You Don't Own That!
Published July 1, 2015
The great thing about America used to be that if you could dream it, you could build it. If you had a vision to start a business, the only thing standing in your way was you. You still have that ability, the only difference is now you don’t really own that dream. What do I mean? Based on current laws and court rulings you don’t really own anything, you merely rent it and it can all be taken away from you at the whim of the government.
There are now 3 main laws that have been twisted and used by the government in order to take what you have worked for or in some cases let you know that you never owned it to begin with. There’s eminent domain, which the Supreme Court ruled can take your privately owned property and give it to another private citizen or company. Then there are civil asset forfeiture laws, which say the government can take your belongings for a crime, but they don’t have to charge you with a crime or even prove you are guilty of said crime. All they have to do is say we believe you might have committed a crime and then take all you own. The final piece to the puzzle is the DMCA, which stand for the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. This law is used to sue consumers for items that they have purchased but the manufacturer doesn’t approve of how you are using it. All of these laws are being twisted and manipulated by the government and corporations in order to take what you own and there is little you can do to stop them.
Eminent domain laws have always had a place and purpose in our society. They were originally designed so that if they government needed to build a road or other project for the public good, they could buy your property at fair market value. Now these laws are being used to force you to sell your property so that the government can give it to a private developer. These developers then tear down the existing structures and build something they deem better. This all came to a head with the Supreme Court case of Kelo vs. City of New London, when the Supreme Court ruled this was all perfectly legal. I highly recommend reading about that case if you have the time. When all was said and done, essentially the city lost $78 million and the property that they forced their residence to sell is still vacant to this day. So do you really own something if the government can force you to sell it and then give what you worked and paid for to someone else?
Civil asset forfeiture laws may be the worst laws ever devised in a free country and it still boggles the mind that they are even constitutional. Under civil asset forfeiture laws, police and federal agents can seize property on the mere suspicion that it is connected to criminal activity. The property owner does not even have to be charged with a crime, since asset forfeiture is technically an action against the property itself. Then it is up to you to prove that you weren’t committing a crime and even if you can prove that you never committed a crime, you have to sue the government to have your property returned. There is the case of Lyndon McLellan, a convenience store owner who had $107,000 seized by the government; his crime? He was making small cash deposits at his bank, which they deemed the activities of a drug dealer or money launderer. Once Mr. McLellan proved his innocence he had to sue the government to return his money. The government then offered him half of what they had stolen, if he would go away. Lucky for Mr. McLellan he was able to fight and get his entire $107,000 returned. His store is only one example of civil asset forfeiture laws gone bad in this country. I could write an encyclopedia sized book on all of the stories out there and each one would make you angrier than the last.
You’re probably asking yourself, why don’t our elected officials do something about this gross abuse of power? Part of the problem with civil asset forfeiture laws is that the local government gets all or a large part of whatever they take, which incentivizes them to steal more and protect the law. Since many of the people they steal from can’t afford to fight the government and have no other recourse, they simply lose their money or property or both. Again, you have to ask yourself, if the government can take everything I own and not even have to charge me with a crime, do you really own your property?
Finally there is the DMCA, which was originally intended to protect copyrighted materials in the digital age. The problem is that the law was poorly written and corporations have used the vague language to stop people from doing things that should be completely legal. There is the story of George Hotz, who was sued by Sony for the unthinkable crime of tinkering with his Playstation 3. This is a Playstation 3 that George Hotz purchased with his own money, and then he had the audacity to crack Sony software on the PS3. They settled out of court because George Hotz couldn’t afford to take on Sony and their army of lawyers.
Sony (and every other movie studio) uses the DMCA to not allow you to make backup copies of movies you purchase or to stop you from skipping trailers on the Blu-ray discs you own. The DMCA is also used to remove videos from sites like YouTube if they feel it violates their copyrighted material. The problem is that if they remove your video or music from the site, it is up to you to prove that it wasn’t violating a copyright law. The large companies don’t have to prove that you are violating copyright law, you have to prove that you aren’t.
John Deere and Ford have decided to use the DMCA to say that you can’t work on your own tractor or car. The reasoning behind this? They say that they own the software that controls the internal components of the vehicle and the software is covered under the DMCA, making it illegal for you to work on your car. They have an incentive in this of course and that is that they want you to take your car or tractor to their authorized dealer, where they make more money on you. So the question becomes, if you aren’t allowed to do what you want with an item you purchase, do you really own it? If a company can sue you for using a product in a way that they don’t approve of, do you really own the item or are you just renting it?
For a country that prides itself on being the land of the free, it seems we are getting squeezed from both the government and corporations. If the government can take what you have worked for or a corporation can tell you the item you purchased can only be used the way they allow, what do you own? How have we allowed our rights as American’s to be taken away without much of a fight? Some progress has been made in some states that have passed laws to protect against civil asset forfeiture and eminent domain, but most states still allow this to continue. We need to keep sharing these stories and make sure that every state passes laws to protect its citizens from government sponsored theft of property. As for the DMCA, if you hate not really owning anything in the digital age, I encourage you to call your congress person and oppose the TPP. The TPP will only give these companies more power to forbid you from using the items you purchase in a way you deem useful. If we stay silent and don’t fight back, they’ve already won.