MPAA Madness—And Phooey on FedEx


The folks at Slashdot thought it must be a joke, but apparently not–the Motion Picture Association of America has trained a couple of black Labradors named Lucky and Flo to sniff out packages containing…DVDs. From a Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) press release:

For their first major live test, Lucky and Flo were put to work at FedEx's UK hub at Stansted Airport and were immediately successful in identifying packages and parcels containing DVDs for destinations in the UK.
"This is the first time dogs have been used anywhere in the world to search for counterfeit DVDs and the results were amazing, said Raymond Leinster Director General of FACT. "With the cooperation and assistance of FedEx and Customs we were able to properly test the dogs in a real life situation and prove that they can work in a busy airport environment."
"FedEx was glad to assist in Lucky and Flo's first live test in a working situation. They were amazingly successful at identifying packages containing DVDs, which were opened and checked by HM Customs' representatives. While all were legitimate shipments on the day, our message to anyone thinking about shipping counterfeit DVDs through the FedEx network is simple: you're going to get caught…." said UK Managing Director, Trevor Hoyle.

Since anything and everything flowing through FedEx might by stolen property–and whether it is or not can only be figured through lengthy investigation–following this principle doggedly would mean an end to convenient overnight shipping. At any rate, only the guilty have reason to fear having their packages opened willy-nilly by dog sniff by a private carrier who some of us foolishly might have believed we had reason to trust. I do not, of course, expect such an idea to be pursued avidly in other contexts–nor does it seem possible for them to do it universally at all FedEx shipping points.

But that this even happened once is a good example of how out-of-control is the current mania for digital rights holders' assertion of control over what we choose to do with digital entertainment items we purchase and presumably then own. I doubt a consumer's contract asserting that the upon purchasing a DVD, shipping it anywhere means you agree to have a representative of FACT open your mail would find many eager signers.

NEXT: Aunt Sadie's "Terrorist Activity"

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. So, uh, I gotta know, what does a DVD smell like?

  2. More importantly, how does an illegal DVD smell different from a legal one? Even more important than that, how can I sue FedEx and the MPAA for infringing on my privacy by opening a box that contains DVDs with subject matter that I want to be kept private?

  3. Lilacs, Mr. Maxwell. Lilacs.

  4. maybe if YOU werent’ shipping PORN you wouldn’t care so MUCH. When you LIBERALS see how the MEXICANS start coming to AMERICA in DVD boxes maybe you’ll wise up. Why do you need PRIVACY so much? To break the LAW more often?

  5. by a private carrier who some of us foolishly might have believed we had reason to trust

    What reason did you have to trust them?

    Any other behaviour on their part would be anti-capitalist.

  6. “I doubt a consumer’s contract asserting that the upon purchasing a DVD, shipping it anywhere means you agree to have a representative of FACT open your mail would find many eager signers.”

    Perhaps not “eager”, but people routinely ignore worse in software EULAs.

  7. I hope you’re joking, Johnny. Call me crazy, but I would think most FedEx customers would prefer fast delivery without fear of inspection. And if not, then the market would create someone just like that (assuming, of course, such a carrier wouldn’t be outlawed in the digital rights police state).

    But more importantly, really, what does a DVD smell like? And we know this wasn’t cheap. Anything this fucked up isn’t cheap. What I’d like to know is how many useful dogs we could have trained for the same investment of time and money? How many corpse and bomb sniffers == one DVD sniffer? And do pirated DVDs smell different? Maybe they smell like rum and smoke.

  8. I like how Fed Ex was “glad” to cooperate. After these stories, I’ll bet that Fedex is actually feeling a little sorry it cooperated right now. What was it in for Fedex? All it did was make some Hollywood studios a little happier. It made a lot of their customers quite a bit unhappier.

    When suddenly thrust upon the front line of the culture wars, smart big companies should do their legal duty and nothing more. Stay out of trouble. Allowing the dogs into their facilities was probably unnecessary, and has generated a lot of negative publicity for no gain.

