Strange Metaphors & Bedfellows (in response to Ammori)

Sad looking siblings with arguing parents behind them

Silicon Valley lawyer and tech-industry activist Marvin Ammori wrote a strange little blog post that appeared a few days ago on Slate in its “Future Tense” section. In an attempt to be cute, Ammori likens some unnamed body of Hollywood “copyright lobbyists” to a stalker ex-boyfriend who won’t take the hint that nobody wants him around anymore.  It’s an obnoxious simile prefacing a set of assertions that are all untrue, but if you’re going to lie, arrogance is usually the best way to sell it.

Several great responses have already been written to Ammori’s post.  AdLandTV and The Trichordist have been quick to point out that Future Tense is not merely the name of new department on the Slate TOC, but is actually a part of the The New America Foundation, possibly funded by the tech industry and certainly chaired by Google’s Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt.  The Trichordist has rightly called Slate’s journalistic integrity into question on this matter, but at least that site also hosts the best response to Ammori — in fact one of the best responses yet written about these issues — from Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter.  It’s a must read, if you haven’t already.  Sutter writes:

“Every writer, producer, actor, musician, director, tech wizard, and fine artist working today needs to be aware of what this all means for our future—we will lose the ability to protect and profit from our own work. Every kid out there who aspires to be an actor or musician or artist: This is your future that’s at stake. More importantly, everyone who enjoys quality entertainment: This impacts you most of all. Content excellence cannot sustain itself if it loses its capacity to reward the talent that creates it.”

I’ll let the matter of whether or not Google & Co. are buying the “news” on a site like Slate play itself out; but I can’t help thinking about Ammori’s dumb dating metaphor and how revealingly wrong-headed it is.  Leaving sexual identity aside, Ammori is right to imply that the other ex that is the internet industry is a lot like the one who signals a “talk to the hand” every time rights holders want to discuss ways — voluntary, legislative, technological, or social — to mitigate rampant and careless devaluation of the creative industries.  But the metaphor here isn’t about a couple who were just dating or had a fling, and now one of them doesn’t know it’s time to move on. The appropriate metaphor, if we’re going to be adults about this, is a couple who were once married and have some kids (let’s call them society); and while there may be some irreconcilable differences, this couple has no choice but to discuss certain matters like reasonable adults if they don’t want to screw up the kids.

So, when the subject of voluntary measures to curb mass copyright infringement is on the table, why is the ex that is Silicon Valley pimping out smug articles like this one, invoking SOPA (and lying about it) and the DMCA (and lying about that), and depicting  the millions of stakeholders in creative rights like they’re just some loser they woke up with one morning and are trying to forget?  Because, for now, it seems Silicon Valley is the ex going through its slutty, bad parent phase.  It wants to screw everybody while it’s still young enough and keep letting the kids do whatever they want — pirate movies, find cheap drugs, create revenge porn, act like trolls, etc. — so it can look like the cool parent while the ex who’s trying to deal with multi-billion-dollar economic reality will sound like an old stick in the mud.  This dysfunction has to end because real people are getting hurt.

© 2014, David Newhoff. All rights reserved.

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  • The more apt description — a rapist calling up his victim and telling her she was a lousy lay.
    Ammori, your call has been traced…the police are outside your door….

  • What lies did the post contain re: SOPA and the DMCA?

  • Also, say what you will about Ammori’s post — clickbaity, vapid, etc. — at least it was gender-neutral and not misogynistic.

    • Ammori technically personifies the “Hollywood lobbyists” as the ex-boyfriend, which is funny considering how male-dominated Silicon Valley is. But that’s neither here nor there; one needs a pronouns from time to time. As for SOPA, he implies Facebook, Twitter, etc. could have been taken down under the law, which is absolutely false. No domestic site could have been taken down since they were explicitly excluded in the language of the bill. As for DMCA, any implication that it’s an effective tool for rights holders is also a falsehood. EVERY rights holder who has ever tried to use DMCA Notice & Takedown provisions to remove infringing content knows that it is spitting in the wind. In fact, SOPA was partly an answer to the futility of effectively begging a foreign-based entity beyond the reach of U.S. law to stop trafficking in infringing material. As such, Ammori’s entire characterization of the situation is a lie packaged in an obnoxious metaphor.

      *I’ll qualify my statement about DMCA to the extent that a single case of infringement on a site like YouTube can be effectively taken down, but that’s not where the problem lies.

      • Re: misogynistic, I was referring to your use of “slutty.” You’ve spent a lot of time admonishing digital-rights activists for their verbiage/tone, and usually your words seem very carefully chosen — I’m sure this word was no exception.

        And if you’re suggesting that sites centered around user-generated content (sites like Facebook and Youtube) would continue to exist in recognizable form under 103 of SOPA, then you’re the liar here. And god forbid that U.S. users wish to participate in a Facebook-type community hosted in another country.

