Why Operation:Payback is Wrong

Early Saturday, the US, and UK Pirate Parties released an open letter to the people behind Operation:Payback (O:P). Operation:Payback was a set of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks on various websites, intending to take them offline. It’s an ignorant, futile, and ultimately counter-productive action that outwardly amounts to a temper-tantrum, with far-reaching consequences. Let’s explore why.

I was the main architect behind the letter (although I did very little of the writing, other officers of the US and UK parties wrote it), and I’ll give my reasons behind the letter here.

Operation:Payback has achieved very little of it’s intended goal. The aim was, as far as I can make out, to ‘pay back’ first AiPlex for DDoSing trackers. Then it was an attack on groups like the MPAA and RIAA for hiring them. We’re in the early stages of O:P here, and there’s just two problems. While the head of AiPlex did TALK of DDoSing, there’s no evidence his company actually has. Second, AiPlex was never hired by the MPAA, or indeed anyone in Hollywood (except the Indian arm of Fox and StarTV). Mainly because AiPlex is an INDIAN company, that was hired by BOLLYWOOD companies, the exact words are

Kumar said that at the moment most of the payment for his company’s services came from the film industry in India.
“We are tied up with more than 30 companies in Bollywood. They are the major production houses.”

Oops, wrong continent. So, there’s something of a lack of research and fact-checking behind it. That’s never good in itself. By basing a so-called political statement on facts that are completely, unequivocally untrue, any justification you might claim is totally blown.

So, without any decent justification, you’ve got nothing. So what does that leave? It leaves an attack that, under US law is criminal. Here’s the problem. When you have a criminal action committed in the name of changing something, you tar EVERYONE wanting those changes as criminals. Good Job Operation:Payback, you’ve managed to tar everyone with a criminal brush. Politicians don’t listen to criminals, voters don’t tend to elect people deemed criminals (unless they’re already in office), as one recent UK Pirate candidate has pointed out. You’ve weakened any impact the Pirate Party can do.

Ok, the other argument put about is that ‘it’s gained attention for the cause’. Not really. Tech news sites carried it yes. Guess what? Tech news sites also carry stories about copyright and other issues. Pretty much everyone that would read those stories, ALREADY KNEW your issues and the problems. When it’s reported on mainstream news (a whole TWICE!) we’ve one scrupulously neutral and dry BBC report, and a Reuters piece with a negative spin. But a tech news site (oh, what a surprise) made the following point that underscores the point.

“The problem is, most of the government regulators have little incentive to listen to demands from a group of people who started by attacking first, and make it clear that they will do it again if progess is not attained.”

Now, let’s move on to the targets. In targeting the US Copyright Office earlier this month, O:P showed it has little thought, and no understanding of the situation. Over the last 12 years, there have been increasingly strict copyright laws, and a vast intrusion of DRM with it. There has, however been one area of progress. There has been one body that had relaxed DRM, and opened abilities to people. It’s the US Copyright Office. That’s right, the ONE agency that has been consistently relaxing regulations (ok, not a great deal, but every bit helps) and restrictions, was targeted by O:P. What a LOVELY thank-you for Marybeth Peters. A few months after important breakthrough in DRM, with the ability to circumvent being allowed in a vastly expanded number of cases, her department is attacked. There’s another thing that O:P doesn’t understand – the Copyright Office doesn’t set policy, it just follows the policy set by Congress.

Then, there’s cause and effect. O:P claims to be doing this to influence politicians, and the big businesses controlling things. Well, what would they think about it? The businesses targeted get to claim O:P are criminals, vandals, and can then insinuate that it’s typical of anyone wanting positive change for copyright – as I said before, we (the pirate parties) get tarred with anon’s brush. Legislators, Well, in the US, they’re old. The 111th Congress (2009-2010) averages about 60 (57.2 in the House, and 63.1 in the Senate). We’ve all tried explaining computers to grandparents, and other, similarly aged people. Most just don’t get it (or think the internet’s a system of tubes). They don’t understand what a DDoS is, all they do understand is that it’s against the law, a criminal act, ESPECIALLY when it targets government computers. Are they going to listen to you? Hell no. And they’re less likely to listen to people with similar views. Result? The ability to effect any type of change is reduced. In fact, the ability for lobbyists to paint opposition as ‘just criminals, you know the ones that attacked the Copyright Office‘ makes it easier for stricter laws to pass.

Finally, some people have made the claim that we (the parties) should be supporting them, or at least not criticizing them, as they’re our ‘allies’. Utter Rubbish. Their actions have actively worked against our work and abilities. Allies don’t do that. Their actions have been in direct contravention of everything the US Pirate Party stands for. That tends to preclude an alliance (except in the mythical ‘enemy of my enemy Is my friend’ way, but as we’ve pointed out, they’ve acted in a friend-of-my-enemy way). Finally, civil disobedience does NOT always require violating the law, in fact often the acts can be legal, but its the continuation of those actions when authorities try to end it, that breaks the law. Tomorrow (November 24th, the day before thanksgiving) there is a protest over the TSA’s body-scanners planned. Instead of going through the scanners, people are going to protest by going for the much more time-consuming and labor intensive pat-down. This is civil disobedience, and is 100% legal. Others have argued that a more effective civil disobedience would be to continue filesharing, disobeying copyright law, and showing that the claimed effects don’t happen.

Of course, the US Pirate Party, as a US political party, can not condone, support, or endorse any acts against the law (and not only as a party, the party constitution specifies individual officers can’t either). So, out of the 3 options (support, ignore, oppose) we are barred from supporting. That means there’s two options, ignore, or oppose. Ignoring it can be considered a quiet approval at worst (for the party) or plain ignorance as well as helping feed the claims that ‘everyone that wants to reform copyright is a crimainl’ mentality. So, the only thing left is to oppose, in order to distance the party officially from actions that are against its purpose, and to try and to prevent our positions being spun as those of criminals.
How to do so? Well, we could use their own language, and epithets against them, or we can take the other extreme, point out they are hurting, not helping things, ask them to stop, and if they really want to help, to do so in a productive way. We went with the second option. The constructive, rational method. It breaks O:P down into three resultant groups.

  1. Those that understands our points, looks at the reasoning, and agrees
  2. Those that looks at the points, understands them but doesn’t care
  3. Those that don’t understand the points, and see it as someone telling them what to do/criticizing, and will continue.

And that, in a nutshell, is the reasoning behind it. The attacks are counterproductive, managed only preach only to the choir, have attacked the only government group that has actually been on our side and listened to our arguments, and are based upon a completely fictitious premise.

If I didn’t know better, I’d say Operation:Payback was filled with Big Copyright’s agents provocateurs. After all, O:P’s campaign could hardly suit their interests better.

The letter in full