  9. To give FedEx (who may have earned it) and the MPAA (who have not) the benefit of the doubt, I presume this kind of thing will be targeted at suspicious-looking bulk packages, yes? I mean, they are looking for relatively large-scale counterfeiting operations, yes? I fail to see how it can have any other practical use — you can’t pass every package that conceivably might contain a few DVDs by dogs, and you can’t open them without probable cause that the DVDs might be illegal. You can, however, target large-scale shipments from sources that are already under suspicion and determine whether there are undeclared DVDs in the containers using dogs. I don’t see the problem with that — actually, it sounds like a damn good idea.

  10. Michael-But pirating operations are invariably small-scale operations carried out locally. With modern technology there’s just no reason for it to be any other way. Most of the piracy that’s carried through the mail in the States and Europe involves single DVD packages from small companies to private individuals who are purchasing for their own benefit, usually though places like E-Bay. In China and other areas they sell the stuff in the streets, but the product is still delievered to local sellers from producers based locally. This is just some jackass move carried out by an organization that fails to understand even the most rudimentary facts of the problem (the MPAA) and a corporation (FedEx) who decided to humor them and hope that they’d go away.

  11. I made Xerox copies of this Burning Man book I bought, and have been selling them via my personal website for the past six months. I’m making some pretty decent coin!

    My customers have said they really appreciate the price of my copies compared to prices they’ve seen for the book elsewhere.

  12. Hal—Confession is good for the soul. Now, you of course don’t mind if I have my agents open every piece of mail you send. In fact, since any one of you out there may be sending or receiving pirated copies of my book, or portions of same disguised as “letters,” I’ll be opening all of your mail, as is my right. And since your email–all of your email– might also contain my copyrighted words, I’ll be opening and reading all that as well.

  13. in fact, since I can’t be sure who has already received some of Hal’s contraband, my agents will be riflling through all of your libraries in due course. I’ll try to have some cute black labs sent along on the mission.

  14. The notion that you have some “rights” to not have things opened by a private carrier at international borders is amusing.

    Find another carrier.

  15. The notion that you have the right to steal something from someone and not get hassled for the act is also amusing.

    Stop stealing.

  16. What about the notion that I have the right to live my crime-free life without getting caught up in some jack-booted thug’s idea of law enforcement? Is that amusing?

  17. As is obvious to anyone who read the post, but seems necessary to point out anyway, nothing about this said anything about dogs sniffing out and searching stolen DVDs. They are sniffing out and searching DVDs, period, hence the line from the original news report about “While all were legitimate shipments on the day” and my comment about the fact that anything and everything going through FedEx might, upon opening the package and researching the matter, be discovered to be stolen.

  18. The notion that packages I am shipping or receiving are somehow exempt from the presumption of innocence is also amusing.

    Stop snooping.

  19. “Presumption of innocence” is used out of context here. I think that has to do with criminal judicial proceedings, not executive enforcement. Moot anyway, this is a private shipping company, not the government. There is also the question of international borders- anyone who has ever seen a sign that says “Customs” or “Douane” or “Zoll” understands well that no probable cause, reasonable suspicion, or anything else like that is necessary for your packages, luggage, or person to be examined.

    I’m not justifying FedEx’s practice, it’s a dumb one, but just statin’ the facts.

  20. FedEx was glad to assist…

    Yeah, we’ll see how long that lasts when people start buying cheap blank DVDs, breaking them into smaller parts, and placing one peice near a seam in every single package they send. Overnight will become overfortnight.

  21. “…following this principle doggedly…”

    I hope that was unintentional.

  22. Sounds like time to switch to UPS or DHL for overnight shipping. Still, this is not appropriate behavior by FedEx, even if it’s in the fine print somewheree. Would I have “consented” if the fine print said I would give them my house?

  23. Not only can the dog not distinguish, but what must a person do to distinguish pirated from legitimate DVDs? The package is opened, the DVDs are in there…now what? Someone would have to play the DVDs to determine what’s on them. That’s going to be time consuming!

  24. Whatever the dog is doing, it isn’t well described by “smell like.”

    For example a dog detects what he’s detecting even in the presence of other stronger odors, that in the human conception change the “smell like” situation to something else.

    About all that’s in common with the human idea is that he’s using his nose to do it.

  25. This is going to be completely off topic but:

    Go Arnold!

