Odds & Ends (It’s that kind of week)

What Color is the Sky in Rick Falkvinge’s World?

Someone please tell me that Rick Falkvinge is the Ron Paul of European politics.  I’m sure every country has its slightly kooky politicians; after all, we have guys who talk about mothballing the Navy or the magical powers of women’s reproductive systems, and I guess Europe has Rick Falkvinge.  I don’t go looking for Rick’s writing because shooting a duck in a barrel (and a lame duck at that) isn’t sporting, but I stumbled upon this piece this morning and had to share.  Falkvinge asserts that the act of copying an existing work (e.g using software to rip a DVD into a file for upload) is real labor that has value, and that “copyright monopolists” are offensive in their desire to profit from this “labor.”  Yes, at this moment, your head should be cocked sideways like a confused spaniel.

I’ve done a lot of digital compression and conversion in my life, and it’s true about the labor I guess. I mean, you’ve got the sliding a disk into a drive, and then probably half a dozen mouse clicks, followed by up to twenty keystrokes to name the file; then there’s the opening of the beer and pretzels while you watch the gas bar crawl across the screen. So, by all means, it’s obnoxious for those who represent millions of dollars in investment and tens of thousands of highly-skilled man-hours to produce the thing your chubby little fingers are laboring away to copy to think that it’s somehow their property. I guess if somebody robs my house, I ought to pause before calling the police and consider how hard the burglar is working.

Maintaining Perspective

If you haven’t seen it,  I encourage you to read Chris Ruen’s piece about Aaron Swartz for Seattle Weekly. The article endeavors to take some of the emotion out of the discussion regarding Swartz’s hacktivism. I have purposely not talked about Swartz thus far because the first truth is that his story is just plain sad. But Ruen is right that Swartz was wrong about SOPA, and that does matter even through the fog of emotion. I don’t presume to know why Mr. Swartz committed suicide, but it is a tragedy that strikes regardless of age, sex, economic, social, or political conditions; and it is worth noting that the very tools Swartz proclaimed to champion have been used to bully others, whose names we hardly know, to the same fate. Moreover, while freedom of information is a cornerstone of a democratic society, not everything that can be hacked is “information” just because it’s digital — and hacking itself is not a game. Just this week, we have reports on the specific origin of cyber attacks on US properties from within one Chinese military headquarters.  The prospect of an attack that could cost the lives of thousands is not an exaggeration.  Naturally, Swartz’s hacking didn’t amount to anything like this kind of threat, but we cannot have a national policy debate on the issue of cyber security that is bent out of proportion because of the suicide of one man.

The Inevitable?

I have predicted for several years that convergence between TV and the Web will make for new partnerships between the two industries.  The more the media creators and the Internet giants have common ground, the more likely we are to see much of the extreme copyright views be relegated to the fringe where they belong.  This article in Variety features a story about a deal between Fox and a couple of very successful YouTube channels, and I’m sure we will see more of these deals as the distinction between distribution via Pipe A or Pipe B fades into irrelevance.

I have little doubt that the end-game is a paradigm in which screens of all sizes become global jukeboxes offering on-demand access to vast libraries of finished works.  Clearly, those who use torrent sites have chosen to hasten this reality without regard for the creators, but deals like this one and projects like House of Cards demonstrate that media producers are in no way out of touch with new distribution methods or new approaches to scheduling or geography; and they haven’t been for quite some time. When Google and Fox shake hands, it means their profit motives are aligned, and this could be beneficial to independent artists, who are the first to be hurt by online piracy. The more the Internet industry has skin in the content game, the less likely it is to fund the kind of hysterically blurred messages confusing free speech with free media.  That said, we have miles to go…

TPB-AFK (The Pirate Bay Documentary)

Yeah, I watched the documentary about the founder/operators of The Pirate Bay, and I admit to being pleasantly surprised that it is not the overbearing propaganda-fest I’d expected. In fact, to director Simon Klose’s credit, I found the film’s relatively detached lens on its subjects made it eminently watchable and only considered a few choices overly contrived — particularly the eerie music played over moody tracking shots of blinking servers.  There’s no question the film is supportive of its subjects, but assuming we can take its content at face value, we are provided with what appears to be an honest glimpse into the personalities and character flaws of TPB’s three co-founders.

Most of the film focuses on the trial in Swedish court, and I thought one of the most telling moments was a comment by Gottfrid Svartholm describing their business as “disorganized crime.” The comment was meant to be mocking the authorities’ perception of the The Pirate Bay, but his words are actually consistent with the childlike posturing of all three men throughout the documentary. Svartholm, Sunde, and Neij all vacillate between naive innocence and banner-waving freedom-fighting — literally trying to have it both ways.  It is as if they are saying, “We didn’t do anything, but what we did is certainly the right thing to do.” The film is engaging and informative, although it is dismaying to discover that these presumptive heroes of the digital age really are the proverbial rebels without either a cause or a clue.

© 2013, David Newhoff. All rights reserved.

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125 comments

  • RE: Rick Falkvinge ~ Dave N. wrote “I guess if somebody robs my house, I ought to pause before calling the police and consider how hard the burglar is working.” – i don’t know whether to laugh or cry. (that observation is priceless though.. i did LOL) Our elected officials are somewhat a reflection of the society at large. Increasingly, this is a sad commentary rather than a enlightening one.

    • The funny thing, of course, is that the “copyright monopolists” are perfectly aware that the labour of copying a work is valuabe – and even how much it costs. Anyone who ends up being in charge of the product will be aware of how much they have to pay per copy – either in terms of what they pay their workforce (if they own their own duplication facilities) or what a duplication business charges.

      The typical mistake, made here by Falkvinge (are we surprised), is forgetting that the labour involved in duplication is only one of the components that goes into the value of the finished copy. The material expended in creating the artifact (even if it’s just space on your hard drive) is another and the actual work being copied is the main one – which is why people don’t often spend hours ripping blank discs.

      The distinction becomes obvious when we consider downloadable media. Here, both the labour and the materials are provided by the buyer. The price the buyer pays is for the value afforded by the work itself. The “copyright monopolists” aren’t “stealing” the value of the buyer’s labour, they’re taking money for that portion of the finished copy’s value that they are providing.

      Love the burglar comment, though.

      • It’s fair to say that you’re one of the most thoughtful writers on the Web, Faza, but I think you’ve already given this latest Falkevangery more consideration than it deserves. I shared the story mostly for humor value, assuming its absurdity was self-evident, but also to remind people just how far dysfunctional thinking can go.

  • Ugh… Remind me to never go on Torrentfreak again.

  • A couple more thoughts come to mind: Falkvenge and his ilk are rather selective about monopolies. There is one giant near monopoly on the Internet, and its name starts with G and ends with Oogle. As well, I can distinctly remember Wired defending monopolies when it was all about Microsoft. They even quoted Rockefeller, for Pete’s sake… The other thing is that for all the posturing about how IP isn’t real property, consider that the most basic unit of the web, the link, is based around a real estate metaphor.

  • I’m glad you liked TPB-AFK. I thought it was a great documentary. I think that it shows how downright basic of an operation TPB is, that is really something pro-copyrighters should take out of it. All this flowery talk about organized crime and massive payouts and you are talking about three extremely flawed Swedes and a rack or two of servers, the largest filesharing website on planet Earth. BitTorrent is really amazing stuff from a technology perspective.

    I don’t like some of Falkvinge’s arguments, especially the “copyright is monopoly” idea. One reason, it’s not very strong argument, ie. depending on how you define monopoly, I believe there are perfectly valid arguments that copyright is not a monopoly. Secondly, “copyright = monopoly = bad” you have to make the assumption that a monopoly is always bad, which I don’t feel the case.

    And Chris Ruen’s article crapping on the memory of Swartz feels like pure agitprop or outright flamebaiting. If this is the kind of game he wants to play, I really don’t think he has a very good career in front of him as a copyright scholar. I mean, maybe he should have stuck doing what he was doing before it decided to write books and articles on the copyright issue. It’s a really horrible and totally misinformed characterization of Swartz’s views and the complicated copyright issue in general, and it’s a shame a “reputable” source actually published it.

    And re: Google deals with content providers. I think copyright enforcers tend to put way too much weight on Google being the supreme controller of the Internet, probably because they think the Internet actually does work like cable TV, ie. just another broadcast medium with a different name.

    Even if Google magically accepted all of the copyright lobbies views (and they already do, more than you’d like to admit), it’s meaningless in the grand scheme of things because as long as there is a demand for free and unlimited content, and the technology to provide it – someone will meet it. No matter if it’s three drunk Sweedish teenagers or a giant multinational corporation. Cheers.

    • “Like” would not really be how I’d describe how I feel about that film. Intrigued, yes. Somewhat informed, certainly. But I’m not any more in TPB’s camp than I was before I watched the film, and technology for its own sake isn’t my thing. As for Ruen, I don’t think it’s fair to characterize his article as you have, but that should be obvious given my choice to post it in the context I did.

    • Do you have any specifics on Swartz? As far as I can tell Ruen simply quoted him.

      • He took Aaron Swartz’s open access idea and turned it into diatribe about the blight of musicians and artists. Really, trying to lump all copyright issues into one is bullshit. Scientific research is largely funded by taxpayers and no matter what insane copyright argument you present, work that I funded with my taxpayer money deserves to be in the public domain from day one, freely accessible to all, not enclosed in some super restrictive journal subscription accessible freely only to University intelligentsia. But Chris conveniently ignores all that in his rant against Swartz. [quote] Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. The world’s entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations. Want to read the papers featuring the most famous results of the sciences? You’ll need to send enormous amounts to publishers like Reed Elsevier. There are those struggling to change this. The Open Access Movement has fought valiantly to ensure that scientists do not sign their copyrights away but instead ensure their work is published on the Internet, under terms that allow anyone to access it. But even under the best scenarios, their work will only apply to things published in the future. Everything up until now will have been lost. That is too high a price to pay. Forcing academics to pay money to read the work of their colleagues? Scanning entire libraries but only allowing the folks at Google to read them? Providing scientific articles to those at elite universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global South? It’s outrageous and unacceptable. “I agree,” many say, “but what can we do? The companies hold the copyrights, they make enormous amounts of money by charging for access, and it’s perfectly legal — there’s nothing we can do to stop them.” But there is something we can, something that’s already being done: we can fight back. Those with access to these resources — students, librarians, scientists — you have been given a privilege. You get to feed at this banquet of knowledge while the rest of the world is locked out. But you need not — indeed, morally, you cannot — keep this privilege for yourselves. You have a duty to share it with the world. And you have: trading passwords with colleagues, filling download requests for friends. Meanwhile, those who have been locked out are not standing idly by. You have been sneaking through holes and climbing over fences, liberating the information locked up by the publishers and sharing them with your friends. But all of this action goes on in the dark, hidden underground. It’s called stealing or piracy, as if sharing a wealth of knowledge were the moral equivalent of plundering a ship and murdering its crew. But sharing isn’t immoral — it’s a moral imperative. Only those blinded by greed would refuse to let a friend make a copy. Large corporations, of course, are blinded by greed. The laws under which they operate require it — their shareholders would revolt at anything less. And the politicians they have bought off back them, passing laws giving them the exclusive power to decide who can make copies. There is no justice in following unjust laws. It’s time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public culture. We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that’s out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access. With enough of us, around the world, we’ll not just send a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge — we’ll make it a thing of the past. Will you join us? Aaron Swartz July 2008, Eremo, Italy [/quote]

      • All of which has exactly nothing to do with SOPA, which was the central subject of Chris’s article. Swartz was wrong about SOPA, as was nearly everyone. To confuse the aims of that bill with American, publicly-funded scientific research is to be guilty of “lumping all issues together,” as you say. Moreover, the overwrought tone of the open access movement is more than intolerable in a world filled with legitimate horrors. Open access is a perfectly fine discussion to have, but it is one for the privileged and pampered academics — a classic first-world problem to cite the meme — and it is more than a little galling to listen to anyone raise the oratory of rebellion as though this is somehow on equal footing with apartheid or sharia law.

        Public funding in itself does not necessarily change copyright conditions. What about an artist who receives partial funding from an NEA grant? Hell, even in the new paradigm of crowd-funding, the rights to the finished works still remain with the creator(s). Neither you, nor the ghost of Aaron Swartz, nor anyone else can claim to be seeking a rational conversation about public access to scientific research while approaching that dialogue with such righteousness and oversimplification. Among these oversimplifications is the failure to recognize the danger of combining crowd-sourcing and science. Take the influence the Texas School Board has on textbooks and expand it exponentially. The idealist nature of the movement assumes only the best — that more access leads to more enlightenment — but fails to acknowledge what a powerful tool the Web is for manipulation and how it can be the ultimate proof of the adage “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” The “elite,” whom this movement so universally disdains are also the foundation of good science, of peer review, of validated consensus. Look how hard fought climate change has been even with over 90% of the world’s climate scientists in agreement. Imagine diluting their so-called “elite” status and putting the whole issue out for public consensus. That’s not necessarily where this leads, but it’s not unprecedented either.

      • Swartz was wrong about SOPA, as was nearly everyone.
        —–

        Sure thing. It must be awkward living in that fishbowl.

        —-
        What about an artist who receives partial funding from an NEA grant?
        —-

        Then that work should be in the public domain. Because you know, work made with public funds should be in the public domain. Grants aren’t welfare, they are work for hire. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Feel free to your own opinion, but I’m not going even argue about this.

      • And it seems Obama’s administration agrees, because he just started a policy that virtually all publicly funded scientific research needs to be open access within 12 months of initial publication. Still not perfect, but better than nothing.

      • Good. Publicly funded research should be in the public domain (mostly). This has nothing to do with creative works and even less to do with Swartz on SOPA. Clearly, you’re comfortable with the “that many people can’t be wrong” argument, but better to be among a minority of fish in a bowl than mindlessly following the bait ball.

      • Oh and speaking about Climate Change debate. Reminds me a lot of SOPA. A huge array computer scientists behind virtually all the advancements in networking/Internet technology agreed that SOPA would be dangerous to the Internet, and argued Congress to vote against it. What did the content industry do in response? Dismiss them as biased! Fund alternate non-scientific accepted research to to “prove them wrong”!

        Replace Climate Scientists with Computer Scientists and Big Content with Big Oil, and you have the same exact situation. It’s scary. The so called “Hollywood liberals” are only “progressive” on issues that don’t concern their core business, like climate change. Surprising?

      • The technological concerns about SOPA were so utterly negotiable and in no way excuse all the hyperbolic bullshit about threatening free speech, and “you can go to jail for posting the wrong thing on Facebook”, and all that other crap. If anything, the role of the Web industry was consistent with the anti-climate-change crowd (e.g. fossil fuel industries) because of the way it used hype and scare tactics to avoid regulation of its profitable interests. This is SOP for big corporate interests. And where were those computer scientists employed? The extraction industries have their own climate scientists, too. Sound familiar?

      • M wrote:

        Providing scientific articles to those at elite universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global South? It’s outrageous and unacceptable.

        This is a good sentiment, but I would suggest that the problem is less copyright than technology. Basically the technology keeps changing and with it the protocols allowing access keep changing. A three year old device is out-dated, a five year old one is ancient and anything ten or more years old might as well be prehistoric. The devices themselves might still be perfectly functional — they’re generally well-built and quite robust — but they can’t talk to anything anymore. They can’t access that all that wonderful knowledge you write about.

