Hello, 911? I’d like to report an emergency.

Fahrenheit 451 logoA variety of images flashed through my mind when I read this May 25 report from the UK:

Five Undercover Police Cars Sent To Arrest Single Alleged Movie Pirate

Police assisted by the Federation Against Copyright Theft showed up in large numbers to arrest an alleged movie pirate in the UK this week. Armed with an emergency search warrant issued out of hours by a judge, five undercover police vehicles containing detectives and FACT officers were deployed to arrest a 24-year-old said to have recorded the movie Fast and Furious 6.

Five undercover cars containing 10 police officers and officers from the Federation Against Copyright Theft arrived at a property in the West Midlands at 07:30 Thursday morning. The person they were looking for no longer lived at the address but in the space of 15 minutes three cars, four detectives and two FACT officers had made it to the correct location. Armed with an emergency search warrant issued out of hours by a judge, police and FACT officers entered the suspect’s home.

Ten police officers and five police cars? On a mission to rescue a pirated movie? Isn’t that a rip-off of Alice’s Restaurant?

I want to tell you about the town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where this happened here. They got three stop signs, two police officers, and one police car, but when we got to the Scene of the Crime there was five police officers and three police cars, being the biggest crime of the last fifty years, and everybody wanted to get in the newspaper story about it.

Then, again, the thought of a squad of police officers popping out of their cars, scampering around the wrong address, tipping their hats (this is Britain, after all), and scurrying off to a different house is a clear homage to the Keystone Kops.

Neither Arlo Guthrie nor Mack Sennett, though, capture what’s truly chilling about this story. You would think that an emergency after-hours order to deploy a platoon of scarce public-safety resources would be tied to a life-and-death situation: Terrorism. Hostages. Desperate criminals with explosives and assault weapons running rampant through a shopping mall or metro station. Sadly, the UK is not unfamiliar with such crises, including the brutal murder by extremists of British soldier Lee Rigby in London only one day earlier.

But no, this was a different kind of emergency. Her Majesty’s Police were dispatched not to protect the public from bombs or bullets but from an unauthorized copy of a movie.

Let that sink in. An unauthorized copy of a movie. A movie.

And so the most appropriate mental image here comes from Fahrenheit 451. In Ray Bradbury’s dystopian future, it’s illegal to possess books. When a suspected violation is reported, firemen speed off in a kerosene-spraying firetruck to destroy the house claimed to contain the books as well as any recalcitrant occupants.

In the U.S., the Copyright Police are already asking for the right to destroy suspect computers, networks, and data without the time-consuming and expensive requirement of first proving guilt. There’s no mention of arson, but perhaps they just haven’t yet read Bradbury.


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