A DISCUSSION OF LAW AND JOURNALISM

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Fighting Megaupload Piracy With…Piracy?

Pirate

By Asher Hawkins

Last week, the Obama Administration criticized SOPA and PIPA for their associated risk of fostering censorship. At the same time, the Administration stated it would combat online piracy perpetrated by foreign websites.

Looks like the promise to crack down on piracy was more than mere saber-rattling.

Yesterday, less than 24 hours after the conclusion of the Stop-SOPA Blackout, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a sweeping indictment targeting the leaders of Megaupload.com, a popular Hong Kong-based file-sharing site that, according to the feds, allows users to access pirated copies of movies, music and other copyright-protected works.

Megaupload’s top seven honchos – none of them U.S. citizens, and four of them arrested Thursday by local New Zealand law enforcement upon a request from American authorities – are accused of heading up an organized criminal enterprise whose main goal was criminal copyright infringement.

But the feds’ actions may just be outside the scope of existing U.S. statutory law. The whole idea behind the Stop Online Piracy Act (the House of Representatives version of the controversial legislative initiative) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (the Senate version) is that our existing laws don’t give the feds the legal weaponry needed to protect works under U.S. copyright from the scourge of foreign online piracy.

Does U.S. law apply to wrongdoing committed (or primarily committed) overseas? It’s a complicated issue that our judicial system has increasingly grappled with in recent years. Thursday’s news reports about the shutdown of Megaupload – here’s a run-of-the-mill mainstream-media report from ABC News, and here’s a more in-depth piece from Wired – didn’t address this “extraterritoriality” issue.

So we decided to do just that.   (more…)

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