Old-fashioned ‘Natural Law’ Confounding Hollywood in Dotcom Case

by Nigel Bolton-Shaw on August 14, 2012

New Zealand’s Dominion Post recently posted a long article about Kim Dotcom and how unexpectedly, this 400 pound founder of the file-sharing website Megaupload had recast himself as a freedom fighter.

In doing so it broached the long-dormant issue of “natural law.” That conversations about natural law would be making a comeback in the arena of modern popular journalism is just one more sign of the astonishing times in which we live. The Internet is truly a game-changer.

Dotcom has begun to fight back with a website devoted to declaring his innocence and more importantly presenting the idea that 20th century copyright does not fit 21st century technology.

What Dotcom is really presenting is the idea of “natural law,” which has fallen out of favor in these spendthrift times but which may be becoming more prominent as the global monetary crisis continues.

Natural law has gotten a boost from the Internet itself, which continually features the excesses and brutality of over-the-top law enforcement. Much of people’s repugnance to reports and videos of authoritarianism in the 21st century has to do with a kind of hardwired recognition of what constitutes justice – a bedrock comprehension of what has been called natural law through the ages.

Natural law has a long and prominent history within the context of great moral thinkers. Many of these recognized that laws supporting the best in human nature were more likely to stand the test of time than laws simply advancing the interests of the day’s ruling elite.

In fact, Wikipedia tell us that natural law is often contrasted to “positive” law, which is law that is derived from political necessity. Plato was the first Western thinker of modernity to recognize natural law, along with Aristotle and the Stoics.

But natural law is making a comeback as a recognizable force. Many Western “takings” of property and wealth have provoked instinctive repugnance because they contravene natural law.

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The argument of the powers-that-be is that takings may be necessary for the smooth functioning of society. But this perspective does not mesh well with the instinctive human understanding of justice … as increasingly highlighted on the Internet.

Which brings us back to the case of Kim Dotcom and Megalupload…

The US Department of Justice found it fairly easy to send the FBI halfway around the world to arrest Kim Dotcom for copyright violations. He was thrown in jail and his billion-dollar company was shut down.

But one can make the argument, as Dotcom himself has started to do, that the act of arresting him, shuttering his company and freezing his assets – all without a trial – contravenes what may be called natural law.

Again, just to be clear, Dotcom would no doubt consider the nomenclature “uncool.” But humanity does not change much (yet) from generation to generation. It may not be “cool” to refer to natural law in Kim Dotcom’s circles, but the concept itself is undeniably powerful and increasingly relevant.

The groundswell of support for Dotcom, therefore, may stem not only from the individual idiosyncrasies of the case, so much as from a much larger and less clearly verbalized (but innate) understanding of natural law and its invalidation.

The treatment of Dotcom for instance, has not been well received in New Zealand, where despite the country’s larger socialism, residents apparently perceive his treatment by authorities as US bullying.

And recently we find an article in the New Zealand newspaper, the Dominion Post, all-but-acknowledging that the Megaupload argument is at root a controversy over natural law.

The article deals most directly with natural law at the end, when condensing and summarizing the controversy. Here’s some of the text:

What does the Dotcom affair mean for the future of copyright law and the Internet? The law is in flux, says InternetNZ’s Ms Chalmers, and in a sense the United States’ action against Dotcom is fighting ‘yesterday’s battle’.

The reality of the Internet is that ‘you cannot control the right to copy any more . . . It’s just a different reality’. What is needed is a new copyright law suitable for today, she says. The American case against Dotcom represents one extreme in the argument. This is to get tougher at the very time when copyright infringement is easier than ever.

The United States wants to enshrine this in the proposed Trans- Pacific Partnership, a trade deal that would include the US and New Zealand … However … many argue that copyright law should now move to a different model, where music, film and television programmes are more freely and quickly available to users but with a modest cost for their use.

Sites such as iTunes and Spotify allow access to music for low prices. Netflicks in America does the same for movies. YouTube has introduced ads on its site which provide revenue to copyright holders.

What is being stated here, in other words, is that modern copyright contravenes natural law. Technology will happen no matter what. You can’t stop it or put it under arrest. And the Internet has just begun.

Remedies like 20th century copyright may soon become too expensive to enforce. Laws, generally, that take enormous amounts of capital and manpower will die a natural death. At least they will evolve.

Thomas Jefferson and many of the rest of the founders understood it long ago. Laws that contravene natural law won’t stand the test of time. Not now. Not in the Internet era.


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