        The only way to participate in this wonderful open access world you describe is to buy the latest gadgets and to keep updating them every few years to the new, improved latest gadgets. Now, this is a sign of progress and I’m not going to complain about progress, but I will point out that those in the Global South cannot maintain that level of consumption. They can’t keep upgrading their devices every few years.

        This could work through a sort of trickle down process: as the Global North updates their equipment, their discarded devices get donated to the Global South — people update their equipment and donate their obsolete, but still functional stuff to children in the Global South, so everyone benefits. Except that one of the reasons that old equipment is now obsolete is because it doesn’t conform to the latest protocols and requirements and so has difficulty accessing all that information. After a few of years and some more protocol changes, it can’t access that information at all any more.

        If you’re actually concerned about giving the people of the Global South access to the banquet of knowledge you describe, I’d suggest you’d be better off supporting the printing and distribution libraries made up of old-fashioned books. Those would remain accessible far longer and have are better at surviving in less than ideal conditions. As such, the knowledge they contain might actually make it to the children.

        Either that, or the campaign should be directed towards establishing stable protocols that would continue to be viable for more than a decade.

        As for Aaron Swartz, he was heavily involved in the anti-SOPA campaign — he gave the keynote speech at the F2C: Freedom to Connect event on “How We Stopped SOPA” — and, as David Newhoff notes, opposing SOPA had nothing to do with creating or preserving free access to the banquet of knowledge you describe and everything to do with ensuring that writers, artists, musicians and other creators of artistic (not scientific) content continue to get screwed by piracy. Criticising Swartz’s views on that is not “crapping on the memory of Swartz”, it’s addressing his actual ideas and engaging with them.

      • Thanks for commenting. The issue of functional access is an important one when bringing the developing world into the conversation. It’s also important to identify which countries we’re talking about because they’re really not one place, are they? The developing world includes nations that need highways, plumbing, primary education, and the most rudimentary human rights we take for granted. If we’re talking about someplace developed like China, they’ve got the money and the technology, but not the free society. So, I really do think it is important to keep perspective on what we’re talking about with regard to access to scientific research — that it’s primarily a matter of principle and one for relatively privileged society, even within the developed world. It’s a perfectly valid principle, but let’s face it; a tremendous amount of scientific research is comprehensible to relatively small segment of the population, namely other scientists. Do I want them to be able to share and learn from one another? Of course. Do I want new research to make its way to some wunderkind lurking in a ghetto library right now who may grow up to be the next Brian Greene? Absolutely. But all this talk about bringing cutting edge quantum physics to the people of the developing world is, to paraphrase your points, like saying we’re bringing iPods to nation without electricity.

      • And I just want to highlight the people who signed the letter. These aren’t random nobodies, these are the scientists that essentially created the Internet as we know it. Vint Cerf. Paul Vixie. Just help yourself to a small sampling of names.

        But no, dismissing hundreds of influential scientists, dismissing computer science orthodoxy itself. That’s okay. Totally normal. They aren’t real scientists, the ones we paid for are! And no, that’s nothing like Big Oil’s even less wanton dismissal of Climate Science. We consider ourselves “progressives”, so it’s different!

        I’m totally and utterly confused how you can have this fundamental contradiction in your head as go about life and rhetoric where you bring up Climate Science and SOPA in the same argument and act as if everything is peachy.

        It really baffles me at a deep level. It really does. Can’t we just agree that SOPA was a bad idea and move on?

      • I’m happy to move on, but no I won’t agree to that because it isn’t true; and I won’t say so just to be popular. I came pretty close to calling good friends numbskulls and suckers over their utterly haphazard protest of those bills, so why should I agree with you here? The DNS blocking wasn’t even requested by the big, evil entertainment companies, it was a component of the bill that was negotiable, and it did not justify all the other garbage (as stated). The focus of the bill had (to use technical terms) sweet fuckall to do with any domestic users of the Internet. It was narrowly focused on mass infringers located in foreign countries and had NOTHING to do with free speech. If I believed otherwise, I’d say so. Free speech is very dear to me considering I’m obviously willing to speak my mind regardless of popular consent. I believe in evolution and gay rights, too, both of which put me in direct opposition to more Americans than even know what SOPA was.

        And I’m sorry you find it baffling that industry behaves more or less the same, no matter what industry. When financial markets don’t want regulation, they scream “free enterprise!” When extraction industries don’t want regulation, they scream “economic ruin!” When the Web industry doesn’t want regulation, they scream “free speech!” And isn’t it just a little weird to suggest that the entertainment industry is pro-censorship?

      • Well David,

        As great as Hollywood is at designing Internet protocols, I think I have to make the tough decision and have to agree with the scientific community in saying that SOPA was a bad idea. As an obvious supporter as you point out, of Big Oil’s self serving scientific arguments and pseudo-scientific beliefs like creationism, this is a hard decision.

        🙂

        But really, I know you view yourself as a progressive, but you don’t realize that your opponents (like myself) are largely on the same political spectrum. The fact that we disagree almost exclusively on copyright enforcement is a strange effect of you considering it your livelihood as a filmmaker, as well as your desire for a profitable creative industry above all.

        And for, me prioritizing a free and open Internet without barriers to communication or publication. As well as having technical knowledge possessed through the years that leads me to conclude with the other scientists that copyright enforcement doesn’t mesh well with a free and open Internet.

        Oh well.

      • My views on copyright and the Internet are informed by, not based upon, my experience as a creator; and it strays into ad hominem to assume the personal reasons behind an argument rather than to debate the argument at face value. But there it is. My opinion is that you don’t actually have to choose between an open internet and copyright anymore than you have to choose between an open society and a safe one. We have a free society but not a free-for-all society. We may quibble about certain regulations here and there, but are we really less free because we have laws that proscribe certain behaviors? Some would say yes, but few would say yes across the board. I don’t believe the Internet is really that special, and it certainly is not the source of my freedom. I have no fear that copyright can endure and coexist with my right to say what I want as well as get access to whatever knowledge I seek.

      • That’s fine. As long as you realize you have an opinion that is contrary to the consensus of the scientific community that created the Internet. That you realize that that you intend to subvert and oppose the consensus of that scientific community, and you intend to so without any formal training in the science and engineering disciplines involved that could provide you with an truly informed contrary opinion. As long as we are on the same page with that, then there is no problem here.

      • Actually not at all, if you read what I’ve said. What I have always said was that if there were technological concerns about SOPA, then that is a basis for a conversation not a crazy-as-all-get-out campaign. That’s the crux of what I’ve always said, and I don’t presume to know computer science, despite the fact that so many laymen out there presume to know IP law.

    • M:Then that work should be in the public domain. Because you know, work made with public funds should be in the public domain. Grants aren’t welfare, they are work for hire. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Feel free to your own opinion, but I’m not going even argue about this.

      —–
      Actually, grants are much closer to welfare (although that’s an imperfect analogy) than work for hire. That’s how grants work, and have always worked. There is a firewall between the NEA and the public that funds it, as there should be. Anyone who seriously believes in free speech should understand that.

      • Maybe art grants are welfare. I mean I can quite literally, shit over a piece of paper right now and call it art. And you can’t say it isn’t art, because I’m the artist and it’s my freedom of expression. Even if the result of my grant goes to the public domain, all you are getting is yesterday’s digested hamburger. This wide scope makes the art industry entirely unaccountable. Which is probably why for all intents and purposes, government funding of art is a trickle compared to government funding of science. But scientific grants are not welfare, nor is it subjective. And you know, grant making authorities expect actual published results, and usually own some kind of interest in the results of the work if not the whole thing. Not doing this can result in some, if not all of the grant money being forfeited. And that may be the big difference.

      • Well, obviously for you science trumps art. In any case, I think people should be compensated for their work. If you disagree, I’m not sure what more there is to say.

    • Correction, three drunk Swedish teenagers and their neo-nazi benefactor.

      http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/02/26/pirate_bay_neo_nazi/

      When critics bring this up, TPB defenders (who have no problem branding any of their critics as MPAA or RIAA stooges) complain that such guilt by association is in poor taste.

      • Yeah and there is certain people in Hollywood *cough* Mel Gibson *cough* who are obviously anti-Semitic. But I don’t think that’s really relevant. Hell I’m big Jew myself (as is many in technology are, especially in the dreaded Google corporation), so obviously anti-copyright is a big Jewish conspiracy. Except pro-copyright Hollywood is also apparently a Jewish conspiracy if you ask the right neo-Nazis. Gasp! I can just imagine the Jews of Hollywood and the Jews of Silicon Valley setting across from each other at Carnegie Deli giving each other nasty looks. But regardless he financed it, didn’t develop it. That was somewhat less anti-Semitic Swedes. But with recent advancements in P2P BitTorrent tracking, and the lower cost of hardware and bandwidth, the cost of running a tracker is probably several orders of magnitude less than it was 2003, and it wasn’t even high then. That’s the magic of the protocol, it’s designed to offload the act of filesharing to the peers themselves, minimizing resource utilization at any center node.

      • Nice dodge there. I don’t really care at this moment about p2p; I’m specifically talking about TPB, of which Lundstrom owns as much as 40 percent. And he’s quite a bit more than just “anti Semitic.”

  • Dismissing the scientists as being paid shills? Corruption in the scientific community? Big money involved (usually from “Obama’s cronies”, right)? These arguments sounds crazy familiar!

    Yeah I can just reword your response and sound exactly like the typical “climate change is a myth” people I argue over the Internet with (you think it’s only copyright I bother with?). 🙂

    Let’s try:

    The concerns about reducing pollution controls were so utterly negotiable and in no way excuse all the hyperbolic bullshit about threatening the environment, and “the Earth will become increasingly inhabitable”, and all that other crap. If anything, the role of the green industry [M: oh god, they hate the “cronyist Dems and their green industry”, usually linking to the same tired article about it over and over] was consistent with the climate-change crowd (e.g. environmental lobbyists) because of the way it used hype and scare tactics to avoid regulation of its profitable farse “green” cronyist Obama-funded initiatives. This is SOP for big corporate interests. And where were those climate scientists employed? The environments have their own climate scientists, too.

    Yeah I think that would fit quite nicely.

    Tell me, do you regularly go against climate change skeptics on the Internet? Does this sound familiar?

    • Uh, no. You’re confusing many things, chief among them being intent vs language in a bill. Climate change deniers seek to kill the intent of legislation designed to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Hence they do not produce scientists who say, “Well, we can do this, but we shouldn’t do that because…” They simply aim to debunk the entire premise of climate change. Now, over to the Web industry and SOPA. There was likewise no good-faith effort to support the intent, or premise, of SOPA/PIPA while negotiating the mechanisms. If there were, there would be no need for the hyped up campaign. Instead, like the corporate backed climate deniers, they sought to kill the intent of the bills. So, the point is that those computer scientists can be both correct and irrelevant at the same time. Correct because, perhaps they had legitimate technical concerns; but irrelevant because there was zero good-faith effort to sit down and discuss those mechanisms. Instead, the public got an earful of bullshit, of which the “break the Internet” headline was only one component.

      • There was an act called OPEN proposed to deal with copyright issues on the Internet that was considerably less hostile. The big difference between OPEN and SOPA is OPEN didn’t attempt to mess with the workings of fundamental Internet protocols, the most controversial part of SOPA and generally speaking is what the open letter addresses.

        It also used a judicial system that is tailored for international trade issues, which is what a dispute with a foreign Internet company/website fundamentally is. That of course wasn’t good enough for the content industry, who just dismissed the bill outright. OPEN didn’t have huge support either (it did have more than SOPA, and could have probably passed with more support from the content industry). But without Big Content behind it, it failed as well. Now, you got nothing. Suit yourselves I guess.

      • OPEN was also gutted in a way as to provide no basis for protecting creators, but now you’d be forcing me to go back to very old notes, and we’re getting into the weeds on this. My quarrel was and is with the ridiculous political process, and my position remains that SOPA/PIPA had valid intent. You’re bating me on details, but I sense the truth is that you refute the premise of those bills, which means the details are irrelevant. That’s where this becomes like climate change. You have start by agreeing that piracy is problem and one worth addressing. If you don’t, end of chat.

  • DNS blocking was not “negotiable” — it was the functional core of SOPA that proponents refused to relinquish, even when Google and others counterproposed a focus on the bill’s “follow the money” mechanisms instead. Was their proposal self-interested? Sure. But to claim that federally-mandated DNS blocking would “ha[ve] NOTHING to do with free speech” strains credulity.

    Nor do I think the tech lobby were remiss to emphasize the most extreme possible interpretations of the proposed statutory language (“they could shut down an entire website over one unlicensed .gif!”); the fact is, that’s how the bill read. As an attorney, I’m tired of the folly and the fallout that results when old people write clumsy, overreaching statutes about rapidly evolving technologies they don’t understand — because rest assured, language capable of being read ridiculously will be applied that way. (And no, my citing the CFAA has nothing to do with Aaron Swartz — prosecutors had been distending that law beyond recognition for years).

    To rail against those who opposed SOPA while admitting that, sure, the law’s mechanisms and details were all wrong but some of its ideas were right is the height of naivete or disingenuity or both. Mechanisms and details matter.

    Ironically, my firm lobbied in support of SOPA at the behest of some Big Content clients. I’m their advocate, and their livelihoods intertwine with mine. Still, I breathed a huge sigh of relief when that bill died an ugly embarrassing death. SOPA was bad. The public response (both grassroots and astroturf) was heartening and justified.

    • With all due respect, my comments are not based solely on my own attempts to play armchair IP lawyer (although I did read the bill) but also on the analyses of other professionals such as yourself. While I may not be an attorney, I have a passing knowledge of history and governance, and I believe it strains credulity to suggest that free speech is on the line because we can imagine a hypothetical scenario in which a US citizen has a site shut down over an unlicensed .gif. Seeing as this circumstance was not the intent of the bill (and the bill contained remedies to address these concerns), it would come about due to an aberration — an overreach. Overreach happens in our legal system from time to time, and with far more dire consequences than having a website taken down, yet our most important civil rights seem to endure. I maintain that free speech could have survived SOPA, and that the protest was both blind and hysterical with regard to the general public and highly manipulative with regard to the industry.

      I never said the mechanisms of the bill were “all wrong,” only that there’s a world of difference between having concerns about specific, technological mechanisms and running a campaign that results in 15 year-olds saying, “Man, if I put the wrong thing on Facebook, I could go to jail.” The number of things wrong with that are too many to enumerate here. The campaign was interesting to be sure, but I found it a dysfunctional illusion of direct democracy that demonstrated just how easily any manipulator can use the same tools to affect policy through disinformation. As I wrote in an article for The Hill on protest day, it reminded me of the Tea Party screaming about “death panels.”

      • I’d be curious to chat with the professionals you cite, who presumably gave you the idea that DNS blocking was some superfluous provision easily severable, as a practical or political matter, from the bill as a whole. It’s true that at the very end, when SOPA’s defeat was essentially assured, a couple of lobbying groups conceded that they could live without the DNS filtering provision. But that’s the only instance I can recall where anyone demonstrated any willingness to compromise, and by then everyone already knew that the Judiciary Committee planned to take SOPA off the table.

