Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Megaload of Unintended Consequences

By Bill Wilson
After an outpouring of opposition by millions of Internet users and tens of thousands of websites against the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA) and the “Protect Intellectual Property Act” (PIPA) in the House and Senate, congressional proponents of the bills have delayed votes on Capitol Hill.

That is not stopping the Obama Administration, however, which has been acting as if the proposals have already been passed. The most recent example is the shutdown of Megaupload.com, a web-based data storage company that boasted over 150 million users, by the Justice Department and New Zealand law enforcement officials.

According to the indictment, the company was accused of facilitating the distribution of pirated movies, television shows, music, and other copyrighted material. Allegedly, the company refused to process Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown requests, and falsely told copyright owners materials had been removed when members of the company took steps to keep the pirated material on their servers.
Finally, according to the indictment, the company allegedly “made payments to uploaders who were known to have uploaded infringing copies of copyrighted works” and that members of the company itself were uploading infringing works.

If true, the members of the company would certainly be in a lot of trouble. However, this case has broader implications that should be considered.

Over 150 million users worldwide — millions of whom were premium subscribers — have lost access to their data files. By some estimates, there were over 8 billion files stored on Megaupload, just a fraction of which contained infringing material according to the indictment, which only claims that “many millions” of the files were infringing. Like many alleged criminal enterprises, Megaupload carried on several legitimate business dealings.

So, whether the company is guilty or not, Megaupload had millions of users who were using its servers for legitimate purposes — and they’ve just had their data seized without cause.
Get full story here.

Woman Gets 8 Years Prison for Saying Black Men Kidnapped Her

  by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Your Black World

You may remember Bonnie Sweeten out of Philadelphia from about a year ago.  Sweeten is the woman who made a fake call to police from the trunk of a Cadillac, claiming that she’d been kidnapped along with her daughter.  The truth?  They’d actually taken a trip to Disneyland.

A judge put an end to Sweeten’s antics, at least for a while.  She has been sentenced to 100 months in federal prison, equivalent to eight years, four months.   U.S. District Judge William H. Yohn Jr. made things very clear for Sweeten.
“You’ve done great wrong, and you have to pay the price,” Yohn said. Yohn called Sweeten a “master con woman,” and guessed that she’d committed 2,000 acts of fraud over a five year period.

“I’m very ashamed of myself,” Sweeten said.

Sweeten’s actions not only initiated an unnecessary manhunt for innocent black men, she also stole over a million dollars between 2004 and 2009.  Roughly $640,000 was taken out of law firm accounts, and another $280,000 was taken from the account of an elderly relative.  She forged a drivers license, court order and passport, and also convinced her second husband that she’d graduated from law school.
Sweeten was finally caught in 2009 when she spent money on an expensive house, car and in-vitro fertilization.

There isn’t much to say about Bonnie Sweeten other than the fact that she is clearly a sociopath.  It’s hard to imagine that she has any remorse for the harm she’s caused her human beings, and it’s very difficult to feel sorry for her.   What’s also interesting is that Sweeten the con artist was smart enough to know that she lives in a society where it’s easy to convince others that a black man did something harmful to her.  She’s not the first, nor the last, person to make such a claim.

Sweeten’s actions are a reminder of the collective image problem shared by black men all throughout America, as media continues to portray us as entertainers, athletes and criminals.  This misrepresentation spills over to impact law-abiding, normal, hard-working black men who rarely stand a chance when compared with the presumed innocence of kind, sweet-looking white women.  When it was all said and done, Bonnie Sweeten, the con artist, was able to use America’s racially-biased perceptions against it.  I shudder to think about how many innocent black men throughout history have served long prison sentences because of the lies of all the Bonnie Sweetens of history.

While there is plenty of reason to be angry at what happened in the Bonnie Sweeten case, there are also plenty of reasons to celebrate.  The same society that is racist enough to believe Bonnie Sweeten’s story was also the one that investigated the holes in that story and arrested her.  Thirty years ago, Sweeten likely would not have gotten caught.   Also, I dare say that if she were in the south, she would have gotten away with her crime with flying colors.  But the fact that there are officers who truly believe that justice is color blind gives us hope that there is a better day for our justice system in the future.

 Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

Teens Charged with Beating Black Teen for Having a White Girlfriend

We might expect that decades after the notorious murder of the late Emmett Till that some of us might have become more civilized. But this wasn’t the case when a 17-year old boy was beaten for having a white girlfriend.  Joshua Merritt of Chicago was beaten in a hate crime in December, 2011.  Police say that the student of Brother Rice High School was attacked by three white teenagers at the same school.

The beating was allegedly motivated by Joshua’s new relationship with a white girl.  The girl was a cousin of one of the perpetrators.  The boys were charged on January 10th for their attack on Joshua.   Matthew Herrmann, 18, was charged with misdemeanor battery, a hate crime, and unlawful restraint. Herrmann will be charged as an adult and the other two offenders will be cited with delinquency.

“The 16-year-old was also charged with aggravated assault for pulling a knife,” according to the Chicago Tribune.

Merritt was kept from being able to leave the home after he was beaten.  He escaped and told his family what happened.  William Merritt Jr., Joshua’s father, says the family is upset.

“He’s just hurt by it. He’s still really trying to deal with it,” Merritt told the Chicago Tribune. “He’s real cautious of who he lets be his friend.”

“I feel they were being serious, and that if I didn’t get out of the house when I did, I might not even be here,” Joshua Merritt told the newspaper. “I might be dead.”

African American Community in Dallas Boycotting Korean Businesses

For a little over a month, African-Americans in Dallas have been boycotting a Korean owned gas station in a mostly black community.

It all began when an African-American customer requested that the Korean-American owner lower the minimum purchase amount since the gas prices at the Korean gas station were higher than in other areas. The gas station owner refused. In response, the customer told the Korean owner to go back to his country, to which the owner responded “go back to Africa.”

This confrontation triggered a boycott of Korean and Asian businesses by the black community. This is not the first time that tensions between Asian business owners and their African-American consumers have reached a fevered pitch. Twenty years ago, there was a massive Los Angeles  riot by African American consumers over their mistreatment by Korean merchants.

At issue is always the treatment of black consumers by Asian business owners, many of whom don’t seem to respect African American consumers and are perceived as takers; people who use the black community to make a quick buck, all the while despising the very community they serve. It would seem that the real and lasting solution isn’t these on again, off-again boycotts, but to grow black businesses in black communities.

Michael Vick Says Someone Stole His Publicist’s Identity

Michael Vick says he’s aware that someone’s been posing as his agent and calling around in search of New York Fashion Week tickets on his behalf. But Vick says his publicist,  Chris Shigas, has not been making calls to secure Fashion Week tickets for him. The Philadelphia quarterback goes on to say that he doesn’t even have a desire to attend fashion week.

No report yet on who’s been masquerading as Vick’s rep to snag a couple of Fashion Week tickets.