Copyright, MegaUpload and the Rudeness of Canadians

In the never-ending quest to demonstrate that Canadians aren’t some uber-polite alien species, The Volunteer‘s M.J. Sheppard offers a great “little” rant about copyright law and the recent MegaUpload arrests (editorial discretion mine):

Hey, you know what really bothers me? When one country figures that laws passed by their legislature apply to the entire [expletive] world.

You know who the leading proponent of that idea is? The United States. That’s right, a nation that refuses to recognize the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court because it might place their citizens, soldiers and scumbag politicians in legal jeopardy has no issue whatsoever with applying its laws on foreign soil.

It started with the War on Drugs, which dovetailed nicely into the War on Terror, and now American  copyright law is being applied extraterritorally.

…What I want to point out is “who in the [expletive] is the United States to shut down a Hong Kong-based company and arrest folks in New Zealand based on the whimsy of [expletive] [expletive] like Chris Dodd, formerly the United States Senator from CountyWide and currently the president of the MPAA?” And make no mistake, this is all about the infinitely power-drunk and suicidally moronic desires of Washington’s lobbyist [expletive].

You can read the entire, expletive-ridden post here.

Jonathan McLeod

Jonathan McLeod is a writer living in Ottawa, Ontario. (That means Canada.) He spends too much time following local politics and writing about zoning issues. Follow him on Twitter.


  1. This goes part and parcel with the abandonment of “State’s Rights”, I think.

    If we agree that there are issues that are *SO* important that the Federal Government has a responsibility to fix them even if the Federal Government fixing them creates a precedent with regards to rapidly expanding jurisdiction, then we have let a jinni out of the bottle.

    We shouldn’t be surprised to hear more and more people saying “but you don’t have jurisdiction!” in the coming years… and we shouldn’t be surprised to hear those people compared to the people who said such things in the past.

    • Who would be the right body to enforce copyright law, though?

      I mean, let’s be clear, here–there is no legal framework that would support what was going on at MegaUpload, except possibly one in which property doesn’t exist.

      • The right body to enforce any given law would be the law enforcement agency that has jurisdiction.

        “But no law enforcement agency has jurisdiction in the darkest corners of the world!”, I hear you complain.

        “Yeah, that’s about the size of it.”, I rejoin.

      • I think Jaybird’s right, DD. The laws of the country where the law is broken should be enforced. As Patrick notes below, this gets a little more complicated when numerous countries have agreed to abide by each other’s copyright laws, but I think it is to that general legal regime to which Mr. Sheppard objects.

        • There’s “agreeing to abide by the concept of copyright laws” and there’s “we’ll extradite offenders in our country to another country to answer for infractions of those copyright laws.”

          IIRC, the Berne Convention just states that countries will abide by copyright law, it doesn’t demand particular punishments or cooperation levels or anything. I’d have to check that.

    • I can see the similarity, but a couple of thoughts:

      (A) I don’t think people outside of the United States are going to have as much sympathy for U.S. government expanding their powers within their borders rather than outside.

      (B) Conversely, it seems to me that the feds sometimes usurp power from the states without approval from the states. I have less sympathy for a nation whose government chooses to allow such an expansion of the U.S. government.

      • I don’t think people outside of the United States are going to have as much sympathy for U.S. government expanding their powers within their borders rather than outside.

        Surely not. Will the corporations that have influence over governments, local or otherwise, have different sympathies?

        Conversely, it seems to me that the feds sometimes usurp power from the states without approval from the states. I have less sympathy for a nation whose government chooses to allow such an expansion of the U.S. government.

        Wait until you see what happens after we finally get Kyoto signed.

          • You know, I was going to put in a parenthetical after Kyoto where I said something to the effect of “or whatever it will eventually be called” but erased it as it coming off clumsy.

            I regret that.

          • I just wasn’t sure if the news had made it out that Canada is withdrawing. It’s been a BIG issue here (even though we’ve never – NEVER – mad any attempt at meeting its obligations, regardless of which party was in government).

  2. ‘People who have never set foot in America, and are merely accused of committing crimes against suicidal industries can lose the liberty and have their property seized with impunity’ – thi has already occured with Iraq, Libya, and will occur to Iran. Suicidal Industry: The American Dollar.

    • Hey Adnan, thanks for swinging by.

      I think an argument can be made that the expansion of U.S. law takes a similar form to the U.S. desire to spread democracy (that’s an imprecise phrasing, but hopefully y’all get my point). It doesn’t mean all instances are equally legitimate or illegitimate, but there’s a common theme.

  3. While I have to infer a great deal about MegaUpload, being otherwise unfamiliar with it, might I be safe in guessing that the overwhelming majority of the content illegally obtained and distributed there originated in the United States? Did it not traffic in stolen American property? To whom should the legitimate owners of said property address their perfectly reasonable desire for redress, if not to the United States government?