    Mobilizing the National Guard is not only overtaxing our troops but also, in my legal interpretation, a violation of the Posse Comitatus Act.

    Seriously, when the revolution comes, Arnold will be about last on the list, if he’s smart enough to make this a national issue.

  26. When I open up those CD-R spindles they’re actually quite smelly. A dog could certainly detect that but what I don’t get is how DVDs smell different from CDs. Is it the glue?

    If you have a vacuum packer use that. If you don’t, buy one; they advertise them on TV all the time. If you’re a big pirating outfit, get something more commercial.

    The vacuum should keep gasses from escaping even if there is a tiny leak in the package.

  27. Ron, are you saying dogs don’t experience qualia? Certainly even if they don’t (I highly doubt that) sensory masking is possible.

    It would also be quite a sensation to discover a substance that had no smell but anesthetised their olfactory sense. Of couse that would likely lead to artificial detection of the chemical.

  28. The dogs can find the DVDs easily because like everything else coming out of Hollywood these days, they smell like shit.

    And let me be the first to say:

    All your DVDs are belong to us.

  29. Y’all is nuts if you think this is going to hurt FedEx. No one cares about privacy anymore, and kids growing up today with blogs, intersection cameras, security cameras in schools, airport screening, MySpace, google maps, and YouTube probably won’t even have the foggiest idea what all you old fogies are talking about when you rant and rave about a “right to privacy”. Get over it, the time of privacy is done.

  30. Besides, if you have nothing to hide, what are you afraid of?
    Someone had to say it.

  31. I suppose the dogs are smelling the aromatics from the plastic shell of the DVD (how unique is that material to DVDs?).

    Otherwise, that’s really just great. I have family living overseas, DVD collections of US shows are one of the things they most request that I ship over to them.

  32. Johnny Clarke, I do have things to hide. Some things I have delivered to other people are my business and the business of the people they are delivered to, but they are nobody else’s business. That doesn’t mean they are illegal; it just means they are private.

    If you don’t have anything to hide, why don’t you take a shit in the street. If you don’t have anything to hide, please post your credit card information here. If you don’t have anything to hide. . .

  33. At any rate, only the guilty have reason to fear having their packages opened willy-nilly by dog sniff by a private carrier who some of us foolishly might have believed we had reason to trust.

    Actually, every DVD package gets opened. Hopefully they get resealed with packaging and address intact.

    I wonder if FedEx was “glad to assist” the same way that the drink companies “agreed” to stop selling in schools. I can see FACT participating in a little legal extortion to generate the assistance.

    Bulk shipments? If I ripped a movie for European distribution I’d either ship one DVD directly to each customer, or if I had a confederate over there I’d ship him one legal copy to reproduce locally. Much safer.

    Parse: Johnny Clarke, I do have things to hide.

    You’ve snagged an H&R inside joke. The proponents of almost every new personal rights invasion use the “If you don’t do anything wrong, what do you have to hide” line in justification. H&R bloggers use it sarcastically in cases like this one, where your legitimate DVDs may be pawed over, held up, etc. in the name of copyright security.

  34. I ship burned DVDs internationally all the time for work. Any time these assclowns rip one of my shipments open, there’s one more chance for it to get scratched, lost, delayed, or misdirected. That’s the last thing I need. Fortunately I use DHL, not FedEx, but their paranoid crusade against “pirates” (heresy against the FSM!) could cause problems for lots of people who ‘have nothing to hide.’

  35. I’m with the people who say find another carrier.

    The free market makes adjustments when information of undesirable actions by corporations emerges, and now FedEx will take the hit from consumers who don’t agree with this practice, and will receive new customers who are fond of the idea, and a simple subtraction of the decrease from the increase in customers will tell us whether their allowing FACT to open sniffed-out DVDs was a wise economic decision.

    As usual, no new legislation is needed to address this strictly free-market occurrence.

  36. RE: RandyAyn:

    I suppose we should be thankful that the idiots at the MPAA decided to publicize this for the reasons he stated.

  37. I hope they trained these dogs to sniff illegal files that are transferred over the internet. Millions of files are sent via torrents and stuff these days.

    I don’t know what the numbers are, but I’ll bet a significant percentage of piracy happens without any hard-copy disk at all.

