When somebody breaks into a house and steals something valuable that person is a thief. If captured that person will be charged with breaking and entering and theft. Depending on the severity of the case said person may find him/herself in prison for anything up to several years.
Now let us assume that the thief bought the crowbar with which he forced the house’s backdoor at an innocent DIY supply market.
No attorney of the state would even remotely consider charging the owner of the DIY market as an accomplice. And no politician would propose a bill banning the sale of crowbars.
Let us also assume that the thief used public transportation on his way to and from the place of the alleged crime.
Again no attorney of the state would charge the owner of the transportation system as an accessory to the crime. And no politician would propose a bill mandating that the perpetrator and his family be blocked from using public transport henceforth.
Or maybe the thief had information about the valuables from a coffetable book called “The Treasures of Very Posh House” or from one of those articles in Country Life where wannabe Ladies of The Manor brag about their obscene wealth.
Would the district attorney then charge the publishers of Country Life or that coffeetable book? Would politicians propose legislation that forbids pictures of valuables in coffeetable books or Country Life?
Let us further assume that the thief is a professional criminal who has amassed a stash of contraband which he stores in a compartment of a self-storage service like U-Store.
Would the police, after it raided the U-Store, then impound all goods stored there by each and every client, guilty or not? And would the police then put the torch to the U-Store and also burn the belongings of innocent clients?
Of course they wouldn’t.
So what is so special about the internet that politicians and police forces think they can treat crime on the internet as if common law did not apply there?
The answer is, of course, that there is nothing special about the internet which would invalidate common law. This specialness only exists in the imagination of ill-informed lawmakers and enforcement officials.
You see, dear politicians and police chiefs, on the internet the owners of local transportation systems and the hubs between those and the long distance services are called ISPs, the owners of the long distance services are called network operators, the U-Stores are called cyberlockers, the publishers of coffeetable books are called link aggregators or (you may have heard that from your kids) social networks, or forums or blogs or whatever name there is for vehicles to express people’s likes and dislikes on the net, and the DIY stores often go by the name software manufacturer or programmer.
Easy, isn’t it? Just forget the techno babble, dear lawmakers and enforcers, and accept the facts. You will soon find that common law and the internet have everything in common and nothing special is required to prevent the internet from becoming the "lawless land" that your cronies in certain industries want you to believe it already is.
Can it get worse? Yes, it can.
The analogy has so far been about theft, a real crime. But some of the laws that ACTA will force its signatories to pass are much worse. Their aim is not to fight crime but to protect outdated business models.
Imagine for a moment a world where High Street merchants would have had the power to make politicians pass laws that would not only have outlawed the building of generics stores but would also have jeopardised anybody who accepted a contract in conjunction with building a generics store or building traffic infrastructure that helped people reach the generics store or even the little sign painter who made a modest living painting placards announcing the opening of the generics store.
Then add penalties for logistics companies or port authorities who handle goods destined for the generics store and you have the dangerous nonsense that ACTA will force upon its signatories.
Stop being blinded by jargon and techno babble, dear lawmakers, and give us sensible laws that are not built upon the myths that the internet is an alien universe and that intellectual property is some arcane concoction to which common sense and common law cannot be applied.