        Anyways, kudos for scaling back your original position, “SOPA had NOTHING to do with free speech,” and adopting the more sensible if disconcertingly weak “free speech would have survived SOPA.” Free speech “survived” the McCarthy era and Sedition Act, too, but given your passing knowledge of history and governance I hope we can agree that those episodes were problematic from a free speech perspective. I would also caution against seeing overreach as an aberration so easily discounted where, as here, the language of the statute is, itself overreaching, and it takes very little zeal or creativity to apply that language to undesirable ends. I can tell you that if the statute had passed as drafted and a client came to me with a complaint that at its core had nothing to do with the threat of infringement or trademark dilution — perhaps they were affronted by a blog mocking their product — I would immediately write a nasty letter to the hosting site and threaten to cut off payments under § 103 of SOPA. Sure, it might be aggressive (to say the least) to characterize a blog-hosting platform as “dedicated to theft of U.S. property,” but if you look at how that classification was drafted were are all kinds of ambiguities to exploit. For example, if a site’s copyright policy “places the burden on rightsholders to identify infringement,” despite one or more instances where users were known to have posted infringing content, the site could have been classed as a site dedicated to IP theft. This and other subparts of § 103 could have been nonfrivolously asserted to apply to almost any site featuring user-generated content — yes, even Facebook. Since you identify as a progressive, I’m also curious whether you had any views on the AUMF/NDAA provision for indefinite military detention of anyone who “substantially supported” Al Qaeda “or an associated force.” Do you think the Southern District’s concerns about a chilling effect on free speech were hysterical and illusory?

        The SOPA response and the Tea Party were analogous only because each involved a grassroots/astroturf mix. “Death panels,” however, were invented out of whole cloth, whereas the nightmare scenarios envisioned by SOPA opponents had an actual basis in the text of the bill. A kid might not go to jail for posting the wrong video on Facebook, but posting it on his own website would place him at risk. The tech industry is certainly not the first to try to influence public policy by voicing its concerns to its customer base. They were uncommonly successful because, at this moment in time, consumers’ policy preferences tend to align with the preferences of sites like reddit and Wikipedia.

      • Had most of a response written and managed to accidentally navigate away, so forgive truncated responses in the interest of time.

        I think if you want to play lawyer to my layman, I’d direct you to attorney blogs with whom you’d be on a level playing field. Still, I did not mean that speech would survive SOPA in the sense that we survived McCarthyism so much as speech would carry on just fine the day after passage, had that happened. Your hypothetical client could do as you describe, but even my lay reading of the bill indicates that he couldn’t use SOPA so capriciously as you describe; and then of course there’s the reality that your hypothetical client would be doing something so incredibly stupid from PR standpoint. Your post indicates existing remedies for trademark infringement, and you’ll find on this blog a post having a little fun at Google’s expense for doing the very same thing. No SOPA needed, and if Forever 21’s trademark attorney is doing his job, he might well execute a C&D to a blog that in no way criticizes the brand. SOPA explicitly did not grant additional powers to enforce copyright or trademark domestically.

        No, I’m not afraid of the NDAA. Just because I’m a progressive, does not mean I swallow every progressive-sounding headline I see; and I’ve criticized my own friends for posting some things about that bill that are just plain false. Regardless, the NDAA excludes US citizens, it was passed by even very liberal members of congress, and in order for us to realize the worst fears it engenders, we need to elect a tyrant. It seems to me that the most frightening scenarios in this area obviate the need for law in the first place.

        I don’t advocate blind faith in any institution, public or private, but I do believe that the fundamentals of the republic still matter and that, like it or not, a republic demands a measure of faith in the intent of those whom we elect. Can that system be improved? Always. Can it be improved by yawing as extremely to the right and left every time someone has an interest in riling us up? I have my doubts.

      • I don’t want to bog anyone down in a legal debate, but my overall point is that many of the concerns about SOPA were lucidly grounded. I will say that my hypothetical client could easily use SOPA in the capricious manner described. Even if the client was unlikely to prevail in court, the mere threat of litigation in that scenario carries major weight, and the prudent course for many hosts would be to remove the offending content rather than incur legal fees. (Especially because, if I remember correctly, SOPA would immunize the host for removing the content, even if the removal contravened Terms of Service and turned out to be unwarranted from a copyright/trademark perspective). As you note, some of the abuses to which I allude are already possible under current copyright and trademark law — and FYI, bad PR is not a reliable deterrent. So when we talk about strengthening IP law (or, indeed, strengthening or altering any law), we should think broadly about how the new provisions will be invoked and to what end.

        I didn’t ask whether you were afraid of the NDAA — I personally am not. Instead, I asked whether you thought the court’s concerns about chilling effects were hysterical and illusory. I don’t think they were, but I do think the court’s opinion illustrates how an overbroad statute invites potential misuse and how the mere possibility of misuse creates an environment of uncertainty that is detrimental to free speech. If memory serves, one of the plaintiffs in that case was a creative (a writer or possibly a filmmaker like yourself) who testified about the NDAA’s impact on his work.

        Under most circumstances, I have confidence in the intentions of most elected officials. But just as I would rather see 100 guilty men go free than a single innocent man imprisoned, I’d rather not enact laws that threaten basic freedoms should prosecutors, bureaucrats or private corporations fail to humbly restrain themselves — even if only 1 person out of 100 is likely to be victimized. We should safeguard against abuse by drafting laws carefully and narrowly and by building in oversight or recourse mechanisms. SOPA’s sponsors did neither of those things.

      • In broad terms, I operate from the same premise; but isn’t it fair to say that we’re looking at a narrow set of laws and bills in contrast to the number that can be abused — even have been abused — by bad actors? I hope never to be wrongfully accused of a crime, but the remedies for this will not likely be to overturn the law itself.

        Forgive my hasty response on specific NDAA case. I’ll have to find time to read that whole document, but I find it hard to believe how speech can be properly construed as material support of a terrorist organization, even though there are plenty of scenarios in which it might be improperly construed that way. It still comes back to intent and application.

        As for SOPA, it’s been a while since I read the bill, but I thought the language was pretty clear about where it could not be applied, and that included domestic cases for which we already have remedies for copyright, patent, and trademark. PR isn’t a reliable deterrent, but it goes to the nature of trying to craft a “perfect” un-abusable law, which I doubt is possible.

      • Some of SOPA’s provisions could be applied domestically and some were restricted to foreign sites. Section 103 (the primary focus of my comments above) applied irrespective of geography.

        In brief, one of the NDAA plaintiffs (Christopher Hedges) was a writer (turns out not a filmmaker) who wrote extensively on terrorist networks and mideast issues. He’s not some fringe anti-government nut — he’s a Pulitzer Prize winner published often by NYT, etc. Anyways, some the sources Hedges has interviewed for his articles and books are members either of Al Qaeda or groups that the U.S. government has claimed as associated with Al Qaeda. Some of these people have returned and attended his speaking engagements in Europe and the Middle East, and gaining interviews with some of them has required him to spend nights in their homes, etc. Before filing suit, Hedges’s attorney asked the government whether Hedges could be subject to indefinite detention for continuing to interview and associate with these sources; though they met and conferred extensively with Hedges and his counsel on other topics, the government refused to answer. Though the court doesn’t broach this, it’s not difficult for me to imagine a situation where the government might pressure this journalist for information (say, the identity of a source) and suggest that withholding the information per journalistic ethics would constitute aid to the terrorist group. In that scenario, the NDAA’s detention provision would have a clear chilling effect on activity otherwise protected by the First Amendment.

      • Thanks. Now, I remember the case, and I know who Chris Hedges is. It’s indeed a sticky one, and I generally consider it a violation when a journalist is held in contempt for not revealing sources. In this particular area, I imagine the language is pretty tough to craft, looking at the variety of ways material support can manifest. It’s not difficult to imagine the scenario you describe, although it is difficult to imagine nobody saying, “Hey, where did Chris go?” And then, we’re all marching in the streets, me included.

        I’ll look to see if Christopher Dickey wrote anything about this. His was the inaugural podcast on this blog, and he’s not only a journalist who could be put in the same situation, but is also an expert on counter-terrorism.

      • The language is undeniably difficult to craft. I think the answer is to provide some guarantee of transparency or due process. When we all notice Chris is missing, what’s to prevent the CIA (for example) from covering up his disappearance? That sounds far-fetched, but the CIA has done all sorts of ridiculous-sounding things so it may not be totally inconceivable. (Though concededly, the fact that we have not gone to great lengths to cover up similar abuses of power — e.g. the mistaken kidnapping and torture of a German car salesman — suggests that hopefully there wouldn’t be a massive cover-up here..) Ultimately, amending the NDAA to except U.S. citizens from indefinite detention was an important step from a constitutional perspective. From a human rights perspective the whole thing obviously remains thorny and suspect.

        I don’t think Christopher Dickey wrote anything on the Hedges suit but I could be wrong.

      • But aren’t you running right into my premise that at a certain point it comes down to a measure of faith that we don’t elect tyrants — or at least all tyrants all the time? What guarantee of transparency could we have that doesn’t depend on this faith? After all, we have checks and balances and journalism and the Web; and still, as you show with the CIA, abuses and mistakes occur. This is why I tend to look at the big picture, on intent, on who’s doing the talking, much more than I pay attention to every screaming blog that says I’m days away from stormtroopers in the streets (some of them come close). It’s not that I don’t think laws can’t be abused so much as I doubt there’s any law that can be fully inoculated against abuse. That, and I am concerned that if my slightly foggy friends spend too much time chasing imaginary demons, they’ll miss the real devil when he shows up. In short, I believe in vigilance but not in all the voices, liberal and conservative, that keep saying the US is on the brink of totalitarianism.

      • I have to go but in brief:

        Yes, to some extent it always comes down to your faith in, and the legitimacy of, “the system” and the people who are running it. The reason that transparency, oversight and due process are meaningful is that once such mechanisms are in place, corruption/stupidity/conspiracy must be far more pervasive in order to gain traction and persist unchecked. One reason the CIA gets away with so much is because, compared to other executive agencies, congressional oversight mechanisms for the CIA are weaker, as are obligations to disclose documents and activities to the public under FOIA. Also, I may be biased because I’m a lawyer but I like judicial (as opposed to administrative) oversight because courts are relatively neutral, at least compared to the exec agencies themselves. If private citizens had the ability to sue the CIA for wrongfully kidnapping and torturing us ( unfortunately we do not), perhaps those abuses would be less likely.

        Judicial oversight becomes problematic when, as under many copyright statutes, you foresee a high frequency of “David/Goliath” match-ups between companies that constantly have firms on retainer and individuals who are deterred by the burdens, risks and costs of litigation. To redress this imbalance in other situations, we create private rights of action that allow citizens to sue and recover massive damages awards if they can prove companies were abusing the system. (Examples include rights to sue for sexual harassment, employment discrimination). Now, these rights, too, can be abused. But if we lived in a world where companies were as cautious about snuffing out legitimate free speech as they currently are about sexual harassment, that would be a good thing in my view. Another oversight option would be some sort of small-scale arbitration.

  • Speaking of ‘public funding’…
    the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency [DARPA] ‘created’ the internet. So if you want to quibble tax dollars, M, just so you know… it ends up that i/we ‘own’ just as much of the ‘internet’ as you may.

    Tech-heads seem to equate: Their entire lives are based on staring at a computer screen, thus the internet is “their physical life” we are talking about.
    While most other people see the internet and technology as ‘tools’ we use to enhance/aid our daily life.

    This is a crucial thing to keep in mind during ‘discussions’ with the likes that regularity haunt comment sections.. as their end goal is literally morphing and becoming ‘one’ with the machine [see ‘singularity’]… Cults like this are not kin to rational discussion on the problems of mortal men. They see anything that delays [see copyright..] their ultimate goal of uploading their brain into the machine –an obstacle that needs to be removed with malice. If you’re believing that ones’ consciousnesses can be ‘uploaded’… you’re messing with “_’s” immortality…

    My advice to such would be along the lines of: live your life to the fullest today, tomorrow is not promised… Especially if the power goes out…

    • I consider myself religious – which seems to be rare on a lot of Internet forums – and my beliefs have been mocked enough times by those who are convinced that they will see the singularity that I have to give you mad props.

    • It’s funny, isn’t it? They mock people with religious beliefs while practicing something that, well, can be called a religion–the Gospel of the Singularity, with several disciples preaching about how marvelous it will be.

      Whatever happened to trying to be, well, _human_? Is that so hard to do that some have decided that it’s better to become or merge with a machine?

      • Sigh…I’ve encountered people who warn against discrimination against “post-humans,” claiming that such objections will be from fundamentalist religious types. What is rarely mentioned is that such technological enhancements will first be available to the super rich, who have not been known to share. Forget about the 1% – imagine what would happen if the super rich were also able to extend their lives far beyond the rest of humanity. Jaron Lanier has said that the problem is not whether we believe in God, but whether we believe in people.

      • Because one thing (traditional religion) is based on genocidal bronze age mythology, and the other thing (technological singularity) is based on fairly well argued interpolations from the progression of real observations from science and technology?

        Modem science _could_ looks miraculous, even supernatural to the casual observer (it truly makes the cripple walk again, and the blind man see). But science is not supernatural, by definition it is not. 🙂

  • M wrote:

    Reminds me a lot of SOPA. A huge array computer scientists behind virtually all the advancements in networking/Internet technology agreed that SOPA would be dangerous to the Internet, and argued Congress to vote against it.

    Actually, the claim was that it would “break the internet”. I remember; I believed it at the time. I never realised the internet was so fragile.

    But it got me thinking.

    While Americans might not realise it, the US isn’t the only government in the world. What if another government — say Iran, or North Korea, or Russia, or China, or whoever the current boogyman is — decides to do that? They could easily disrupt the fundamental workings of the internet and bring the whole thing down at minimal cost to themselves.

    Actually, it wouldn’t have to be a big country. Chad could do it. A terrorist group could do it. A lone disgruntled engineer could do it. An angry, technically savvy teenager could do it; certainly be a bigger, louder and less lethal protest than shooting a bunch of their classmates.

    So, what are all these computer scientists doing to deal with this potential threat? I mean we’re talking about breaking the internet here. If someone does it, mass chaos. So much of modern civilisation depends on the computers — just remember all the fears about the Y2K bug and the dire predictions of what would ensue when the calendar flipped over to 2000. And we’ve become even more dependent since then. Someone breaks the internet, it’s a huge disaster.

    Are these scientists developing contingency plans to deal with this threat? Are they helping plan the emergency response, both to the general chaos and the specific threat? Are they mobilising all those people who turned out to oppose SOPA to lobby the government to address this issue before it’s too late?

    You know, like the climate scientists are doing. Or astronomers warning about the dangers of asteroid collisions. Or seismologists and vulcanologists worrying about earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

    Oddly enough, no, they’re not doing any of these things. It seems the dire threat of DNS blocking completely evaporated when SOPA was voted down. The only lobbying tech people are doing these days is to reduce the statutory license fee paid to musicians by streaming services.

    Somehow, ensuring that creative people get paid less — or nothing at all — is the only thing they seem to be consistently concerned about.