    A ridiculious stunt like this tells me that the MPAA is failing miserably at containing piracy. If I chose to get a movie, not dog would be able to stop me.

    We should train MPAA officials to sniff for my ass.

  38. In addition to the civil liberty and intellectual property law issues, what makes the MPAA think that pirates will ONLY ship physical DVDs when there are so many other technical ways to distribute pirated material that don’t involve a physical disc?

    Are they going to train dogs to sniff out individual bits and bytes of files on traveler laptops, ipods, portable harddrives, and thumb drives?

    I’m a lot more sympathetic to the MPAA and RIAA’s efforts, having served overseas and seen bootlegging in the millions of dollars firsthand among Arabs AND U.S. troops(and the Middle East pirate market must only be a drop in the bucket compared to East Asia). However, just because I support their right to pursue legal recourse, tactically, it’s the worst way to resolve their woes.

    It only takes ONE copy, however delivered, to reach foreign shores, and believe me within hours you’ve got distribution in the hundreds or thousands of copies. Are they next going to ask for Elian Gonzales type government grabs over a disc here or there?

    The MPAA has obviously learned nothing from its own success in legitimate DVD sales (which are pretty good due to the fact that consumers like the relatively low price and disc extras you get from a legally purchased copy) or the success of I-Tunes.

    One good marketing plan based on consumer psychology is worth a thousand cops or IP shysters.

  39. !Off Topic News Flash!

    Karl Rove Indicted on Charges of Perjury, Lying to Investigators

    “Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald spent more “than half a day Friday at the offices of Patton Boggs, the law firm representing Karl Rove.”

    “During the course of that meeting, Fitzgerald served attorneys for former Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove with an indictment charging the embattled White House official with perjury and lying to investigators related to his role in the CIA leak case, and instructed one of the attorneys to tell Rove that he has 24 hours to get his affairs in order, high level sources with direct knowledge of the meeting said Saturday morning.”

    I’m a registered Republican, and I love this!

  40. Raimondo was right again!

    Go go go!

  41. Most people may not have realized this, but private carriers CAN legally open your packages and have done so for decades. Why the outrage now? were u ignorant of this practice? if so, that is the consumers fault?

    items sent through a private carrier are not “mail” in the sense that items sent through USPS are. USPS has very strict regulations regarding when and if they can open ur package, and for domestic packages, a warrant is generally required

    private companies are not the govt. the 4th amendment does not apply to private industry, generally speaking, except when they are acting pursuant to a govt. agent’s direction

    as any privacy advocate should know, we have WAY more to fear from private business vs. the govt. private businesses have far far far more intel on citizens that govt do. that’s just a fact

    especially for people that buy everything with a credit card (gas, groceries, etc.) your very life is on record – at X hours, you bought gas at location Y. At Z hours, you bought fattening food at location B etc. and of course when it comes to video and audio surveillance, you are far more often video/audiotaped by private companies than by the govt – from shopping malls, to gas stations, etc.

    that’s just a fact. but for those who thought they had privacy interests when shipping with fedex, that is THEIR fault for not researching PRIOR to shipping with Fedex (or UPS etc.)

  42. I agree with “find another carrier.” Besides, isn’t fedex way more expensive than the others? It is at work. We avoid it as much as possible.

  43. whit,

    you’ve only got half of it right. You’re statement is based on private companies being the focus of our attention. But it is the govt that is the focus. The fact that private companies have oodles of information on us is fairly innocuous when it comes to our rights. As you say, the 4th doesn’t apply to private industry. It doesn’t have to b/c private industry does not posses the coercive power that the 4th is meant to protect against. The only interest FedEx would have in searching packages is passive w/r/t the shipper and to protect its own private interests. FedEx cannot arrest people for what they send; they can only stop the shipment.

