Nearly 2,000 years ago the Roman poet Juvenal coined the now-famous phrase, Quis custodiet ipsos custodes, commonly translated “Who watches the watchmen?” For centuries the phrase has been associated with political philosophy and the problem of corrupt government, but in Juvenal’s original poem it referred to the difficulty faced by wealthy men who employed male guards to protect their wives’ marital virtue. Such men might be corruptible, Juvenal argued, and become tempted to take the very thing they are tasked with protecting. Thus the watchmen needed watching.
Either way, the phrase applies well to the results of an ongoing investigation by TorrentFreak into the practice of illegal downloading. Using YouHaveDownloaded.com, a new Russian site that shows an IP address’s BitTorrent activity, several major opponents of internet piracy have been caught downloading a wide variety of copyrighted content. First came reports that people in offices belonging to Sony, Universal, and Fox had been downloading music and movies of all kinds. Then came the discovery of at least six instances of downloading at the residence of French President Nicholas Sarkozy, an outspoken opponent of piracy and supporter of harsh anti-filesharing measures.
And the hits just keep on coming. Today it has been discovered that illegal downloading has been rampant in the offices of the RIAA, and the Department of Homeland Security. People at the RIAA have downloaded not only music (which might be expected) but also a variety of other content, including video (seasons 1-5 of Dexter, for example) and audio editing software. The RIAA has become (in)famous for suing anybody and everybody for downloading copyrighted material, and is a fierce advocate of SOPA and PIPA, harsh internet censorship measures currently working their way through the US Congress. Likewise, the Department of Homeland Security has been responsible for seizing and shutting down hundreds of domains for their suspected role in piracy. Yet over 900 of DHS’s IPs were used to download material illegally.
Throughout this process there has been no comment from any of the organizations caught downloading. No doubt they would claim that the downloading in their offices is not officially sanctioned. That, however, is not in doubt. It is highly unlikely that the RIAA or DHS or Fox or anyone else has encouraged or sanctioned “piracy” in their offices. But the fact remains that these organizations that are so intent on policing the internet use of everyone else are refraining from policing themselves. Though they may well continue to go after grandmas, dead people, and kids, you can bet that you won’t see the RIAA suing one of its own employees for downloading anything.