Well, McGruff the Crime Dog has been dusted off for the fight against piracy, as part of a new Department of Justice-led campaign that Nate Anderson accurately calls “Reefer Madness for the digital age.” Our work on organized crime is getting some renewed attention in this context. Rather than rehash the argument or send you to the full report, here are some greatest hits:
- Does Crime Pay? All the best excerpts on organized crime from the report in 15 pages.
This is a bit off the usual topic, but a few months ago I mentioned the strange story of Saadi el-Qaddafi, son of Muamar, who had invested $100 million of the family money in Natural Selection, a Hollywood production company responsible for a few films in 2009-2010. The point of the post was to compare the murky MPAA claims of connections between terrorist activity and film piracy with this rather clear and public connection between terrorism and film financing.
In that post, I referenced BBC stories on Saadi’s role in Benghazi, including reporting that he had ordered soldiers to fire on civilians. At least one more recent report also had him leading government forces in Tripoli.
Then there’s the NYT account from today:
On the day the uprising broke out in Benghazi, Saadi was touring the city as an emissary from his father to its alienated citizens. A person who was with him that day said he kept trying in vain to mollify residents with assurances of development or other help from his father. Later, when a Libyan woman was arrested in Tripoli for breaking into a hotel to tell foreign reporters about her rape by Qaddafi militiamen, Saadi interceded — over the objections of many in his father’s government — to help her tell her story to CNN….
After Tripoli fell and the family went into hiding, an associate said, Saadi continued to hope that he could broker a peace agreement or unity government to forestall more bloodshed.
Has Saadi been cleared of the Benghazi charges? There are two rather different accounts of Saadi’s actions in circulation. One of them must be wrong.
We’ve criticized the hyping of organized crime links in the piracy debate, for reasons that have mostly to do with the economics of piracy: we haven’t seen any evidence that there’s much money in it anymore. Commercial pirates face massive and growing competition from free, mostly non-commercial internet distribution, and this has dramatically reduced profit margins on the kind of capitally-intensive, smuggling-based trade in optical disks that characterized the late 1990s and early 2000s. The same also applies to now-routine claims that piracy is a source of funding for terrorist groups–a subject on which the evidentiary record is thin and mostly very old, dating back to the 1980s or 1990s when piracy was more lucrative. The key document here is the MPAA-funded RAND report, Film Piracy, Organized Crime, and Terrorism, which offers “three… documented cases [that provide] clear evidence that terrorist groups have used the proceeds of film piracy to finance their activities.” We are very unimpressed with these cases, but the claim clearly has political utility and, in the piracy debate, that has always been more than enough.
But if we’re going to conduct a debate based on generalizations from sketchy anecdotes, surely the much more recent evidence of Hollywood’s connections to terrorism should be taken into account. Continue reading “Sunset Boulevard Terrorists”