    So, they may have said that SOPA would have broken the internet, but their actions, both before and since, tell a very different story.

    • What if another government — say Iran, or North Korea, or Russia, or China, or whoever the current boogyman is — decides to do that?

      China and Iran (and other luminaries like Saudi Arabia) already do it — SOPA would have placed us in their esteemed company. However, these regimes unable to reach hosts and DNS providers outside their jurisdiction. Ironically, U.S. public interest groups and even the U.S. government have spent time and money developing tools specifically to circumvent DNS filtering, in the hope that dissidents in autocratic countries might be able to use them. These tools would have been outlawed under SOPA.

      • All this is very interesting, debating a bill that died over a year ago and at present does not seem primed to resurface.

        I will say one thing: something like SOPA – in the sense of offering government the ability to erect “borders” online – is inevitable. I’ll leave you to figure out why (at least until I find the time to write an appropriate post).

      • IP Lawyer wrote:

        China and Iran (and other luminaries like Saudi Arabia) already do it

        And yet, the internet isn’t broken. It’s working just fine. Here we are, on the internet, communicating without difficulty, and it’s all working just fine. If you didn’t tell us they were doing it, we wouldn’t even have noticed.

        Congratulations, you’ve just demonstrated that all those computer scientists M keeps referring to were lying through their teeth.

        Google also already does it. They have been using DNS blocking to ban all the sites in the .co.cc domain since 2011. So the US is already in the that company. And the internet isn’t broken.

        ISPs throughout Europe (and further afield) have been using DNS blocking to prevent access to the Pirate Bay. And the internet isn’t broken.

        Australian ISPs have voluntarily been using DNS blocking to prevent access to the “worst of the worst” child pornography sites. And the internet isn’t broken.

        As far as I can tell, the whole response to SOPA just demonstrated that the tech industry is made up of the biggest bunch of bullshit artists on the planet, with a message discipline that Stalin and the Third International would have envied.

      • @ Faza –

        It is highly likely that the U.S.. government or a coalition of Western governments will attempt some sort of crackdown at some point, but it’s hard to find an internet expert who thinks it’s likely (let alone “inevitable”) that they will succeed. Unless you’re that expert? I don’t know your background.

        The thing is, ARPANET was originally designed to provide communication capabilities in the event of some catastrophe like a nuclear strike, which may be one reason why the internet is extremely resilient. Anyone can put up a DNS server and anyone can connect to it, so even if every DNS server in the U.S. is under government control you could effortlessly connect to one in the Caymans or Sweden. Then you’ve got darknets, where even the participating computers don’t know who or where the other computers are. Copyright laws vary country to country, but there is certain content that every government in the world and most civilians find detestable, and that content remains easily accessible online.

        Western governments and corporations have strong incentives to lock down infrastructure and payment systems, but they also have a strong interest in maintaining a free and open internet, because a free and open internet is one of the best weapons against the regime of an oppressive rogue state. That’s why the U.S. military publicized and promoted Tor, knowing it would be used primarily for child porn and could also be used for terrorism. Tor was the U.S. government deciding that the strategic benefits of anonymous unregulated internet traffic outweighed the drawbacks. (Tor’s architecture and source code have been thoroughly vetted by non-government people. Compromised exit nodes could allow erratic partial eavesdropping, but there’s no way to dictate whose communications you’ll see or to see all the pieces of a given communication. And the utility of a compromised exit node declines sharply as the number of exit nodes increases. In other words, there’s no government backdoor.)

      • As I recall the ‘experts’ said DNS filtering was a threat to DNSSEC because they could say that DNS filtering was bad as those self same experts had put in place a method to DNS filter spam sites.

        Now we find that the major retailers, banks, et all have no plans to implement DNSSEC.
        http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/02/18/dnssec/

      • @anon:
        If I can claim to be an expert on anything, it is humans and human affairs, which is why I’m fairly confident in my prediction.

        The issue is dead simple: the portion of our affairs that gets conducted online is steadily increasing. This means that the internet as we have now – a combination of military and scientific network specifications – is becoming rapidly unsuitable for the job. The fundamental problem is that any state has a set of laws that govern social conduct in the public sphere (this now includes the internet), but those laws apply only within its borders.

        Thus, a government may prosecute criminal uses of internet technology when these arise under its jurisdiction (and we’ve seen with the Mega case that this requires stretching the law almost to – if not past – the breaking point). A state’s jurisdiction extends as far as its borders – and rightly so – but currently there are no borders on the internet.

        As a result, a state is powerless to intervene against illegal behaviour that occurs within its jurisdiction (that is, concerns its citizens), but whose perpetrators are located outside its jurisdiction. Inter-government agreements can sometimes help, but that’s a big gamble.

        The government’s main duty is to protect its citizens and creating “borders” that must be crossed (with some sort of accountability with regards to identity and purpose) is the least troublesome way to do it. Let’s just say outright at this point that copyright infringement is the least of our worries – consider the simple issue of gun control (the US is an outlier here) in the face of 3d printing specifications already popping up on the net. The first time someone gets shot with one of these, any considerations about “freedom” and “openness” will fly out the window. I’m sorry, but nobody’s going to worry about speech rights of people living under dictatorships (I’ve lived under several in my life, so I know what I’m talking about) when they’re worried about random people going into the street with deadly firepower.

        There are numerous similar scenarios and they are going to multiply. I’ve already written more than I should have, so I’ll end by saying that we simply cannot afford to have a “free” and “open” internet in its current state. Only when freedom goes together with responsibility and accountability can we claim to be living in a civilised society.

        P.S.
        I wouldn’t get too hung up on existing architecture and protocols. If we know anything about these, its that they do change over time.

      • @ Faza

        You’ve described why states will want to create “borders,” but we never disagreed on that point — my point was simply that creating borders may not be perfectly feasible. Obviously the technology at the state’s disposal will evolve, but that’s the same arms race dynamic we’re all familiar with — circumvention and exploitation tech will evolve, too.

        Right now, there are certain types of content that everyone agrees are bad and that powerful governments go to significant lengths to suppress. Examples might include child porn, jihadist training/recruitment materials and forums (American government is very paranoid about these, to a point I think is almost ridiculous). So this type of content could be a rough test case for what might happen when government and consumers decide they don’t care about freedom anymore, right? (Sorry, but I’m not going to put freedom in scarequotes). Government and consumers already agree that nobody should have child porn. Yet child porn (including hardcore stuff) is so easy to find that it’s quite possible to stumble upon it without seeking it (though you do need to be prowling a sketchy corner of the internet). We have a global consensus now on erecting borders against child porn, but those borders have proved porous and ineffectual. The architecture underlying the internet was designed for doomsday military preparedness, and so designed to rapidly accomodate and refresh new links and nodes even as existing links/nodes are being aggressively taken down. To your point, architecture and protocols have changed immensely over time, but this basic principle remains the same, possibly because it’s helped make the internet fairly stable and convenient and a driver of economic growth. I’m not saying internet censorship on a meaningful scale will be literally, indefinitely impossible, but it would be a harder nut to crack than (say) censorship of newspapers. It will also be more difficult than controlling the flow of illegal drugs, which are at least a tangible chemically detectable product — and yet despite billions (trillions?) of dollars, police and paramilitary action and a “war” waged over several decades, the government has come up short on that front. Also, as an American, I had to laugh at this:

        The first time someone gets shot with one of these, any considerations about “freedom” and “openness” will fly out the window.

        It’s good that you acknowledge the U.S. (which is by far the most influential country in terms of internet regulation, though that may change) is a major, major outlier here. Anyways, I’m pretty familiar with 3D printers and am curious to see what all the ripple effects of this technology will be. I cannot say I’m scared, possibly because I already live in a country where anyone who wants an assault rifle can (more or less) get one. Incidentally, it’s also a country where we worry about random people walking into the street with deadly firepower (because this happens at a high-profile level at least a few times a year), yet we still manage to clamor for freedom and openness and more bandwidth and fewer laws (even gun laws).

        Far moreso than 3d printers, I think cyberterrorism/warfare will seismically disrupt peoples’ attitudes about the internet.

        Separately — and this isn’t a purely rhetorical question, because I’ve never considered it before and don’t know the answer — can you think of a time in history when a new technology that gave people unprecedented freedom and convenience and generated wealth for powerful interests was successfully “put back in the bottle”? Because DNS and TCP-IP are inherently sort of insecure, anarchic and exploitable, there’s been some speculation that one day we’ll have “two internets,” with a new, secure internet constructed for activities like mainstream banking. But people are still going to be attached to (and making money from) the old internet. If a coalition of governments got together and decided they wanted to abolish the old internet because it undermined authority and social norms, would there be any precedent in history for an effort like this succeeding? To be clear, I’m not talking about some regime banning books for a few years — this would be more analogous to: is it conceivable we’d ever live in a world where books, as a whole, were banned? And lest you think books are too benign an analogy, you can substitute porn or drugs- the historical trend seems to be that despite efforts to clamp down on them, these things get more accessible and pervasive. Not less.

      • “The architecture underlying the internet was designed for doomsday military preparedness, and so designed to rapidly accomodate and refresh new links and nodes even as existing links/nodes are being aggressively taken down”

        Not quite. If a data center goes down chaos follows. Google mail has an outage and shit happens. Miltary traffic carriage may be robust enough and have enough redundancy, your everyday business to business or ISP to ISP stuff has no such resistance to outage.

      • @ John Warr —

        Just because the network is designed to be redundant and resilient doesn’t mean nobody ever experiences an outage. (Although I’ve used gmail and gchat since approx. 2005, used google voice since it came out — yes, google owns me — and I’ve worked for several years at a firm with a global complicated IT infrastructure, and probably with the exception of work blackberries through RIM I can count very few outages…especially if I try to limit my count to nontrivial outages that really interfered with my use.)

        Now, obviously if a coalition of Western governments were trying to shut down Google or my blackberry (I fucking wish) and were raiding and bombing datacenters things might be different. I’m just saying that these resiliency/reduncancy features aren’t built into most other media, and they could make the internet comparatively difficult to censor.

        I guess if governments were trying to shut down my office Exchange server or whatever, it might become about as outage-prone as The Hidden Wiki or Wikileaks or one of those sites. Which is to say, noticeably more outage-prone than gmail but not outage-prone to the point where the content is inaccessible.

  • China and Iran do it . . . And yet, the internet isn’t broken. It’s working just fine. Not in China or Iran, it isn’t. all those computer scientists M keeps referring to were lying through their teeth. “Pointing out technical problems that Zoran is ill-equipped to understand” != “lying through their teeth.” I think the fundamental misunderstanding here is that you think this massive collective of computer scientists conspired to mislead us that if any DNS provider anywhere blocked any domain, the entire internet would crumble. Nobody ever claimed as much. The primary objection from computer experts related to DNSSEC, a security protocol that has been under development for over a decade and is currently being rolled out. You are correct that Australia filters child porn — and in fact, the U.S. government orders DNS filtering of certain sites, too (a small number of sites seized by U.S. Customs in criminal investigations). But neither current U.S. law nor Australian law contains the broad “anti-circumvention” provision found in SOPA, which would have prohibited a browser from discarding false redirects and repeatedly resolving a domain name until it found a DNS server providing an untampered result (i.e., the exact mechanism required for DNSSEC), DNSSEC protocols could have been re-worked to accommodate SOPA, but this would have delayed the DNSSEC rollout both domestically and overseas. And as a more practical matter, the number of sites seized by Customs (in the U.S.) or hosting child porn (Australia), and the number of users attempting to access those sites, would be dwarfed in comparison to the number of users and sites affected by SOPA. The more DNS filtering you do, the more pervasive the complications become and security risks become. If you would like to read a fairly unbiased technical assessment of SOPA by the U.S. Department of Energy (which for some reason employs cybersecurity researchers), click here. My one criticism is that this assessment doesn’t address privacy concerns relating to deep-packet inspection. (And before you respond, well, there aren’t internet privacy issues in China or Iran so that obviously isn’t a big deal, please emerge from whatever cave you’ve been living in and think about what you’re saying.

    • And yet none of the top 100 eCommerce sites has any plans to use DNSSEC. It is a technology no one wants.
      http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/02/18/dnssec/

      In any case whether DNS filtering is 100% possible or not wasn’t the issue. Those that want to get to pirate and counterfeit sites will always find ways to do so. The proposals were designed to make it more difficult for Joe Shmo to do so, and that if he did get there tthat he’d have to be prepared to hand his bank details over to some backstreet outfit in Ulan Bator instead of Mastercard.

      • @ John Warr —

        I don’t know much about the DNSSEC rollout, but just because large enterprises are avoiding it or lagging behind doesn’t mean they don’t want it. By pretty much universal consensus, Windows 7 was superior to Windows XP, yet there are large enterprises that are still switching users over the Windows 7 because of the logistics involved. Given networking and routing issues, DNSSEC could be even more complicated. My guess is that private sector firms are avoiding it because the rollout at this stage will be expensive; quite possibly, once others have tested the waters and kinks have been ironed out or the budget has been allotted, they’ll go for it. I say budget and profits may be compelling factor because per your article, federal agencies are adopting it post haste.

      • Profits were certainly the consideration wrt SOPA. The profits of mega tech companies that have a financial interest in piracy due to their adnetworks. Companies that we know are not only scofflaws when it comes to other people’s property rights but that are also criminal to boot.
        http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2011/05/google-to-pay-500-million-fine-for-rogue-pharma-ads/

    • anon wrote:

      I think the fundamental misunderstanding here is that you think this massive collective of computer scientists conspired to mislead us that if any DNS provider anywhere blocked any domain, the entire internet would crumble.

      Oh, give it up. You’re like one of those die-hards — or should that be “dead-enders”? — that still claim Iraq did so too have weapons of mass destruction, when it’s obvious they didn’t and the intelligence available at the time clearly indicated they didn’t.

      The oft-repeated claim was that DNS blocking would break the internet. “Break” as in “render inoperable”; not slow down, not inconvenience, not interfere with some new protocol that’s going to force everyone to buy new equipment so the tech industry can make more money, not anything like that, but “break”. Plain simple English word.

      And “the internet” with no qualifiers, meaning the whole thing. “The” internet, not “a” internet, not “part of the” internet, just “the internet”.

      So, “break the internet”. Simple, clear, straightforward claim.

      As I said, I was gullible enough to believe it at the time, because, I thought, why would these guys lie? Why would they make up something like that?

      And then I discovered that DNS was already occurring and could not help but notice that the internet was not broken. That DNS blocking had been going on well before the argument about SOPA, so all those computer scientists had to know about it. So when they said DNS blocking would break the internet they were saying something they had to have known was not the case. That is what’s called “lying”.

      Why were they lying? I don’t know. I can speculate, but that’s all it would be: speculation. What I do know and can demonstrate with direct empirical evidence is that they were lying. And that’s sufficient.

      It’s just like the US claims about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Pure bullshit advanced to serve some other agenda.

      So, if I seem a tad angry about it, it’s because I really don’t like being lied to. I really don’t like subsequently having my nose rubbed in reality and discovering just how gullible and stupid I had been. However, one of the advantages of discovering something like that is that you learn from it; and what I learnt is that these guys are not to be trusted or believed.