  44. great ape, that is false.

    fedex (or any common carrier) can open a package for almost any reason

    however, once they open it and FIND criminal stuff, then they can (and in most cases have a duty to) notify the police

    if fedex opens your package for any reason, and they find evidence of a crime/contraband they will turn that evidence over to the police

    so, there is no practical difference IN EFFECT. if fedex finds contraband they turn it over to police, and the exclusionary rule does not apply since they were not acting as govt. agents. *if* the govt. then told them to open every other package that the same person sent, THEN they would need a warrant

    fedex cannot arrest people. they can turn the evidence over to the police. the police then arrest the people.

    again, private industry has far far far far far more intel on the average citizen than govt. does. especially, in an age of credit, that is true

    most law enforcement agents who research intel on people spend more time accessing private databases then they do any public database. if u want to find out how much information private industry has on you, feel free to go to one of those “pay $20 and we will do a search” sites.

    they can tell you (generally speaking) every address you have ever lived at, who your roommates are, divorce filings, marriage records, property owned, leins, phone numbers registered, etc etc etc. there are also immense amounts of personal medical information shared among all sorts of companies, etc.

    i am not saying govt. privacy intrusions aren’t at times concerning. i am saying the average joe blow has far more privacy intrusions and RECORDKEEPING from private business than from govt.

    govt. is also very limited as to what kind of NONcriminal intelligence they can keep on people.

    private business has no such regulation

    so, fedex does not possess coercive power. but ANYTHING they find can (and will) be turned over to police if it is contraband. you can count on it

  45. Holy shit! Al Gore is making sense!

    “We need to use the forces of the marketplace as positive allies to solve this crisis, and we can. And I think we will.”

    This is regarding global warming. As long as anything is done through market incentives, it’s all good. A Democrat urging market based intervention. Brilliant!

    To be Cynical, at least the dollars won’t go towards yet another earmark. The Democrats have a very easy platform to run on this fall. We may not be perfectly respectable. We may not be terribly effective. However we won’t be caught up in 15 different scandals. If we are, it’s about a blowjob, which doesn’t hurt nearly as much as a war.

    Democrats. Less Incompetent.

  46. Meh. This kind of action is driven by the dinosaur copyright holders. Hopefully their power will be decreased once the PS3 cripples Sony.

    You can get a 360 AND a Wii for the price of one. Damn.

  47. “Choose another carrier”

    Right–because provisions in copyright law don’t give certain copyright holders authority (but not all–sorry Brian, maybe the publishing industry can raid Hal’s mail, but you haven’t bought off enough congresscritters to do it yourself) to act as private police forces and, say, break into shops and intimidate people or reverse the presumption of innocence or invade your property at any point or treat anyone who doesn’t “cooperate” as criminals and exact disproportionate penalties against them.

    Support for the market does not equal support for big business. The whole point of The Wealth of Nations was about preventing government and business from getting together to screw the consumer. If you don’t believe there’s a libertarian concern here, you haven’t been paying attention to the DMCA and any debates about IP law.

    Yes, it is possible to be pro-free-market and pro-copyright without granting special privileges to one side of a business transaction–or indeed a third party to a business transaction. As has been pointed out above, the likelihood that the MPAA came up to FedEx and said “Oh, if you don’t mind, we have these nifty retrievers. Can we take a look around and disrupt your operations?” and received the reply “Oh, sure old sod, help y’self.”

    The reality was likely, “Say, you got a nice-lookin’ business here. It would be a shame if a government raid was to ‘appen to it and you was to get sued for more than your job’s worth for facilitating piracy–remember Napster? In an unrelated matter, we have dese li’w doggies here, yeah, that loooove to sniff out DVDs. You don’ mind if we let ’em ‘ave a look ’round, do ya? I thought not.”

  48. mail is unique in that, while it is not a monopoly, it is a oligopoly (is that the right word?), iow there are relatively few businesses (as well as the govt.) competing, and it’s not something you can “do yourself”, unless you have a pony and a few weeks to spare :l

    i think many privacy advocates have a preconceived bias to look at govt. this is partly due ot the “coercion at the barrel of a gun” (iow, in most cases, you don’t have a choice with govt. with private business you do. you may think McDonald’s food sux. so don’t go there. in the case of the govt, you may think the IRS sux, but try not paying taxes and see how far that gets you).