    • If the content was “stolen” in another country (ie the individuals, servers, companies and websites are all based out of another country), then I’d suggest that it would be the legal system of that country.

      (I haven’t followed MegaUpload too closely, so this is just a general answer.)

      • In that case, I suppose the pertinent question is to what degree was the government of China addressing the ongoing theft of US property. Given what little I know about the details of this significant problem in Sino-American relations, I would guess “not much.”

        • From my (very limited) understanding of Chinese law, they might not have as strict copyright laws as the U.S. (or Canada). If, under their law, there was no “theft” then they wouldn’t be compelled to do anything.

          • Which then, of course, leads back to the problem of US companies having their property stolen without hope of redress by a government that is quite apparently willing to tolerate said theft without intervening within its own borders.

          • Can we please take it as given, for purposes of this discussion, that there exists such a thing as nonphysical property and that it can have legal protection?

            If the term “stolen” honestly makes you upset(*), call it “tresspassing”, which I always thought was philosophically closer to what’s happening. The rightsholder is legally permitted to deny certain uses of his property, and the infringer is using it in that way despite that denial.

            (*) because, after all, stealing is something that bad people do, and you’re totally not a bad person, therefore what you do can’t be stealing

          • OOOH, big bad companies have their property stolen! And they can’t do anything about it???
            ROFL. Cry me a fucking river, Tony.
            It’s like nobody around here has heard of industrial espionage before…

            Why don’t we talk about Real Actual problems, like the Russian Companies that are stealing credit card/debit card numbers from Real Folk (TM)?

            Oh, right, because gangs fight back.

          • I can’t believe that you want to talk about the Russian Companies stealing from people who are well off enough to have credit cards when Mumia abu Jamal is still in prison!

          • Jay,
            There’s enough time in the day to fight a couple of battles, isn’t there? Or maybe it’s all the same battle… hohoho! (weird, creepy japanese laugh).

          • Well, if we can go back to talking about stuff like violation of copyright, we have to deal with the very real problem of jurisdiction and what happens when the local constabulary declines to enforce the law (or the weird issue when they decline to enforce the law of another country).

          • Don’t worry, DD, I do lots of bad things.

            I contest the use of the terms ‘stealing’ and ‘property’ not only because they’re not totally accurate, but because other jurisdictions may have other definitions of what constitutes ‘stealing’ and ‘property’.

            If we’re talking about actions that are happening in China (as is the example we’ve been running with), American definitions of stealing and property are hardly applicable to Chinese law.

          • China’s failure to recognize the right of US companies to control the distribution of content they produce, stemming from investments they have made in production and distribution costs, doesn’t really settle the question for me. Hiding behind an indifferent or duplicitous government’s failure does not render the actions of those profiting from someone else’s work and investments either defensible or morally correct. It may technically render said actions not illegal, but that’s hardly the same thing as “tolerable.”

            I realize that US corporations are a deeply unpopular group of entities around the world. Hell, we can barely stand them here. But that doesn’t change the fact that they are responsible for creating the content that MegaUpload apparently feels it has the right to profit from despite having made no investment in it. It’s all very well to say nasty things about the US companies or the US government’s actions trying to protect their interests (like any country with the wherewithal to do so would), but unless one is mounting an argument that anyone should be able to rip off creative talent and the companies that invest in it with impunity, then one should come up with a workable plan to protect the output of said talent and investments.

          • I really can’t get behind this sort of legal hegemony. Just because the laws of another country are insufficient, undesirable or oppressive doesn’t mean that citizens of a different country should be able to have the laws of their homeland imposed on the country where the “crimes” took place.

            It’s easy to pick on China, but what if we take a different example. British libel law is pretty wretched. It’s not uncommon for Brits, when disparaged elsewhere (like the U.S.) to take their complaint to the British legal system. Is that ok? Should Americans accept the imposition of British law because some British citizen was offended by what an American said on American soil?

            It’s really tempting to try to expand justice beyond your borders (for instance, Canada has a sexual tourism law whereby we’re not allowed to travel to another country in order to have sex with little boys), but it’s a risky door to open.

          • In truth, I’m taking a harder line on this then I feel all that deeply. I suppose this is largely a reaction to three things:

            1) I really don’t like it when people use the term “c***sucker*” so very casually. I realize they don’t think it’s homophobic. But it is. And it raises my hackles.

            2) I really don’t like it when people use the term “c***” or derivatives so very casually. I realize they don’t think it’s misogynistic. But it is. And it raises my hackles.