      So, you can either acknowledge that they lied, or you can continue to live in your little world of delusion in which they didn’t really say what they said and “break the internet” was just some arcane term of art meaning something completely different. After all, if you redefine “torture” as “enhanced interrogation”, it’s not torture any more, is it? And if you redefine “break the internet” to mean something completely different, then what they said was true in a sense, since it didn’t actually mean “break the internet”.

    • @ Zoran –

      Can you at least start making sense? You mention Iraq/WMD, so I assume you’re saying that I’m defending some lie and refusing to acknowldge it was a lie. What lie am I defending? Do you have evidence that any claims I’ve made in my post are untrue? Can you rebut those claims with similarly detailed explanations rather than lazy insults and hyperbole?

      Your pedantry about the word “break” is frankly bizarre (and also contradicted by any dictionary). Also, “break the internet” wasn’t primarily (or initially) about DNSSEC — there were other (valid!) concerns that certain provisions of SOPA would fundamentally change the internet and destroy (or, at minimum jeaporadize) key drivers of innovation and economic growth, sabotaging the main things that millions of people enjoy about the internet. Given that you’ve apparently confined your reading on this issue to the most banal of media talking points, I’m sure that what I just said (about economic growth and innovation) sounds like propaganda or drivel to you, but it isn’t. Read IP Lawyer’s comments on Section 103 of SOPA, and try to conceive of a now-successful internet company (Facebook, Amazon, WordPress…) whose early existence wouldn’t have been threatened by a law like that.

      I’m not going to respond to the rest of what you’ve written, because it rehashes points that would have been cleared up if you’d read my post before responding. (Such as: “Iran is doing DNS blocking, so why am I still able to access Youtube from America??!! GOOGLE LIED TO ME.”)

      What I find ironic is that I’ve seen lots of criticism, here, of the tech industry for whipping people into a froth with superficial, misleading messages and failing to tell the truth about SOPA. Yet you’d need to be willfully stupid to be “misled” in the manner you claim. The stuff I’m telling you now is not revisionist history: the article I linked to about the problems with DNSSEC and SOPA, for example, was written during the SOPA hearings and posted on the internet by Zoe Lofgren, one of SOPA’s most dogged opponents. That article represents what “those people” were saying about SOPA circa SOPA. You want something even less intellectual? You can google “break the internet,” restrict your results to December-January 2012, and see exactly what those charlatans were peddling re: SOPA. Or if you want, you can find even older articles from 2011, when SOPA was first introduced but long before it appeared on the public’s radar. This would be useful if you want to pinpoint when copyright opponents started trying to rouse public sentiment — nothing you’ll see at this stage is genuine grassroots.

      So here’s an exemplary article, probably one of the first and most manipulative uses of “break the internet.”

      The article says:

      * The bill is broadly drafted with potential for abuse. (True).

      * Any website including Twitter, Facebook and blogs could be subject to liability. (Companies this large and savvy would probably manage their risk — maybe to the benefit of users, and maybe not — but technically this statement is true).

      * SOPA will hurt American innovation by chilling web 2.0, etc. (Reasonably defensible — by no means a guarantee, but not a frivolous argument).

      * Quote from Ron Wyden: “This is a question of whether the content sector can use the government as a club to go after the innovation sector and everything it represents.” That is overblown pandering politicianspeak, but I don’t see Wyden trying to persuade you that if a site is taken down in Beijing your iphone will stop working.

      * The final sentence of the article concludes that if we don’t stop SOPA the internet might be “inhibted by new and dangerous weapons given to entrenched old industries.”

      Now, this article was posted by the CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association. He is biased in the extreme. He wants to manipulate you and he helped publicize “break the internet.”

      But show me where he lied or where he remotely insinuated that if SOPA passed, the entire internet would literally cease to exist.

      Answer: He didn’t. He probably assumed his audience was smarter than that.

      • I’m very busy today but chiming in to say that Gary Shapiro is indeed biased, and because the article appears in Forbes, it needs to sound reasoned and thoughtful. In Zoran’s defense, however, many a click was generated with incendiary headlines like “Don’t let them break the Internet!!!!” And I know that many of my own friends shared these memes across Facebook without the slightest idea of what they were sharing. So, Shapiro is, in several instances in this article, providing the well-dressed version of some of the same hysteria — the last sentence you cite being among the more ridiculous.

      • because the article appears in Forbes, it needs to sound reasoned and thoughtful.

        That’s fair — honestly, I’d hoped to find something more hysterical, because my hunch was that even the hysterical redditors weren’t really insinuating that one drop of DNS blocking somewhere on the web would decimate the entire web for everyone. However, most of what I’m finding (googling “sopa break internet” without quotes) are articles either of the forbes, guardian.uk or boingboing variety that pretty factual. This makes sense to an extent because they have bylines associated with them. Obviously I can’t search the Facebook conversations and similar interactions you reference. My view, though, would be that if someone is so uninformed about an issue that his entire understanding stems from a split-second Rorschach-style response to an incendiary headline he clicked, he is not in a position to be calling others liars or sheep or, when experts on the topic continually tell him things he doesn’t want to hear, dismissing their input as the product of a massive conspiracy.

      • I don’t think it’s unfair to characterize a large percentage of the reaction against SOPA as Pavlovian, especially in light of the fact that a click can come from anyone, anywhere, and at any age. If you’re referring to Zoran, I think he’s exemplary of many well-educated colleagues of mine who did the very same thing. It’s possible you underestimate how unprecedented the SOPA protest was and how new social media really is for my generation (GenX). If you’re my age, there’s a good chance you haven’t fully thought through this new way of acquiring and sharing news and OpEds even if you use it every day. If you’re in the next generation, social media is of course second nature, but you’re likely less skeptical of a hyperbolic headline threatening extinction of the Web and so on. (Of course, if you’re my parents’ generation, you still have an AOL account and probably have no idea what we’re talking about.)

        Also, the disinformation campaign itself was substantial and well-funded. You can say it’s not a conspiracy, which may be too strong a word; but when organizations financially supported by the Web and electronics industries are the ones producing most of the bumper stickers that reached even casual users, you have to figure those organizations are at least on the phone with one another. Why wouldn’t they be when they have a shared agenda? In particular, the general notion that the protest was purely grassroots in contrast to the portrayal of Big Media as a lobbying juggernaut was way out of proportion with reality. On money and resources, Big Media can’t even compete with Google, let alone the rest of the Industry.

      • anon write:

        You mention Iraq/WMD, so I assume you’re saying that I’m defending some lie and refusing to acknowldge it was a lie. What lie am I defending?

        The lie was that DNS blocking would break the internet. And what was meant by “break the internet” was demonstrated by various sites on the SOPA blackout day — when people tried to access those sites they encountered a blank screen with a notice saying “This is what would happen to the internet if SOPA passes”.

        So, “break the internet” meant that when you tried to use the internet all you would encounter would be blank screens where all the sites you normally visit used to be. Like what you get when Anonymous stages one of it’s protests in favour of free speech (by shutting down someone else’s speech, so you’ll excuse me if I find all the concern about free speech a tad disingenuous, given the cavalier attitude to any speech the tech community disapproves of).

        That’s quite obviously what was meant by “break the internet” and it wasn’t defined by reference to a dictionary, it was defined by a demonstration.

        If DNS blocking was implemented it would break the internet and all anyone would get when they tried to use it would be blank screens. That was the claim.

        The problem is that DNS blocking has been implemented — and not only in Iran and China, but also in North America, Europe and Australia — and people in those places are not encountering a series of blank screens. Ergo, the claim was wrong.

        DNS blocking had been implemented for some time prior to the SOPA debate; content creators didn’t come up with DNS blocking — as you and M like to keep pointing out, we’re all too stupid to understand how this stuff works — they got it from the tech industry and computer scientists. So, those in the tech industry had to know that DNS blocking would not break the internet. Thus, the claim was not only wrong, it was a deliberate lie.

        That would be the lie you are defending.

        Do you have evidence that any claims I’ve made in my post are untrue?

        The claims you made in your initial post (and this one) are just attempts to muddy the waters. You’re saying that there were all these other concerns as well, and you’re right, there were. But that doesn’t mean that the big, central claim wasn’t that DNS blocking would break the internet.

        Yet you’d need to be willfully stupid to be “misled” in the manner you claim.

        Fine, I was “wilfully stupid”. The difference is that I’m willing to admit it and try to stop being stupid. You’re still in denial.

        He probably assumed his audience was smarter than that.

        Your entire rhetorical strategy is built on the Emperor’s New Clothes, in which you try to use an implied form of peer pressure to appeal to someone’s pride/vanity/ego/self image and their fear of appearing foolish. The goal is to get them to say something like “Oh, no, I’m not that wilfully stupid. I am smarter than that. I never believed what they said; I’m one of the clever people like you and always understood that they meant something completely different.”

        The problem with that strategy is that I don’t mind looking foolish and admitting I was wrong because, having left adolescence behind some time ago, I’ve learnt that the only way to stop being a fool is to admit it and change.

        “Break the internet” is just like Iraq’s WMDs: a big lie used to sell a destructive policy that inflicts harm on many for the benefit of a few.

      • @ Zoran —

        So, “break the internet” meant that when you tried to use the internet all you would encounter would be blank screens where all the sites you normally visit used to be.

        Lol, no. As I explained above (literally quoting and linking one of the first and worst offenders among the “break the internet” crowd), the specter of blanked sites had less to do with DNS blocking or with some absurd destruction of the entire internet than with potential abuse of takedown mechanisms, which could disproportionately affect user-generated content sites like the ones that blacked themselves out. In other words, the point of the blackouts was not: “under SOPA, an EMP will go off and none of your computers will be able to turn on or use TCP-IP anymore.” The point was: “under SOPA, this site and sites like it might not exist.” The message behind the blackout wasn’t ambiguous; it was spelled out in big, bold letters on every blacked out site. Reddit, for example — one of the major hotbeds of anti-SOPA sentiment — was pretty straightforward about it:

        Today, for 12 hours, reddit goes dark to raise awareness of two bills in Congress, [SOPA and PROTECT IP], which could radically change the landscape of the Internet. Those bills provide overly broad mechanisms for enforcement of copyright which would restrict innovation and threaten the existence of websites with user-generated content, such as reddit.

        So we really don’t need to debate what the “blank screens” signified, because the screens weren’t actually blank and they conveyed their message loud and clear.

        Another problem with your position is that in order for this Big Lie (“any single instance of internet censorship any country will destroy the entire internet”) to work, your audience of wannabe technolibertarian activists would need to be totally ignorant of the fact that oppressive regimes have censored the internet for years. And if you did manage to remain ignorant of this fact until recently, it wasn’t because anti-SOPA activists were keeping you in the dark: one of their consistent talking points was that DNS filtering would place us in the company of countries like China and Iran.

        . The goal is to get them to say something like “Oh, no, I’m not that wilfully stupid. I am smarter than that. I never believed what they said

        No, my strategy has been to patiently try to demonstrate, by sharing my own recollections + links + logic, that “they” probably weren’t saying things you’re attributing to them. If I linked you a press release from the White House circa 2001 that said “FYI everyone, the reason we want to invade Iraq is to try to gain strategic leverage in the middle east so even though they don’t have WMDs, we think it’s a good idea” — and if you couldn’t find a single source from that time actually claiming that Iraq had WMDs — then, and only then, would our current conversation be analogous to a conversation about Iraq/WMD. If the best you could do was speculate that some nutball posted on his Facebook wall “omg Iraq has WMDs,” you can blame the nutball and the people who take him seriously without investigating further but it’s unrealistic to blame the White House.

        Anyways, let me ask you something: if the Pirate Party won seats in Congress and proposed legislation that would weaken IP and have especially unpredictable, potentially far-reaching effects on a particular genre or type of IP (maybe eliminate any potential whatsoever to profit from that work), and if this was a remote risk but a risk that legal experts unanimously agreed came within the ambit of the statutory text, how would you feel if companies producing work in the affected genre staged a similar blackout to raise awareness? Would they be slimy liars for publishing catchy headlines like: “PIRATE Legislation Could Kill the Entertainment Industry,” with text explaining how the legislation could hurt their studios specifically? Or are they justified in trying to harness the goodwill of their massive loyal customer base in order to protect themselves from hostile legislation, just like every trade, industry or lobbying group in America does everyday?

      • David,

        I’m sure that just like any popular movement touching on hot-button concepts, the SOPA response had Pavlovian components. But in my short time reading and commenting here (which I’ve enjoyed since I find the prevailing perspectives novel and, usually, well-articulated), I’ve seen SOPA critics pretty much universally caricatured as uninformed idiot zombies or hapless victims of deceit. Not so. The irony becomes more excruciating when someone in the pro-SOPA corner displays very obvious ignorance. But I won’t deny that there are probably plenty of sites where the opposite bias reigns.

        I am (genuinely) curious about the SOPA misinformation campaign, though. While it was always clear to me that SOPA opponents were doing their best to “sell” the message and some concerns were surely overblown, I can’t remember seeing anything at the time that I regarded as misinformation. There were plenty of infographics and essays outlining, and focusing on, the “worst case scenarios” under SOPA, but given that these were obvious advocacy pieces I don’t think I’d consider them misleading unless they clearly presented the worst-case scenarios as probable rather than merely possible. But while I considered myself to be fairly informed about the SOPA debate, I definitely wasn’t scouring everything and if somebody was putting meaningful misinfo out there I probably just missed it.

        Google et al were able to influence public sentiment disproportionately on SOPA because, for the most part, consumers’ interests were aligned with google’s — that wasn’t an illusion born out of misinformation. If a bill were up for debate that significantly loosened privacy restrictions for advertising and datamining companies, then even if Google supported it through lobbying you can bet they would not have tried a similar campaign. (Which you’d think they WOULD do, if all the SOPA protesters were mindless techno-utopian fantasists who danced whenever Google pulled their strings, no?) Meanwhile, ISPs and content providers (who apparently outspent the tech sector 5-to-1 on SOPA lobbying) have plenty of access to consumers’ eyeballs, and if Congress were debating a measure to ban sexy or violent movies then I’m sure they’d stir plenty of public support. The core truth here is that tech had the power in this situation because in this situation, tech was giving the public what it wanted.

      • I’m glad that you’re genuinely interested in examining that protest and that you’ve chosen to join the discussion here. I’ve written a fair bit about SOPA, have some insight into the process in DC, and the rest is relatively disinterested analysis. It’s all a bit too much to summarize here when I’m supposed to be working on a project right now, but you’re right I think to see that there are many components and motivations at work. There are sites like TechDirt, whose bread-and-butter includes hammering away at copyright; there’s the EFF and Fight for the Future, whose roles are to assert that Silicon Valley’s agenda is a populist agenda; and then there’s a mixed bag of users who protested based on research ranging between a lot and none at all. I say Pavlovian because I think generating a click with a headline or a photo is about as easy as it gets, and the fact that this somewhat mindless mechanical response can literally move the legislative agenda spooks me just a little — no matter what the issue is.

        I think the Web industry was successful because they are the masters of these tools, and it’s my bet that many of them even surprised themselves. I think it goes beyond giving people what they want and wanders all the way into narcissism in that many people view the Web as an extension of themselves and, therefore, any perceived threat to the technology is taken very personally. Then, of course, there’s just the youth factor and how easy it is to vilify big conglomerates and congressmen. Believe me, I wasn’t entirely comfortable being aligned with a Texas republican, but good governance demands that we compartmentalize a little more than most people normally do.

