Hand-wringing over the US government’s absolutist authoritarian autocracy towards all matters relating to the internet seems to have become a new spectator sport. The sheer mass of governmental violation of the most basic principles enshrined in that dusty, long-neglected and apparently now irrelevant document called the Constitution of the United States of America has reached a level that Arab Spring tyrants would admire. One of the latest Cyber-Caesarisms to issue from Washington, D.C. is the gargantuan fiasco surrounding the 2010 seizure of popular hip hop music site Dajaz1.com. The site was officially seized and plastered with official notifications of criminal activity for over a year, but when all the facts came out the government reversed its position and released the site without issuing even a single “oops, sorry about that!”

Unjustified Federal Seizures

You’re operating a luxury goods store and proudly stock the latest Louis Vuitton Altair Clutch handbags. All of a sudden, the Feds swoop down; claim you’re selling counterfeits; shut down your store; cover your windows with officially sealed notifications that you’re running a criminal operation for over a year; and for all that time refuse to even look at the legitimate invoices directly from the Louis Vuitton factory proving that the bags are fully original and fully paid for. If you think that absurdity could never occur in the United States, the case of Dajaz1 will cause you to change your mind.

Keystone Kops Absurdity

Like many other cutting edge music sites, Dajaz1 hosted music that was provided directly by the labels in order to publicize its artists. This was the very music that was used as evidence by the government working with the RIAA to seize the site as a copyright violator, without even as much as taking the time to realize that the works were submitted to Dajaz1 by representatives of the record labels the government was trying in its own ham-fisted fashion to protect! Executives at RIAA-member record labels all the way up to the Vice Presidents as well as leading artists such as Kanye West and Diddy had asked Dajaz1 in writing to host the music… and therefore the site was busted for illegal copyright violation! Huh? Comparing these government acts to a Keystone Kops comedy of errors doesn’t even begin to address the profound absurdity.

Take Downs Seen as Clever Business

Even though the individual record companies were innocent in the case of Dajaz1, that does not excuse them for exercising their own egregious breaches. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has been involved in extensive litigation surrounding a Universal Music Publishing Group takedown notice of a 29 second YouTube video showing a toddler boogieing to Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy.” Warner Bros. Records had to admit in court that they repeatedly sent out takedown notices to sites for files that they not only did not have the copyrights to but actually never even examined! This blatant, systematic harassment of what should be fully legitimate fair use has become the status quo in DMCA-backed censorship, thereby equating proud moms showing off their kids’ antics to their social circle with the unqualified evil of counterfeiters, phishers and terrorists.

This same tactic can be used to silence a company’s competition, or a party’s political opponents. Since there are effectively few websites that do not utilize fair use materials on their pages, the tools backed by the legal power of United States Government can now facilitate pernicious prosecution of just about any website operator, regardless of subject matter or industry sector. Disagree with the position of a particular blogger? Take ‘em down! Getting walloped by your competition? Set the Feds on ‘em! Not only is this form of prejudicial malefaction legal, it can actually be seen in some (warped) circles as a clever business strategy.

“Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press”: Those First Amendment words are apparently now as relevant to American legislation as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793. For a nation that at one time billed itself as the shining beacon of liberty and democracy, this is a transgression that should neither be glossed over nor excused.