things. In a few words, Objectivism is a static view of reality – that is, there are Truths with a capital T. Reality is reality and that’s all there is to it; morality is a real force with there being Rights and Wrongs, Good and Evil, Heaven and Hell. It is a reality of absolutes and certainty. Murder is wrong and charity is right, circumstances are irrelevant because these Truths will always be True.

Subjectivism, then, is an understanding that reality exists only as perception and that perceptions can vary from person to person. Because of this, it is not likely that there exists a static, unchanging reality – and if there is, there’s little or no way for us to know. In many ways, it is philosophical agnosticism. There aren’t truths with a capital T; what may be true now and here may not be true in a different time and place. While I may like a particular band, there will be many who don’t; while I like to think that I’m “right” and they aren’t, it’s a debate with no conclusion. To take it back to murder – murder can be seen as a righteous act in certain circumstances, such as the execution of a mass killer.

This is going to be a fun blog – subjectivism is something which permeates my thoughts on a regular basis and binds me in a perpetual existential crisis. But, it’s just a wide enough of an umbrella to encompass many areas of my interest, ranging from current events to music appreciation to movie commentary. But above all this will be an eclectic collection of writings held under a common banner: Exploring Subjectivism. Objectivism has had its fun in the sun and gained much love under populist political movements the last century; now it’s time to argue for something different.

And even if you don’t give two snorts about this pretentious subjectivism/objectivism nonsense this blog should prove at least mildly stimulating. Enjoy!

What is “the subject iv” and why should I care?

What is the subject iv?

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I’ve always been a fan of clever names, ones that stand out yet have relevance to the subject’s intent. Names are important; they generally create the first most impression. So I thought long and hard about this (not really, this was actually the first thing that popped in my head because I’ve got a fantastic talent for coming up with names for things) and this is what I’ve finally settled on. the subject iv is going to be a strange and eclectic collection of written ideas, musings, (occasional) rantings, and so forth.

At the core, the subject iv will, in one fashion or another, investigate a philosophy known as Subjectivity and it’s related schools such as cultural relativism. There will be frequent indictment of Objectivist proclamations and a general crusade against the growing army of Randroids. However, as a subjectivist blog there’s an understanding that neither view is particularly “right” or “wrong,” but that they do in fact prove useful in their own right at varying times — and at other times, both can be quite destructive when used inappropriately. (More on this soon.)

However, it will not be entertainment popcorn repostings of the latest Harlem Shake meme videos and videos of Russians with road rage. So if you want that, then just wait a few months until this fails and I have to whore myself to squeeze out every view and click I can (just kidding, being poor is fun).

So why did I choose “the subject iv”? What does it mean? Why can’t you capitalize properly?

It is subjective, isn’t it? I like to think of this blog and its goals as not just a loose focus on subjectivity (could I cast a wider or more vague net, really?) but as my personal outlet for a wide variety of personal interests and curiosities and things I think people should know or consider. In many ways, it will endeavor to be an intravenous drip of information and ideas – a “subject IV,” if you will (I give myself points for effort).

And of course, there is “subject four,” which makes up in mysteriousness what it lacks in actual meaning or significance of any sort.

I look forward to posting various amounts of nonsense and drivel; if anyone bothers to read it, then kudos (even if you didn’t like it). In my next posting we’ll be trying to pin down a concrete definition of subjectivity (did you see what I did there?), and give a better idea of what the goals of this publication will be. Until then….

Llowell