        Anyway, if you’re searching, Chris Ruen’s book has some good nuts and bolts on the birth of the protest. I’d also look at Copyhype and Copyright and Technology, both of which are on my blogroll. There’s also an article Jaron Lanier wrote the day of or day before the blackout protest that appeared in the NY Times.

      • Okay, let’s try your version. What did “break the internet” mean?

        Enforcing copyright wouldn’t break the internet, it would just mean people would have to pay for what they use.

        As far as I can tell, the only innovation that would be restricted would be piracy.

        And user-generated websites could still exist, they would just have to feature content actually generated by the users, not content taken by them from elsewhere and presented as their own — a practice generally known as plagiarism.

        None of these things would break the internet; at most, they might change the way parts of it work. Suggesting that any of those is what was meant by the phrase is absurd; something that doesn’t stand up to even the lightest scrutiny or a moment’s thought.

        A broken internet is one that doesn’t work; an internet that works differently or in which some companies are more successful and others less isn’t broken, it’s just different.

        So what did it mean? And why would DNS blocking suddenly break the internet when it hasn’t broken it at any other time it has been used?

        Seriously, Occum’s razor suggests that the claim “DNS blocking will break the internet” means what it says. And, since the claim is false and those making it had to know it was false, the simplest explanation is that they were lying.

        No, my strategy has been to patiently try to demonstrate, by sharing my own recollections + links + logic, that “they” probably weren’t saying things you’re attributing to them.

        So, now you’re saying that no-one actually used the phrase “break the internet”? That I just made it up? That if you Google the phrase, all that would come up is this thread, since the entire thing is just a figment of my imagination?

        Seriously, you’re claiming people weren’t saying DNS blocking would break the internet?

        Anyways, let me ask you something:

        For your analogy to be valid, the Pirate Party’s legislation would have to require all work to be anonymous, since any form of attribution might imply some form of ownership, however informal. If the companies protesting this legislation were to then claim that this would require all utterances to be randomised so no-one could tell who said any particular thing, leading to headlines like “Anonymity Would Destroy Human Communication”.

        Please note; “would”, not “could”; and “human communication”, not just “the entertainment industry”. Otherwise the parallel to “break the internet” simply isn’t there.

        And, yes, if all the proposed legislation did was to render certain genres unprofitable, I would call the people making the claim in the hypothetical headline liars, since they would be, you know, lying. What would you call them?

      • “I’ve seen SOPA critics pretty much universally caricatured as uninformed idiot zombies or hapless victims of deceit.”

        We are all blind-sided by our prejudices, and we can all have our prejudices played on. If one were to mount a petition to oppose RIAA executives from going out on a corporate excursion to club seal pups, you’d have 100,000 signatures in double quick time, regardless as to the truth in the statement. Substitute Microsoft executives, or Apple executives and the result won’t change.

        Participants on tech forums think they are smart and knowledgeable they are no more so than anyone else and all can be manipulated. Here is a parody:

        http://www.adequacy.org/public/stories/2001.12.2.42056.2147.html

        yet 1000s of the tech savvy failed to see it as such. Why? Because it meshed with their prejudices wrt to those that they assumed “weren’t as tech savvy, internet aware, or as smart as themselves.”

      • @Zoran

        Okay, let’s try your version. What did “break the internet” mean?

        I’ve seriously answered this multiple times by now.

        Ditto the innovation point. I can’t tell if you’re being disingenuous — I had honestly begun to suspect you were trolling me and could not possibly be so obtuse, but M’s link left me with doubts. But on the other hand, there is no explanation besides disingenuity/trolling for this:

        So, now you’re saying that no-one actually used the phrase “break the internet”?

        Now I think I know what’s going on — you’re not reading anything I’ve posted. Fair enough. I’m not asking that you read me. But try reading about current events once in awhile and you’ll be shocked at the horizons that open up. If you really did not know about Chinese internet censorship until this year you need to become a bit more aware of the world.

        Finally, I don’t want to be insensitive, so if you have some learning disability that interferes with reading then please disregard this post.

      • Jumping in quickly to say that I’ve only been able to follow this exchange in brief glimpses, and I admit that some of the ad hominem tit for tat has made me wonder about my role as moderator. In general, most exchanges on this site are pretty substantive, and I certainly don’t want to take on the paternal role of telling everyone how to engage with one another. That said, among the things of which I am most critical about Web 2.0 is the notion that all this expression and exchange is necessarily for the best. After a few years of engagement and observation, it seems comment threads are pathways to everyone’s inner troll, myself included. As a result, so many exchanges on contentious issues wind up going nowhere and only serve to more deeply entrench everyone in the same biases they had when the exchange began.

        Apropos of today’s new post, I find it fascinating how often even exchanges I see on Facebook every day are quarrels over the facts of a given issue (e.g. Did the Web industry employ fear-mongering to fight SOPA?) Logically, if the digital age is truly living up to its promise, we ought to have more consensus on the facts and then debate the merits of a given policy, etc. (e.g Maybe SOPA wasn’t that scary, and shall we now address mass piracy?) But it’s interesting that with all the “information” at our fingertips, so many arguments come back to conflicting data, which inevitably dissolves into trading insults. Not just on this subject, but on everything. Sadly, I think what the Web does best is provide the facts we want to hear and then allows us through anonymity to behave as we would not were we speaking face to face.

      • I suspect the remark about ad hominem tit-for-tat is directed at me, but I’ve had a decent number of exchanges on here by now and I hope I’ve been able to come off as a generally polite person. It’s just frustrating to have someone open a discussion by calling you a gullible liar (initial post re Iraq/WMD), then, in response to good faith attempts to provide information, continue to post responses that call you a gullible liar while ignoring everything you took the time to say. Ultimately this is why, in my last post, I chose to disengage.

        Anyways, you raise some more interesting points here that are pretty refreshing and that I’m happy to discuss.

        Logically, if the digital age is truly living up to its promise, we ought to have more consensus on the facts and then debate the merits of a given policy . . . But it’s interesting that with all the “information” at our fingertips, so many arguments come back to conflicting data, which inevitably dissolves into trading insults.

        I mean, I know you’re not confining your remarks to this exchange, but this wasn’t a case of conflicting data so much as one side providing data and the other side ignoring it. But leaving that behind, I think many of these “conflicting data” skirmishes are somewhat productive, because even if both sides are purely arguing for sport and construing strategically selected data to fit their agendas, waging this battle forces both people to think carefully about the universe of data that’s out there, how data can be used and what it really says. If we all had a single almanac of factual premises from which to operate and could never argue the data, the discussions would probably be more fun to read and would probably delve more deeply into policy merits. But sadly, the policy positions at which we’d arrive could quite likely be dangerous, useless or misguided if they weren’t based on accurate empiricals. I was born in the early 80s and grew up as the internet was starting to take off, but through elementary and middle school most of us had yet to become total digital natives. I remember writing papers and giving presentations for school — and reading advocacy pieces in newspapers — my recollection (admittedly from childhood/adolescence) is that there was much less critical thought about the minutia of data, perhaps because there was much less of it at our fingertips, and people would just grab a statistic from somewhere and take it at face value and not think at all about how the data sausage had been made. And then I studied econometrics in college and thought a lot about how data gets made, and how dropping or adding an independent variable or using a level vs. logarithmic variable can make all the difference. To a certain point, I think it would be helpful and constructive if more people thought about these things. It would certainly lead to less gullibility and deeper analysis of “facts” with which we’re presented, which would hopefully improve the functioning of our democracy.

        That said, at a certain point some of these debates (especially internet debates) can spiral into something tiresome and unproductive. When someone has a deeply entrenched ideology, manipulates any/all data to accommodate that ideology and simply discards or ignores data that conflicts, no econometrician in the world will be able to change his mind. And that’s what many of these internet debates are — ideologues shouting at one another. To a certain extent, the internet exacerbates this because it lets these ideologues find one another more easily and lets them insulate themselves from opposing camps — filter bubbles, echo chambers, etc. But if you’re willing to open your mind and be receptive to data that conflicts with your view — or if you want to interact with people who have other perspectives — the internet is also a wonderful and unmatched tool. And people do use it that way — I know I try to — even if this use is less voluminous or frequent than the circlejerking. Honestly, one reason I like the internet is because people in my real life social and professional circles tend to have homogenous opinions, and echo chambers bore me.

      • Not directed at you alone at all. You and Zoran both exchanged a few barbs, and it’s pure coincidence that I chimed in after your comment. Again, more an observation about the nature of exchange on the web than a criticism of anyone here. As for the rest, thanks, and I’ll respond ASAP.

      • David, thanks for the book/article recommendations — I’ll check them out.

      • anon wrote:

        I’ve seriously answered this multiple times by now.

        No, you haven’t. You’ve called me names and pointed to all sorts of other objections to SOPA, but you’ve never gotten around to how to describing how the current internet is broken — which it must be, since DNS blocking exists.

        Ditto the innovation point.

        I’m sorry, but I really don’t see how building a better mouse trap, finding a cure for cancer, developing new forms of business organisation, creating new technology for a mission to mars, or any one of a thousand other things would be affected by not having access to pirated content.

        The only forms of innovation I can see affected are those that depend on using works created by other people without paying them, which is to say: piracy.

        Now I think I know what’s going on — you’re not reading anything I’ve posted.

        You wrote: ““they” probably weren’t saying things you’re attributing to them.” The thing I’m attributing to them is the claim that DNS blocking would break the internet.

        I really don’t know of any other way of reading that phrase except as you saying people didn’t claim that DNS blocking would break the internet.

        If you really did not know about Chinese internet censorship until this year you need to become a bit more aware of the world.

        You keep ignoring the fact that DNS blocking also occurs in North America, Europe and Australia. So the revelation wasn’t that the Chinese practice censorship — as does every government in the world — but the fact that a specific technology which it was claimed would break the internet was already being used in places like North America, Europe and Australia apparently without harming the internet.

        Look, it’s not that complicated: if DNS blocking is happening without breaking the internet, then the claim that DNS blocking will break the internet is false. If those making the claim knew that DNS blocking was already taking place, then making the claim is lying.

        Even if we allow for your insistence on geographical and political boundaries (the original claim had no such qualifiers), the fact that DNS blocking occurs in North America — as I noted, Google already uses it — means that DNS blocking was happening in the country in which SOPA was being being proposed and debated.

      • Ok, here are some things I previously posted, re-posted for ease of reference:

        * “break the internet” wasn’t primarily (or initially) about DNSSEC — there were other (valid!) concerns that certain provisions of SOPA would fundamentally change the internet and destroy (or, at minimum jeaporadize) key drivers of innovation and economic growth, sabotaging the main things that millions of people enjoy about the internet. . . . Read IP Lawyer’s comments on Section 103 of SOPA, and try to conceive of a now-successful internet company (Facebook, Amazon, WordPress…) whose early existence wouldn’t have been threatened by a law like that.

        * So here’s an exemplary article, probably one of the first and most manipulative uses of “break the internet.” http://www.forbes.com/sites/garyshapiro/2011/10/26/dont-let-hollywood-break-the-internet-with-the-protect-ip-act/ I then proceeded to condense that article into bullet-points, none of which mentioned DNS. Nor does the source article mention DNS.

        * As I explained above (literally quoting and linking one of the first and worst offenders among the “break the internet” crowd), the specter of blanked sites had less to do with DNS blocking or with some absurd destruction of the entire internet than with potential abuse of takedown mechanisms

        * Then, since you claimed that the only conceivable interpretation of the “blackouts” was that DNS blocking would prevent any/all websites from existing, I linked you a sample blackout message that said no such thing. Instead, it said what I’d been telling you was the core message of “break the internet” all along: people were afraid that abuse of overbroad takedown mechanisms, largely Section 103, would threaten “websites with user-generated content, such as reddit,” and would threaten startups generally.

        * it wasn’t because anti-SOPA activists were keeping you in the dark: one of their consistent talking points was that DNS filtering would place us in the company of countries like China and Iran. In other words: these people who were supposedly “lying” to you about the fact that DNS blocking was already occurring? They were shouting at the top of their lungs that DNS blocking already occurring.

      • @ John Warr —

        Congrats for posting one of my favorite internet artifacts, ever.

        I don’t mean to suggest that “tech-savvy” people are impervious to deceit. (Though they are certainly not the only community to circlejerk about how they’re smarter than laypeople). As David says, there’s a mixed bag of users who protested based on research ranging between a lot and none at all. You’re right that we all have our biases and blindspots, and if you really think there were no legitimate issues with SOPA worth contesting, you should examine your own. And I don’t mean to strawman you if that’s not, in fact, the position you’re taking. But I feel like it’s a position I’ve seen people take in these comments and it’s pretty provincial. (Though as I caveated when I first made that observation, I don’t deny there are probably plenty of sites where the opposite bias pervades).

      • David Newhoff

        Anon brought up pharmaceutical companies in another context, but it reminds me somewhat of how I view the question of deceit coming from Silicon Valley on issues like SOPA, etc. I’ve worked as a freelancer for several major pharmas, and they all internally evangelize to their legions of marketers one variation or another on the theme “puting patients first.” It’s not that there is no truth in this message; many of the drugs developed transform wretched existences into fuller lives. BUT, in many cases, the difference between a hundred million dollar pill and a billion dollar pill is a lot of smoke. It’s very often about finding incremental edges for their unique compound that, in the grand scheme of things, don’t necessarily translate into an overall healthier population. See rise in use of statins concurrent with rise in obesity.

        So, messaging can be true and false at the same time, and companies aren’t going to quibble when even the false messages serve their interests. Would SOPA have “broken the Internet?” Not in the way the average consumer would interpret that message. Does it help Google, et al to allow the TechDirts of the world to evangelize the exaggeration? Yeah, it does.

      • Ah I’d not say that SOPA was fault free, no legislation is, that is why it gets scrutinized and messed with before being finalized to iron out the creases. There is a process of discussion and amendment. That wasn’t what happened here the nuclear air raid sirens sounded that the evul RIAA were about to jail Justin Bieber, that 100,000s of students were going to be incarcerated for watching youtube, even that the plug was going to be pulled on YouTube, and the internet would be wall to wall Telly Evangelists, and wikipedia was going to go up in flames.

        All coordinated by mega tech companies out of the Mozilla offices in Silicon Valley. After which Google tripled their payments to Mozilla to $300 million a year.

        http://www.zdnet.com/blog/btl/google-paying-mozilla-300-million-per-year-for-search-deal/65921

      • anon wrote:

        Ok, here are some things I previously posted, re-posted for ease of reference:

        Thank you for the neat encapsulation showing that, indeed, you haven’t answered the question.

        there were other (valid!) concerns

        “Other concerns” meaning these were in addition to the claim that DNS blocking would break the internet. As such, not an example of what was meant by “break the internet”.

        So here’s an exemplary article […] Nor does the source article mention DNS.