    sure, there are many govt. services we can opt out of, like public schools, but you still have to pay for it (that is why of course i am for vouchers which adds to the choice component by reimbursing SOME of what you pay for public schooling, adding choice and increasing competition but i digress), and u can certainly choose to use UPS, FedEx etc. vs. the USPS

    my point is that in *most* issues of privacy, whether mail, use of technology, surveillance, etc. it is private business NOT govt. that has far far far more “power” in most cases to surveil, collect data on, and compare noncriminal intelligence on the average citizen than govt. does

    in the case of criminal activity, govt. has more power (generally). they can subpoena, arrest, perform search warrants, terry stops, etc. etc. and that’s not a bad thing. we NEED law enforcement and investigation

    but in terms of the average citizen, who is not a criminal, but is engaged in ordinary commerce, movement, recreation, etc. it is NOT govt. that is tabulating, surveilling, and comparing notes.

    it is PRIVATE business

    we are stuck in the Orwell/Huxley mindset where it is govt. that was to be feared as the growing leviathon with control and intrusion into every area of life

    all anti-patriotic act etc. hysterics and polemics aside, that has not come to fruition. and 1984 was 22 years ago last i checked 🙂

    it is PRIVATE industry that keeps vast databases on us, far moreso than the govt. it is private industry that keeps track of every noncash transaction (we only have to report those to the govt. that result in capital gains/losses), lots of movement (gas station videocameras, malls, ) and generally has far more power to snoop than govt. does.

    for example, a private citizen (like a private detective) does not need to justify 24/7 surveillance on an individual. there is no policy or law that says he needs reasonable suspicion, or at least a “valid law enforcement” purpose, like the govt would need. merely because he wants to, and/or was hired to do so is reason enough.

    but again, private carriers have ALWAYS had far more searching authority over your packages than USPS, and i suggest the hubbub over this article is because most people were eithe ignorant of this, or never bothered to look into it, despite the fact that they send tons of stuff via fedex or UPS

  49. Whit,
    Much of what you say is true, but you kind of disprove your own point. The reason people fear the government more than business is the coercion factor – as you said, you can choose not to use a certain business, even not to use a credit card, but you can’t choose not to use a social security card.
    Here’s the big thing to be afraid of: collusion between businesses that gather private info and the government. This collusion can be coerced (as it sounds like it was at Verizon, AT&T, etc.) or voluntary. Usually it’s somewhere in the middle.
    At least businesses won’t do things that will make them lose buckets of money, like throw their customers in jail for their actions. Governments have a very low bar for customer service.
    Somehow, the sort of government-business collusion I mentioned earlier has come in full swing with the RIAA and MPAA. They’ve converted problems with their business models into criminal/security emergencies, and the government has been their willing accomplice and benefactor.
    In summation: Fear the government’s surveillance and information gathering a great deal, but fear a collusion between business and government more. Clause 2 of the last sentence seems to be what is becoming increasingly common.

  50. what about “fear private business surveillance and info gathering?”

    that is the third piece of the puzzle

    i am wary of all 3, but ceteris paribus ime and imo private business is WORSE than govt. in general

  51. what about “fear private business surveillance and info gathering?”
    As I said, you can choose which businesses you frequent, and if privacy from marketers is as important to you as it seems to be, you can extricate yourself from situations where you give out personal information.

    Getting upset that you have to give out your mailing address, credit card # etc. to use modern businesses is like being upset that your doctor has access to your medical records. Doesn’t make that much sense to me.

  52. i think many privacy advocates have a preconceived bias to look at govt. this is partly due ot the “coercion at the barrel of a gun” (iow, in most cases, you don’t have a choice with govt. with private business you do.

    In this case it appears that the post office (that is, the gov’t) is the only shipper with decent privacy rules. It would be nice if *private* commercial shipper’s competed on the variable of privacy, but they don’t.

    Two lessons to draw:

    1. Sometimes the government cares more about you than the private sector does. the post office should care about your privacy and it does. Fed Ex should care about your privacy and it doesn’t.

    2. Sometimes private business either don’t compete vigorously, or else don’t compete based on the factors their customers actually care about.

    3. when big business and big gov’t cooperate, the only winners are people who own lots of stock.

  53. Upon knowing this information, I will now be shipping DVD’s with free insence samples. That oughta throw the dogs off the DVD scent for a while.

  54. You can get a 360 AND a Wii for the price of one. Damn.

    Yeah, but, why would you want Wii all over your house?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.