Another day, another police raid. I have lost count of them - by this point, my reaction upon hearing about them is a shrug and a tired acknowledgement that it happened. It's no longer a thing out of the ordinary, but more and more a part of the digital status quo.
This time it has happened to undertexter.se [subtitles.se], a page where those who so wishes could find subtitles to movies. Swedish subtitles, translated by the fans, for the fans. Not the movies as such, mind you, but the files that contains the translated subtitles to these movies. That is to say, text files containing the translated transcripts of the dialogue within these movies.
We have therefore taken another step up the ladder of abstraction when it comes to internet related crimes. We know from the Pirate Bay-trial that it is de jure illegal to provide a bulletin board (physical or digital) that contains information as to where the files are. That is to say, to in any way, shape or form assist the accessories of the crime in question - be it in the form of a link, a word or a pointed finger. This has now been extended to things that might in any way, shape or form be related to the assisting of these accessories. Such as fansubbing.
This is not a step in the right direction. For three reasons.
First off, the general vagueness of this legal situation is very detrimental to the social stability. If handling things that are peripherally related to piracy is criminalized to the point where police in the mood for a raid can show up at any time, then there's a very present incentive for ordinary people to start thinking like criminals. Because they are, in the eyes of the law. And, moreover, there's an incentive to start to raidproof one's home, workplace or digital hideouts - the police might after all show up at any moment, and if they find something suspicious, they both can and will use it against you.
Under such conditions, applied paranoia pays off.
Secondly, this stifles innovation. Things that might be seen as creative and innovative leap when it comes to collaborative computing, might also be seen as organized crime. Or as facilitating said organized crime. Which, quite straightforwardly, makes it rational to be hesitant when it comes to innovate in these areas - especially when these innovations includes the sharing of information. Those policemen are not kidding around once they get into their raiding gear.
To slightly paraphrase a famous phrase: any sufficiently advanced application of collaborative computing is indistinguishable from piracy.
Thirdly, this is a direct and unmistakable message to the digital business community. Or, rather, it's two messages, one domestic and one international. The domestic message is this: don't mess with computers. The international message is this: don't come here if you are a company that messes with computers. Since every action that in any way, shape or form relates to collaborative computing can be interpreted as abetting organized criminality, and since actions undertaken on a commercial scale are always punished harder than those undertaken on a hobby basis - just don't do it. Stay out. It's not worth the hassle and the legal fees. Keep your business elsewhere.
It goes without saying that this is quite the opposite of conducive to a prospering digital business community.
There are two ways to react to this. The one way is to shrug and keep on keeping on, as if this is the way things are supposed to be. The other way is to get mad. To get out of your chairs, open your windows to the internet and yell: this legislation kills innovation, and I'm not gonna take it anymore!
It's your choice. Don't let the threat of the next police raid leave you too unaffected.
Originally published July 10 2013