Thursday, January 26, 2012

Debunking the Latest Crazy Internet Meme

This lovely little photoshopped poster has been making the rounds at all the major social media sites and forums. It usually is followed by the commenter spewing out moral outrage over how a guy sharing digital content could get a far stiffer sentence than a savage who brutally murdered a woman. It usually leads to a bashing of the American legal system and how it shows the courts care more about money than protecting lives.

I actually think this little meme demonstrates something completely different. It shows how people get their "facts" from photoshopped posters, because apparently, if it has pictures, has words, and is on the internet then it must be true (the information is further validated when it makes its way on Facebook).

This poster is hyperbole at its very best and is clearly designed to try to make a point. The point being that the courts care more about keeping the big corporations rich rather than protecting innocent individuals. It is a nice sentiment, but that doesn't actually make the poster factual. The irritating thing is that many folks have decided to take this internet meme as a news report and are spreading it around like it is fact.

The reality is that Megaupload founder Kim Schmitz (also known as Kim Dotcom) was only arrested last week and the trial has not even begun. I've never heard about someone being convicted and sentenced before the trial. From the various articles I've looked at, the sentence seems to be for 20 years rather than the purported 50. The courts are charging him for running a site that housed countless pirated copyrighted material, but there are also charges for racketeering and money laundering. I'm not trying to deny that the main charge isn't for the web site, but the length of the sentence (20 years) is likely based off all the different charges.

I've made my stance on artist's rights to their material a few times on this blog, so I'll keep my babbling to a minimum. The fact is an artist has the right to protect their creative works, be able to decide what to do with their works, and be able to make a living off their hard work. I'm someone who relies on copyrights to make a living and support my family, so you're going to have a hard time convincing me otherwise.

The thing that makes me laugh (not out of happiness though) is the people who try to paint Schmitz as a benevolent soul who is just trying to allow the free exchange of media. The arguments is the big government and corporations are doing away with him, so that all the fat cat CEOs and millionaire musicians can buy more sports cars and own more mansions. I realize it is easier to paint copyrights as something that just make major corporations and millionaires even richer, because then you have the emotional edge to sway people over to your side. Yeah, copyrights do benefit the rich. It also benefits people who could never afford a Porsche and are just trying to support their loved ones. Copyrights also protect the musician making music in his garage who sells the occasional track on iTunes or the starving author who works a year for a five thousand dollar advance. Actually, there are far more artists who are just making enough to squeak by than there are those lighting their cigars with hundred dollar bills.

Don't forget that Schmitz is a millionaire. He made that money off of various artists who never saw a penny from his site (though there seems to be a belief he did pay off some bigger artists to garner their support). Of course, he also made some of that millions from Ponzi schemes and other scams. The man isn't a saint, and I question if the free exchange of media is his top concern.

Do I think that Megaupload.com is an evil site that deserves to be destroyed? No. YouTube isn't facing any heat, yet it is abundant with copyrighted material. You could argue Megaupload's entire popularity and purpose was to share copyrighted works. YouTube claims to try to monitor copyrighted material, and it is pretty clear Megaupload didn't even make a token effort. But it would be completely unfair of me to claim that all material on their site was copyrighted, because it likely wasn't. I do think that the artist does have the right to have their material removed if they asked, and it looks like that never happened. I don’t support a blacklisting of the site, but I do have less respect for a site that profited from the works of artists who were not compensated.

I say all this without agreeing with the 20 year sentence. That is a little harsh, especially when he was just providing the site for the sharing of the copyrighted media rather than actually distributing it. The major issue with me would come from the fact he knowingly profited from pirated material. I would think a fine and lesser jail time would be the more reasonable sentence (it would be great if the money actually went to the artists who lost out on revenue). I also don't know the entirety of the case and what every charge entails.

But 20 years would still be the same as a convicted killer. So, this still shows how messed up the court system is, right? Well, I'm not here to argue the perfection of the court system, but let's look at this convicted killer.

First of all, I tried Googling Miguel Carano and he didn't show up. I found it odd for it to be so hard to find a convicted killer since that is sort of the thing news site jump all over. I did some more research and realized the guy's name is actually Miguel Carcano. It would have been nice if the photoshopped poster had tried to get the name right. I also found out that the man lives in Spain, and he committed the murder in Spain. The trial was conducted in Spain. They had tried for a sentence of up to 52 years, but it did end up going down to 20 years. He was also cleared of the rape charge. On top of the sentence, it does look like he was forced to pay a fine to all the victim's family members (a small consolation to be sure).

The important part to notice is this was a case in Spain. You can't use this conviction as an attack on the American judicial system because it has as much to do with them as European football standings have to do with who goes to the Super Bowl. The comparison is incredibly flawed in making the argument the meme is trying to prove because they're using two totally different legal systems. Of course, the one person hasn't even been convicted yet and is still in New Zealand, and the extradition hearing to bring him to the US for a trial doesn't begin until February 22.

The meme is wonderful to get one all huffy and puffy, but you're also not bursting into an uproar over actual facts. It is a meme that it is just as realistic as those dancing hamsters. I understand the point is to show a flaw in the legal system and try to demonstrate how big corporations are controlling the court. If you're going to try to make that argument then you probably should not use a millionaire huckster who is yet to be convicted and compare his case to a guy convicted in a totally different country. But then again, what fun would the meme be then?

2 comments:

  1. Matthew Burkholder12:08 pm

    I found this post very humbling. I always try to be as truthful as possible, and even though I think the recent overbearing actions of the FBI against copyright infringement hurts the little guy, I should think twice about posting a misleading picture... I knew it was misleading too, but sometimes being angry clouds my judgement.

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  2. You were far from the only person to post this picture, and actually not even the reason I ended up writing this entry. There was a lot of righteous indignation coming from people who seemed to have all their "facts" from this photoshopped picture.

    It's frustrating to think that I could post a photoshopped press release announcing "NBC Buys Canada; Alec Baldwin New PM" and half the social media users will start taking it as fact.

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