        Also, I don’t think the Slate post makes any claims about the efficacy of the DMCA from a rightsholder’s standpoint — rather, it emphasizes (correctly) that DMCA safe harbor is essential for Web 2.0 sites.

      • I’m not sure why you assume the word “slutty” can only refer to women, but I assure you it does not. As for SOPA, I have little interest in reviewing ping-pong games over Section 103 dating back two years, other than to assert that the complaints were overblown in 2011, and they’re overblown now. Neither the intent nor the language of the bill targeted anything that looked like a Facebook or YouTube in any country. As for DMCA, Ammori is dismissive of its utter lack of efficacy when he says things like “but that wasn’t good enough…” His entire second paragraph, which is the first substantive paragraph, is setting up a premise (i.e. painting a portrait of the landscape) that is simply false. And he’s doing all of this timed with the hearing on DMCA in order to keep selling a general message that copyright holders already have too much power to willfully takedown and shutdown without warning, oversight, or consequences — and that just ain’t so.

      • I’m not sure why you assume the word “slutty” can only refer to women, but I assure you it does not.

        To pretend this term is gender-neutral is disingenuous, and is arguably sexist in and of itself. A better move would be to apologize and examine your own impulse to use gendered slurs in purportedly-professional writing. I wouldn’t criticize this so harshly if you weren’t such a harsh critic of your opponents’ language.

        Section 103 dating back two years, other than to assert that the complaints were overblown in 2011, and they’re overblown now. Neither the intent nor the language of the bill targeted anything that looked like a Facebook or YouTube in any country.

        No “ping-pong” rehash is necessary to understand why 103 could (and would, easily) reach Facebook or Youtube. Here’s a concise summary from the National Review (which, like most right-wing outlets, agreed with your position on SOPA).

        Does Facebook offer services in a manner that facilitates infringement? Does Youtube? It is very, very easy to argue “yes,” especially if you’re a highly-paid IP attorney. And while Facebook and Youtube have their own highly-paid attorneys, 103 did not exactly afford full adversarial due process. Nor is it likely that Facebook or Youtube would exist, as we know them today, if they’d faced crippling litigation and compliance burdens from the moment they came into existence as startups.

        On DMCA, sure — “but that wasn’t good enough” connotes some greed on the part of the copyright lobby. But that doesn’t mean the statement embodies a lie. You can acknowledge that the DMCA is a porous remedy while simultaneously arguing that it’s greedy for the industry to seek heightened protection in the form of SOPA-type regimes.

      • What is sexist is the long-standing double-standard of either criticism of females or acceptance of males who both exhibit behavior one might call “slutty.” I reject the double-standard and think it’s high time the word be applied universally to describe the behavior, regardless of the sex or even sexual orientation of the person in question. I also don’t judge “sluttiness” to be wholly negative, especially in the context of the joke I made in the post. If you don’t choose to join me in this etymological shift and would prefer to insist that “sluts” are always female, I think it is your position that is perpetuating sexism.

        Regarding SOPA, I ought to have said three years ago, because that’s what it’s been. As such, I honestly don’t know if you’re referring to Sec. 103 pre-Manager’s Amendment or post-Manager’s Amendment, and there’s no way I’m going to try to suss out at what point on the timeline from three years ago we’re discussing given the fact that the bill was still being written when it was finally shelved. The point is that you are now (as was the case in 2011/12) attempting to interpret language on the premise that anyone either in Congress or in Hollywood wanted to achieve a condition whereby a Facebook could be summarily removed without due process. This is simply an invention. The bill was designed to go after sites “dedicated to infringement,” (and we all know that means sites like The Pirate Bay) that are established in foreign countries where the US has no jurisdiction. The bill explicitly could not supersede existing US law as a domestic remedy, which means if a content owner had a beef with Facebook or my blog, SOPA empowered them not one wit more than the remedies already available to them.

        In your last paragraph, you make my point about the lie I argue that Ammori is perpetrating, but if you’re more comfortable with the word “deception,” so be it. DMCA is broken for creators, and so it is dishonest to portray it as any kind of protection whosoever. It is therefore wrong to assert that SOPA (or any proposed remedy) is an unreasonable “heightening” of protection that doesn’t exist in the first place. Moreover, this promotes a misguided sense of the mechanisms of DMCA and what would have been SOPA, which is another deception. Finally, if you operate on the premise that it is “greedy” in any form for content owner to want to protect his/her/its content from being hijacked by for-profit thieves, that’s a strange kind of logic, but it’s one that implies there are no remedies that will be seen as justified and reasonable. I will argue that selling that narrative is another form of deception, especially when it’s the small and midsize content owners who are getting clobbered well ahead of the evil Hollywood studios.

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