        And therefore isn’t about how DNS blocking will break the internet. Again, we’re dealing with other concerns.

        had less to do with DNS blocking or with some absurd destruction of the entire internet than with potential abuse of takedown mechanisms

        So, you’re saying that DNS blocking wouldn’t break the internet? The corollary to that, of course would be, that the claim that DNS blocking would break the internet is false.

        the core message of “break the internet” all along: people were afraid that abuse of overbroad takedown mechanisms, largely Section 103, would threaten “websites with user-generated content, such as reddit,” and would threaten startups generally.

        Abuse of takedown is not the same as breaking the internet. People claim that DCMA notices are abused currently, but that does not result in a broken internet.

        Further, sites like Reddit are not the internet; if Reddit ceases to exist because it’s full of people posting pirated material, the rest of the internet would continue to function as before. A site such as Megaupload, also built on pirated content, has disappeared without in any way harming the internet as a whole.

        one of their consistent talking points was that DNS filtering would place us in the company of countries like China and Iran.

        Given that the US was already using DNS blocking at the time (and since), it is in the company of countries like China and Iran. Just like the US is in the company of countries like China and Iran in having laws against murder, institutions like universities, and policies opposing terrorism. None of which has anything to do with breaking the internet.

        Your entire argument is like: they didn’t mean that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, what they mean was that Iraq was working on WMDs; or Iraq was engaging in activities that could be used to work on WMDs, or Iraq was thinking about working on activities that could, hypothetically, be used to create WMDs; or some Iraqi government official once mentioned WMDs; or allowing a non-compliant government like that of Iraq to control Iraq’s oil supply is like them having a weapon of mass destruction.

        You just keep trying to revise the history to say that no one actually claimed DNS blocking would break the internet. Or what they actually meant was various concerns that were raised in addition to the claim that DNS blocking would break the internet. The problem with that is, these concerns being in addition to means they weren’t identical with the claim that DNS blocking would break the internet.

        The computer scientists M keeps referring to lied. And all your attempts to distract from that aren’t going to change the fact that they lied.

      • Okay, Zoran: as we’ve discussed and as some of my posts demonstrate, the statements comprising the public back-and-forth over SOPA are still online and easy to Google. You say computer scientists were all lying? Find me an example of one of these lies.

      • David Newhoff

        It seems that this back and forth is as bogged down in minutia as it is sort of going in circles. I don’t think it matters whether or not every computer scientist was telling a whole truth, a half truth, or no truth because theirs was not the primary message that moved the average user to protest. If you’re scouring the Internet, Anon, you should be encountering broad, easily digestible, and non-technical messages designed to sow fear of the bills, not explanations of things like DNS. It’s a campaign, and you don’t win a campaign on details. Then, of course, there’s a difference between lying and being mistaken, which brings me to the bizarre on-camera statements by officially neutral Jimmy Wales, who explained how SOPA could threaten Wikipedia. His assertions were ridiculous, but were they a pernicious lie or did he believe the advice of counsel?

        Regardless, I think in politics it’s tough to separate clear facts from spin and that, as I’ve said, it comes back to intent or ideology. That’s why the blogoshpere may indeed light up with nitpicking over the details but the arguments will invariably divide according to belief in the premise of a bill like SOPA. And the bottom line is, I think most antagonists of those bills don’t think piracy is a problem at all.

        On the subject of lies, though, think the important lie was the big bumper sticker produced by Google targeting users they could count on not doing any real research: “End Piracy, not Liberty.” This was a lie of much greater significance because the first part is not something Google has shown any willingness to address at all, and the second part was not really threatened by SOPA. But it was a way to sound fair and reasonable to people on January 18th who would be easy pickins via social media. When I saw my own friends in the film and TV business share this meme, I knew how effective it was and knew they hadn’t considered that they were being fooled into doing Google’s bidding to the disservice of their own businesses. (As a side note, it reminds me of what I consider GW Bush’s most pernicious lie in the State of the Union 2002. “They hate our freedoms,” he said of al Qaeda as a prelude to invading Iraq. This misdirection paved the way for fighting the wrong war, and it did so by misleading the public about both the ideology and the capabilities of international terrorists.)

      • anon wrote:

        You say computer scientists were all lying? Find me an example of one of these lies.

        Oh, we’re back to the “no-one said DNS blocking would break the internet, you must have imagined it all” routine.

        Still:

        Depending on how its implemented, SOPA could demolish the cohesive structure of the internet by damaging the core functionality of the Domain Name Service (DNS) system.
        How SOPA could actually break the internet

        “Demolish the cohesive structure of the internet”

        Paul Vixie — a guy you should listen to when he’s concerned about the technical impact of something on the internet — explained why COICA’s reliance on DNS block was incredibly stupid. Not only would it not work, but it would fundamentally fracture the way the internet works, creating massive collateral damage. Last week, when the Senate Judiciary Committee pushed forward with PROTECT IP, we mentioned in passing a new report from Vixie and other internet technology gurus explaining why PROTECT IP’s focus on the DNS system would cause tremendous damage.</i?
        Why PROTECT IP Breaks The Internet

        “fundamentally fracture the way the internet works”

        experts in DNS functionality continue to warn that the bill’s focus on DNS filtering could fundamentally break the Internet.
        How The Protect IP Act Could Break The Internet

        “fundamentally break the internet”

        Some background: Since its introduction, SOPA and its Senate twin PROTECT-IP have been staunchly condemned by countless engineers, technologists and lawyers intimately familiar with the inner functioning of the internet. […] they have found an even more insidious threat: The method of DNS filtering proposed to block supposed infringing sites opens up enormous security holes that threaten the stability of the internet itself.
        Dear Congress, It’s No Longer OK To Not Know How The Internet Works

        “threaten the stability of the internet itself”

        So, instead of challenging me to find examples of people saying DNS blocking would break the internet, why don’t you just trying explaining what you think they mean by “break the internet”. I don’t mean what additional concerns were raised by the pro-piracy advocates, but what they meant by that particular phrase. What would a broken internet look like? If I logged on, what would I encounter that would lead me to say “Oh no! The internet is broken!”

        I mean, I’d say my computer is broken when it stops working and all I get is black screen. I’d say my television is broken when it stops working and all I get is a black screen. I’d say my mobile phone is broken if it stops working, I can’t make or receive any calls and all I get is a black screen. What would I get if the internet is broken?

        Oh, and I notice all the on-line sources defining “metadata” describe it as what I thought it was, so when M was mocking me for not knowing what metadata was and you were going along with it, s/he was…. ummm… there’s a word for deliberately saying things one knows aren’t true… a practice M has in common with the computer scientists he/she so idolises… it’s on the tip of my tongue…

        Oh yes: lying.

        Since you haven’t offered an alternate, correct term for what the information about the contents of a file is called, I presume that would be because you also want to maintain that M wasn’t lying?

      • @David Newhoff
        [It seems that this back and forth is as bogged down in minutia as it is sort of going in circles. ]

        Like talking with creationsists, smoking-doesn’t-kill claimants, climate-change deniers, and anti-vaccinationists, there is always another issue another side argument, another bought of navel gazing.

      • True, but I wouldn’t want to characterize Anon thus, even if I disagree with him. Fundamentally, you’re right; if you believe file sharing is good and copyright is bad, then that’s probably the lens through which you’ll view the details. Unlike those topics you list, however, this is less a scientific matter than an ideological one, no? We can disprove creationism (mostly) with science, and a creationist can only fall back on belief. But we can’t prove scientifically that a future without copyrights will be a bad future, anymore than copyright opponents can prove the opposite through scientific method. So, it seems to me we’re all talking about belief and what kind of world we envision, which is why I think there’s a point at which getting lost on certain details strays from the conversation we’re really having.

    • Before you get into some kind of huge debate with Zoran, I suggestion you read this.

      • oh my god.

        tyft

      • Just to clarify a couple of points:

        By metadata I mean the sort of information generally included in the indicia of a book or the opening and closing credits of a movie. Things like (to repeat examples): “Potlatch Films Presents” or “© MMVIII Potlatch Films” or “An Aztec Comics Production” or “© 2010 Matt Greene. All rights reserved”. That sort of thing. The bits that identify who the rights owner of a particular work is. That is, information about the work, rather than the work itself.

        I apologise if “metadata” isn’t the right term for it — I was using the term in the common usage where “meta” means a communication that is somewhat self-referential, so a comment on the grammar or spelling of comments would be a meta-comment. In that sense, I figured “metadata” would be data describing other data — such as data describing how long a file is, what type of file it is (audio, picture, movie, text, etc.), who owns the rights to the material, etc. If computer people have redefined “metadata” to mean something different and use a another term for this type of information, I apologise for not being up on the jargon. However, if you tell what the correct term for this type of information is, I’ll use that term instead.

        M claims that computers and the internet cannot handle this sort of information, and that the notion that perhaps such information could be included is as ridiculous as the “evil bit” suggestion. The sort of thing that’s only good for an April Fool’s Day joke.

        I must say I find this claim odd, since my copy of iTunes doesn’t seem to have any difficulty in adding a bunch of information about creators, year of release, genre, season number, episode number, even such things as sort order to the various songs, books, movies and TV episodes I’ve got. I guess the engineers and programmers working for Apple are so much better than those working elsewhere that they can not only pull off feats others, like M and Anon, consider impossible, but they can make it look easy.

      • I see. So someone that doesn’t have the fullest grasp of every aspect of how nuclear power works, should have no say on whether a NP plant is built at the end of their street. That someone who is not fully aware of how an electric motor works is unable to have a valid opinion on some 3rd party draining off the charge in the cars battery.

        And I suppose should someone mislead you on the inner workings of a CPU chip then all your opines in the internet are similarly worthless.

      • It doesn’t mean all your opinions are worthless. It just means that if you propose a technical modification to a nuclear power plant or CPU chip and the scientists tell you it isn’t feasible, you should err in the direction of deferring to them (or seeking a second opinion from another scientist) rather than calling them liars.

        I am not a computer scientist, but I deal occasionally with metadata. Zoran, you can absolutely embed data that identifies the origin of a file or applicable copyrights. But M is correct when he says this data can be stripped out. And when he says the data isn’t interesting to the consumer, what he means is that pirates can strip it out without fear of making their uploads less popular.

        Now, I do think there’s at least one anti-piracy application of metadata, which is that you can create unique identifiers (like MD5 or SHA1 hashes) for files and have software scan the internet for identical files. So you could probably use a technique like this to automate notice/takedown or to pursue some vigilante action (or litigation) against people seeding torrents of your work. But I would imagine that to the extent this is feasible it’s already being done.

      • @ANON “you should err in the direction of deferring to them (or seeking a second opinion from another scientist) rather than calling them liars. ”

        There were indeed other opinions regarding DNS filtering. Opinions that were far more strident than are being expressed here:

        http://www.hightechforum.org/dns-filtering-is-essential-to-the-internet/
        http://www.hightechforum.org/my-dns-filtering-research-before-house-sopa-panel/

        [
        Conclusions

        Based on the fact that those engineers opposed to DNS Filtering have voiced their opposition to Protect IP act and SOPA bill for non-engineering reasons, it seems they are attempting to pass off non-engineering arguments as black and white scientific engineering arguments. Those engineers certainly deserve to have their personal opinions heard on any policy debate, but those personal opinions should not be presented as engineering facts.
        ]

        Now up above you linked to “a fairly unbiased technical assessment of SOPA by the U.S. Department of Energy” which takes its reference from a paper written as CircleID by one Paul Vixie. Here is what Paul Vixie had to say a year earlier in 2010:

        [Here, in 2010, I’ve finally concluded that we have to do the same in DNS. I am just not comfortable having my own resources used against me simply because I have no way to differentiate my service levels based on my estimate of the reputation of a domain or a domain registrant. So, we at ISC have devised a technology called Response Policy Zones (DNS RPZ) that allows cooperating good guys to provide and consume reputation information about domain names. The subscribing agent in this case is a recursive DNS server, whereas in the original RBL it was an e-mail (SMTP) server. But, the basic idea is otherwise the same. If your recursive DNS server has a policy rule which forbids certain domain names from being resolvable, then they will not resolve. And, it’s possible to either create and maintain these rules locally, or, import them from a reputation provider.
        http://www.circleid.com/posts/20100728_taking_back_the_dns/
        ]

        Which is? Ooo! Oooo! Oooo! Me sir! Oooo Ooo Oooo!

        DNS Filtering
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Response_policy_zone

        So lets be clear those quoted by U.S. Department of Energy as saying that DNS filtering will break the internet, are themselves proposing DNS filtering.

      • Wow, that nut Paul Vixie sure loves contradicting himself. Unless…could it be that the DNS blocking proposed as a component of SOPA and the recursive DNS framework contemplated by Vixie are two entirely different things? I wonder if Vixie himself has addressed this purported inconsistency.

        The Vixie article I just linked is cited by the hightechforums article you link, but they only cite its second prong — which, after distinguishing between the two technologies, says the RPZ technology (not the one SOPA proposed) could be used to implement blocking of infringing domains but that to do so would “perturb the whole internet ecosystem,” which Vixie sees as acceptable collateral damage for stopping child porn but not infringement. Your article proceeds to criticize his obviously warped values system.

        Also, if you read the DOE paper, you’ll notice that the three points they make:

        1. Filtering could be circumvented
        2. Filtering will impose security risks if (and when) users resort to foreign proxies or DNS servers.
        3. Filtering will slow DNSSEC adoption

        Are not remotely in tension with Vixie’s blog post, even if you assume (mistakenly) that recursive DNS and SOPA propose the same thing.

        Finally, even as a non-scientist, I know that this

        http://www.hightechforum.org/dns-filtering-is-essential-to-the-internet/

        the engineers only assert that filtered sites deemed illegal by the courts would no longer work securely

        is not remotely correct, as evidenced by a quick glance at the letter itself.

        I admit I didn’t finish reading your article (or click the other hightechforums link) after noticing those two…issues…but I’m also in a hurry and if you come back and pwn me by telling me I missed something obvious then I will follow up.

      • Just a heads up that I’ll be away from the computer for a while and even though I’ve told WordPress to allow comments from anyone with a previously approved comment, it doesn’t seem to want to cooperate. My apologies ahead of time for comments that will be held in moderation.

        DN

      • anon wrote:

        It doesn’t mean all your opinions are worthless. It just means that if you propose a technical modification to a nuclear power plant or CPU chip and the scientists tell you it isn’t feasible, you should err in the direction of deferring to them (or seeking a second opinion from another scientist) rather than calling them liars.

        I’m sorry, but where did I suggest any sort of technical modification to anything?

        * M claimed that it’s impossible to know who owns the rights to any given work.

        * I pointed out that such information is generally contained in the work — in the indicia of a book, the opening and closing credits of a film, etc. — so it’s not impossible. I suggested that such information could be included in the information-about-the-file-attached-to-the-file which I apparently incorrectly referred to as “metadata”.

        This isn’t a proposal for a technical modification. Things like iTunes already do this. So I’m not proposing anything new, I”m pointing to some technology that already exists.

        * M ridicules the idea and says that including such information is impossible. He likens the suggestion to something like the evil bit. Then, feigning sincerity, s/he solicits for comments on the evil bit proposal.

        * I respond by saying I don’t see how the evil bit addresses any of the problems.

        * M goes “Ha Ha you’re an idiot because you didn’t notice the date on the proposal and were actually stupid enough to respond to my request for comments”.

        * I congratulate M on his/her victory.

        Zoran, you can absolutely embed data that identifies the origin of a file or applicable copyrights.