            3) I realize the author of the linked post thinks US companies are suicidal and deserving of everything unpleasant that befalls them and horribly abusive to the artists that contract with them. I agree that much of this is probably true. But I note that he spends absolutely no time at all criticizing a regime that is perfectly happy to let its citizens appropriate intellectual property (a concept I happen to think is valid) for their own gain. Did the US overstep in a hegemonic and unacceptable manner? I’ll concede that it did. But this intemperate little rant seems a wee bit one-sided, and fails to address that a non-US entity is also somewhat responsible for the situation at hand.

          • Fair points, definitely. I tend to agree with you on the language and tone of Mr. Sheppard’s blog post. I think he has a valid point to make, but I can understand how it might get lest amid all the profanity.

  4. For the record, the Bern Convention ( has been the forerunner for copyright until the end of the earth for a while.


    The Berne Convention was first established in 1886, and was subsequently re-negotiated in 1896 (Paris), 1908 (Berlin), 1928 (Rome), 1948 (Brussels), 1967 (Stockholm) and 1971 (Paris). The convention relates to literary and artistic works, which includes films, and the convention requires its member states to provide protection for every production in the literary, scientific and artistic domain. The Berne Convention has a number of core features, including the principle of national treatment, which holds that each member state to the Convention would give citizens of other member states the same rights of copyright that it gave to its own citizens (Article 3-5).[28]

    Another core feature is the establishment of minimum standards of national copyright legislation in that each member state agrees to certain basic rules which their national laws must contain. Though member states can if they wish increase the amount of protection given to copyright owners. One important minimum rule was that the term of copyright was to be a minimum of the author’s lifetime plus 50 years. Another important minimum rule established by the Berne Convention is that copyright arises with the creation of a work and does not depend upon any formality such as a system of public registration (Article 5(2)). At the time some countries did require registration of copyright, and when Britain implemented the Berne Convention in the Copyright Act 1911 it had to abolish its system of registration at Stationers’ Hall.[28]

    The Berne Convention focuses on authors as the key figure in copyright law and the stated purpose of the convention is “the protection of the rights of authors in their literary and artistic works” (Article 1), rather than the protection of publishers and other actors in the process of disseminating works to the public. In the 1928 revision the concept of moral rights was introduced (Article 10bis), giving authors the right to be identified as a such and to object to derogatory treatment of their works. These rights, unlike economic rights such as preventing reproduction, could not be transferred to others.[28]

    The Berne Convention also enshrined limitations and exceptions to copyright, enabling the reproduction of literary and artistic works without the copyright owners prior permission. The detail of these exceptions was left to national copyright legislation, but the guiding principle is stated in Article 9 of the convention. The so called three-step test holds that an exception is only permitted “in certain special cases, provided that such reproduction does not conflict with a normal exploitation of the work and does not unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of the author”. Free use of copyrighted work is expressly permitted in the case of quotations from lawfully published works, illustration for teaching purposes, and news reporting (Article 10).[28]

    • It’s a good point, and one that Mr. Sheppard doesn’t address head-on. If every other country decides, within their political/legal system, to start enforcing American law, then when the police in that country enforce American law, they’re kind of just enforcing the law of their land.

    • The Geneva Conventions comprise four treaties, and three additional protocols, that establish the standards of international law for the humanitarian treatment of the victims of war.

      The Geneva Conventions comprise rules that apply in times of armed conflict and seek to protect people who are not or are no longer taking part in hostilities, for example:
      • wounded or sick fighters
      • prisoners of war
      • civilians
      • medical and religious personnel

      Abu-Ghraib: Fail
      Extraordinary rendition: Fail
      Guantánamo Bay: Fail

      My point: What legitimacy does the Berne Convention exert, when the hypocritical actions of certain signatories (guess who?) choose to blatantly violate other accords (guess which one?) they are a party to? Why should the fiduciary interests of some ‘starving artists’ usurp all other matters? Why do the companies that were advertising on MegaUpload have immunity from these charges? Are they not guilty in contributing to the propagation of the said infractions?

      • By this logic, all international treaties should be shredded tomorrow morning.

      • I don’t see how the U.S. (for argument’s sake) violating the Geneva Convention would nullify other, separate, conventions. If I do something to violate my car insurance, it doesn’t mean my landlord can tear up my lease.

  5. MegaUpload and similar file-sharing companies provide a service which CAN have a legitimate use: I have a file to which I own the copyright, and that I wish to share with some number of people around the world.

    The question then becomes to what point is the file sharing company responsible for copyright violations? From what I’ve seen re file-sharing companies (which include YouTube), if the company is making a reasonable effort to remove illegal files, then they can’t be held liable for misuse.

    What’s a “reasonable effort” though? And how hard did MegaUpload try to keep illegal files off its servers?

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