Conquistadores on the Internet

for Bartolome De Las Casas

The Internet, El Dorado! When the first people from europe arrived, they were astonished, looked around, saw what was and started building up something. Soon enough, word spread in europe that there were rivers full of gold in the new lands, and the mythic city of El Dorado, full of gold. So other people were sent out, not discoverers but konquerors, the "Conquistadores". People who were only in it for the money...

The very same happens today with the internet, spammers only being the harmless part of the ongoing commercialization of the net. The real threat comes from the Conquistadores, people who come, see, don't understand and destroy. Their weapons not swords but the law, sometimes carefully constructed on the political theatre in order to fulfill their needs, their motivation greed, the official reason of course not anymore to "mission the heathens" but "to enforce copyright". We're talking of an industry which values copyrights more than producing something new.

Powered by self-righteousness, ignorance and greed, Pizarro went to the Incas, didn't even realize that he could become the Inca himself (and thus gain much more wealth than he ever would have in service of Spain), destroyed everything and submitted the poor rest to Spain. A broken country, destroyed, raped of their culture. Hundreds of thousands of writings, pictures and statues destroyed, prospering cities besieged. South America hasn't really recovered from this in the past 400 years. Now, conquistadores spot El Dorado in the internet, spot probable violations of their copyrights and destroy, not realizing they could make a fortune by supporting the very people which probably infringe their copyrights. But no. Incapable of delivering what people really want they tinker around with their own unsuccessful sites; and whenever someone more successfully builds something up, they charge, send in hordes of lawyers costing more money than the "enemy" site ever saw. Effectively, it is possible due to sheer masses of money to "buy" cases in court. The actual case might be relatively unclear, but when attacked by someone who is willing to spend some hundred thousand "reales" in order to shut your site down, many companies and private sites retreat. They're not even able to spend money for _one_ trial -- if they would, and if they would win, the conquistadores would go to the next instance...

Most surprising in this whole case is the inability to see the profits but instead to wreak havoc on wherever happens to stand in the way -- wherever they want to go, or wherever they don't want to go. As mentionned, Pizarro had the opportunity to become Inca, that is, ruler of all Incas. He didn't. He destroyed everything precious, melted the golden artwork and shipped it to spain. Of course, later on he was slain by his brother in arms. He had everything and lost it through greed and ignorance. The entertainment industry, for instance, does the same. Instead of realizing the endless possibilities of marketing made possible by fansites (well, the incas thought of the spain as something like gods...) they shut them down.

The List of dead bodys is long. AlienQuake, a Level for the popular game Quake modeled after the movie Alien was taken down by Warner, Dozens if not hundreds of fanpages for the Simpsons, Millenium and the X-Files were taken down by 20th Century Fox, lyrics pages were taken down by Warner and Chapell, StarTrek Fanpages were taken down by Viacom/Paramount; another score by Warner was the taking down of several Babylon 5 fanpages, in turn Harry Fox Agency took down the Online Guitar Archive (OLGA). Of course, this goes not only against fans but (for instance) against musicians as well. Billy Idol, the Beastie Boys and Public Enemy have all been forced to remove MP3's of their songs from their webpages. Symbol has been warned beforehand.

Not only movies and music are involved, but the printing press as well, though not as aggressive. But the copyrights for artistical works which last for 70 years after the dead of the artist speak for themselves.. On a related note is Disney now up to (which means the US-congress is up to) lengthen the life of copyrights from 75 to 90 years since they would loose copyright on some famous Disney-characters in 2003.

Shutting down sites has not been the only destructive measure the Conquistadores wanted to take. In the recent DVD debate, they want to make sure their DVDs aren't copied. Divx is one thing, country codes are another (do they really think DVDs could hurt the cinema business?), but far the worst is the idea of encrypting the whole thing. This is okay, but they actually tried to make any action and tool which could be used to reverse-engineer software copy-protection measures illegal. Evidently, they don't trust their encryption (and have a good reason not to trust it: You can't encrypt data for consumers without giving them the key to use it), and rather render the whole computer security and antiviral research illegal.

What these corporations are doing is mass-destruction of internet culture, perverting copyright, trademarks and patents to something they were never meant to be.

The above lines have been written february 1999, since then the DVD- encryption indeed has been cracked, and the Motion Pictures Association of America (MPAA) has proven to be no lesser a conquistador than the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). People were sued for distribution of DeCSS, the utility to decrypt the DVD content scrambling system (CSS). They even tried to get an injunction against people who linked to DeCSS. So we got a new all-star hitparade of conquistadores: Disney, Sony, MGM, Paramount, 20th Century Fox, Universal Studios, Warner Bros, EMI, Polygram, and of course, Francisco Pizarro, Hernan Cortez, Vasco Nunez de Balboa, Diego de Almagro, Hernando deSoto and Panfilo de Narvaez.

Peter Keel, 22.02.1999
updated 01.02.2000

Links and References

Dead Bodys

General Information about sites which were shut down