        Then exactly what is wrong with me suggesting that it can be done? Based on the fact that I’ve seen it done?

        But M is correct when he says this data can be stripped out.

        I never said it couldn’t. I never offered the idea as a solution to piracy. Obviously, pirates would strip such information out; they’re criminals after all. Just like criminals can file the serial numbers off guns and other equipment.

        Mind you, if pirates do strip such information out, it would make it obvious that they were engaging in deliberate fraud rather than just innocently sharing, but that’s a separate issue.

        So, I’m an idiot and a troll for not being up on the technical jargon — I notice, neither you nor M have offered to actually tell me what the correct term for what I called “metadata” is — and for pointing to an existing technology as an answer to the claim that it’s impossible to know who owns the rights to a particular work.

        Thank you for clarifying that.

      • @anon

        Oh thanks for the link.

        [
        I’ve been asked by several people whether ISC’s Response Policy Zone technology (referenced above) can be used to implement government mandated DNS blocking, for example to protect Hollywood against intellectual property theft or to protect children against against abuse by the distribution and viewing of Child Abuse Materials or to protect a society against content deemed dangerous by its government. Sadly my answer to this is a qualified “yes.”

        I say “qualified” because while I can agree that it’s worth perturbing the whole Internet ecosystem to wipe out a domain that’s being used for the distribution of Child Abuse Materials I simply cannot agree that this level of perturbation is warranted for the protection of intellectual property.
        ]

        Now I see “My DNS blocking won’t break the internet as it is done for reasons I approve of, your DNS blocking will break the internet as it is done for reasons I disapprove of.”

        I’m so glad we’ve cleared that up.

      • What he actually said was: “your” DNS blocking won’t work and is stupid; “my” DNS blocking will work but will have collateral effects, and while those collateral effects might be worthwhile for stopping child porn I simply cannot agree that this level of perturbation is warranted for the protection of IP.

        So you can belittle him for thinking child rape is worse than seeding copies of The Avengers, I guess. Have at it.

      • The point isn’t about child porn or copyright but that (non)breakage of DNS ‘filtering’ is not tied to whether you agree with the motives for the employment of the technology.

      • John Warr —

        The point isn’t about child porn or copyright but that (non)breakage of DNS ‘filtering’ is not tied to whether you agree with the motives for the employment of the technology.

        Well, no, that is the point. Because what Vixie’s saying is there would be breakage, but the breakage is worth incurring if you are trying to protect children from exploitation. Not if you are trying to protect your royalty stream. That’s his opinion, and think about it: think about the extremes to which many people are willing to go when it comes to something like child rape. People who are generally sanguine about crime and oppose the death penalty say things like “OMG that fucker should be drawn and quartered.” We castrate people to keep them from re-offending — if it were any other crime, that would be considered medieval and horrifying. So because Vixie is willing to entertain filtering in the child porn scenario doesn’t mean the consequences he foresees are trivial. It just means that like most people, he’s repulsed by child porn.

      • I see no-one’s bothered to say what the correct term for “information about the contents of a file” is, since it isn’t “metadata”.

        People like M and Anon are quite happy to mock and ridicule those who don’t know the jargon, but don’t seem to be prepared to explain what the correct term is.

        So, since it isn’t called “metadata”, what is it called?

        Anyone?

  • This is where the anti-SOPA crowd lost. It becomes more apparent week by week that people were lied to. That they were lied to by tech journalists and lawyers (many of whom it turns out are paid by tech corporate interests), lied to be the likes of the WMF and Creative Commons, manipulated behind the scenes on reddit, and of course marshalled to the stock yards by the tech companies themselves. Innocence was lost and the above will pay a price.

    • For what it’s worth, I personally chalk the journalism on this and many other topics up to the mechanics of the times. It’s a given that in an era in which volume is up and fees are down, that derivation trumps original, investigative work. We live in the age of news aggregation, which means a lot of copying and pasting and very little time spent researching and developing stories.

      • “We live in the age of news aggregation, which means a lot of copying and pasting and very little time spent researching and developing stories.”

        And that is the real tragedy. It does nothing to actually _inform_ people. There was a time when energy was put into solid investigative work that would uncover something that the public needed to know. Not anymore, it seems.

      • Worse than that. It creates the illusion of being informed and then a collective consciousness of being on the right side of a story. Good old ignorance in the manner of Socrates would be a better start, I think.

    • That they were lied to by tech journalists and lawyers (many of whom it turns out are paid by tech corporate interests)

      Out of curiosity, are you suggesting there was some conspiracy among the legal profession as a whole, or do you just mean that tech corporate interests hired a large number of lawyers to lobby for them?

      • Many of them come from the Berkman Center which is heavily Google funded. Then you have the General Council for WMF who hummed and hawed what looked like an existential threat to wikipedia ($500K from Google),

        https://blog.wikimedia.org/2011/12/13/how-sopa-will-hurt-the-free-web-and-wikipedia/

        then there was Mike Linksvayer out of Creative Commons (heavily Google funded) spreading the word after a CC board meeting chaired by Brin’s mother-in-law.
        http://creativecommons.org/weblog/entry/30836
        https://creativecommons.org/weblog/entry/30375

        Then there was the EFF and Public Knowledge both Google shills.

        http://musictechpolicy.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/google-shill-list-2.pdf

        So yeah the lawyers with connections to big tech corporation were indeed, to quote Jonathan Swift, vending poisons about as cordials.

      • What poison were these lawyers vending? Can you point to a lie propagated by Berkman or EFF? Lots of powerful people and corporations (including <a href="http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2010/04/sumner-redstone-donates-1-million-to-harvard-university/""Big Content") give money to Harvard, but the Academy of Tobacco Studies they ain’t.

        I refer to Berkman and EFF because of the groups you mention, these are the two I’m most familiar with. They are groups with ideological missions. (Berkman less explicitly so). These missions intersect with some of Google’s policy preferences, like openness and interoperability. I am acquainted with a high-level EFF person (technically a lawyer, but too much of a bigshot to do litigation for them) and he loathes Google with a passion when it comes to privacy issues. He has berated me for using gmail. But I would roughly analogize the relationship between EFF and Google to the relationship between Hollywood studios and the ACLU. When governments try to restrict access to media content, the ACLU is there, and if you’re cynical you can say that’s what Hollywood pays them for. But a more realistic view would acknowledge that there are also certain political and social philosophies that the ACLU and many Hollywood bigwigs share. And when their ideologies diverge — like when Hollywood supports SOPA (which the ACLU opposed) or when Google compromises search transparency or circumvents privacy protections or dilutes its privacy policy — the groups can and do clash.

        Plus, there were certainly lawyers racking up millions of dollars in fees in the pro-SOPA side.

      • Just caught this one. Can’t jump into all of it, but on the last sentence, the “millions in fees” on the pro-SOPA side would exceed the lobbying budgets of the entertainment conglomerates. I can go look it up, but I think the MPAA annual lobbying budget is about a half-million. Keep in mind that nobody inside DC expected this kind of resistance to the bills. SOPA/PIPA had strong bi-partisan and White House support, so the media industry really wasn’t suited up for a giant fight. The bills were shelved due to the one-day onslaught that literally shut down the phone system in congress, but the picture you’re painting is a little different than what happened. The Web industry network (EFF et al) cleaned Media’s clock on tactics in a way that Media was not prepared for, either in funding or skill set. That’s not saying killing SOPA was the right thing to do, but looking at the bare-knuckle politics, this was not about whose overpaid lawyers won the day.

        Also, just as underlying rule of thumb I use, the first goal of any organization (including the ACLU) is to remain relevant and extant. Hence, one must always be an enemy of (insert cause here) in order to keep one’s job. I frankly think the ACLU jumped on the bandwagon on this one.

      • “millions in fees” on the pro-SOPA side would exceed the lobbying budgets of the entertainment conglomerates

        I’m skeptical it would exceed their budgets in aggregate, though you may be right — although the pro-SOPA side did not just include entertainment conglomerates. I believe Comcast alone spent about $5 million lobbying in support of SOPA. But in truth, I don’t know the sum of the legal fees paid — I just know that there were many extremely pricey law firms paid to advocate for SOPA, and the only reason I raise this point is that John Warr’s post above could be interpreted to suggest that the fight was unfair because “the lawyers” were all in tech’s pocket. Hollywood, pharma and ISPs are all very comfortable using lawyers to get what they want. They were absolutely outgunned (as you say) from a tactical perspective, but I doubt they were outlawyered. (Also, I thought I’d seen, and maybe posted here, statistics indicating that the pro-SOPA camp spent more $ than the anti-SOPA camp, but I just grabbed those off thinkprogress and haven’t read your reply yet so I could be wrong).

        I agree with you about organizations jumping on bandwagons to stay extant and relevant. My point is just that I wouldn’t call EFF (and certainly wouldn’t call Berkman) a google “front.” If someone knows of an instance where google did something contrary to the EFF’s policy goals and EFF failed to call them out on it, I’ll re-evaluate my opinion of them.

      • Not to be totally self-referential, but as it’s a full day, and I’ve already covered something of an answer here: http://illusionofmore.com/the-wicked-and-dissembling-glass/

      • Don’t mind the self-cite and appreciate the link, but just to be clear: you’re saying EFF is being deceptive for citing the CRS job figure, because the jobs figure only reflects employment numbers from a few major studios?

        If that’s your criticism (I skimmed quickly so apologies if I misread), I’m not sure it’s accurate. On the first page of the report, the CRS says they’ve collected data from major studios but also “national data,” where possible; the following paragraph makes clear that they’ve used Dept of Commerce, Dept of Labor and IRS data as well. The EFF’s jobs figure, taken from page 4 of the report, is attributed (directly in that sentence — not even in a footnote) to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. The accompanying footnote indicates BEA consulted primarily Dept of Commerce data, and that the Dept of Commerce classifies the industry pretty broadly. So if one of your criticisms is that the EFF’s numbers don’t cover small independent production companies, the footnote in the report suggests they actually do.

        And of course EFF is going to critique bias and hypocrisy displayed by their opponents. I would likewise expect a copyright advocacy group to critique bias and hypocrisy displayed by, say, Ron Wyden or Google.

      • Actually, the main point of the piece is criticism of the whole David v Goliath game the industry is playing, and that in itself is reason enough for me to raise an eyebrow at the EFF. Masnick is playing fast and loose with the employment numbers, while the EFF is generally playing the “we’ll believe collaboration when we see it” card despite the fact that they’re functioning in this case as a PR unit for Silicon Valley. Regarding the footnotes, I read those to describe how the data are incomplete, which jibes with the anecdotal reality that a lot more than 400,000 people are employed in the making of film and sound entertainment in the U.S. I think it’s a safe bet that more than that are employed in Los Angeles alone. One key term is “full time” employees, and anybody who knows the business knows that there are more contractors than you can shake a stick at. Masnick jumps on the 374k number and tries to make hay out of it to make Dodd a liar in order to keep the villagers angry at the MPAA in general. I don’t read anything in the report that indicates it is in any way a complete picture of the industry vis a vis employment or GDP.

        Neither TechDirt nor the EFF demonstrated real hypocrisy here, but they don’t need to; their jobs are to spin for a constituency that’s already on their side and to keep the pressure on Big Media. I’m not saying they shouldn’t spin; I’m just responding to the question as to whether or not the EFF is a grassroots, populist organization or an astroturf body serving an industry. And let’s not forget that they can be both. Barlow, for example, is an ideologue, so there can be synergy between belief in a cause and mercenary, corporate aims. I think that’s often the case. The important thing is to recognize it, no matter who the parties are.

      • I think the main place we diverge is that I wouldn’t characterize EFF (or Berkman, for that matter) as “an astroturf body serving an industry.” Technically their advocacy does help industries, but the difference between EFF and “a PR unit for Silicon Valley” is that a PR unit for Silicon Valley wouldn’t criticize Silicon Valley, and EFF does. (And if you’re familiar with Barlow then you know the huge gap that separates EFF, an ideological group that receives corporate donations, from a genuine astroturf front like Americans for Prosperity). I think you say it best when you say that sometimes, there’s a synergy between beliefs/causes and corporate interests. But people like Barlow (as you note) are not corporate shills, and I’ve never seen commentary from EFF that strikes me as hysterical, deceptive or fear-mongering. It’s just animated by a particular belief system.

      • I hear you, but then I look at today’s carousel items on EFF and have to say that the language and design of all three would get my paranoia revved up were I so inclined. And don’t get me wrong, I apply the same skepticism to banners flying for causes I believe in. Got one the other day from a friend about recycling radioactive metals, and just on the face of it, the numbers could not possibly justify a headline that said: Your Zipper Will Be Radioactive!!!

      • Hah, you may have a point (though the most sensational headline I found on there turned out to be a verbatim link to a network news site). I guess I typically regard their analysis as informed and reasonable (their SOPA coverage, to stick with that example, broke down every provision in a lawyerly fashion and didn’t just rant about the bill), but the headlines can be silly.

  • i don’t remember the Tech community EVER stating anything about the U.S. Attorney General in all the SOPA hooplah.
    They kept stating that ‘copyright owners’ this and ‘Big Content’ that can “shut down” blogs and this and that.
    NEVER ONCE did i see that actual process described… that the content owner had zero say in the matter. It all actually would go through the United States Attorney General personally, and an actual court trial, before ANYthing resembling a block was even considered.

    Of course, when you’re making big money from keeping piracy easily accessable (cough Google), little things like “facts” get in the way of a good hysteria.

    • They kept stating that ‘copyright owners’ this and ‘Big Content’ that can “shut down” blogs

      They were talking about Section 103, which would effectively have let rightsholders cut off payment and ad support without due process. (The website would have been able to serve a counter notice, but because of the time limits under Section 103 and the other provisions immunizing payment processors for withdrawing support under circumstances not meriting it, the overwhelming incentive would be for paypal, visa, adsense et al to simply cut off a website as soon as a notice was filed).

      The DNS blocking provision, Section 102, did require the Attorney General’s involvement, and groups like the much-reviled EFF were quite open about that.

      • If memory serves, concerns over Sec. 103 were directly addressed in the Manager’s Amendment (aka part of the normal legislative process), but by this time, the entire purpose of the legislation had already been undermined in the court of public opinion.

      • Well if people criticize a bill and it’s amended in response, I’d call that democracy functioning properly. I wouldn’t suggest that criticism of proposed legislation is overwrought for failing to presume that problems will be fixed as part of the normal legislative process, since we’ve seen plenty of problematic bills become law. Obviously the Manager’s Amendment didn’t satisfy most people and you’re right that by that time, much of the damage had been done.

      • Let’s be honest, “most people” were not actively involved in these details. We have hundreds of bills go through congress that we don’t pay attention to, which is why we’re meant to elect representatives.

      • Yeah, by “most people” I obviously mean most people paying attention to the SOPA markup. And while of course our system wouldn’t function if everyone had to pay attention to every bill, I’d be very uncomfortable with any implication that people shouldn’t take an interest in public policy and shouldn’t contact their representatives when they have something to say. Of course when they contact their representatives (or voice opinions in public fora, for that matter) it would be great if they were rational and informed, but it’s not like people are rational and informed when the vote, either, and we don’t try to discourage people from voting.

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