An Open Letter to Chris Dodd
Mr. Dodd, I hear you’ve just given a speech in which you said “Hollywood is pro-technology and pro-Internet.” It seems you’re looking for interlocutors among the coalition that defeated SOPA and PIPA, and are looking for some politically feasible compromise that will do something against the problem of Internet piracy as you believe you understand it.
There isn’t any one person who can answer your concerns. But I can speak for one element of the coalition that blocked those two bills; the technologists. I’m not talking about Google or the technology companies, mind you – I’m talking about the actual engineers who built the Internet and keep it running, who write the software you rely on every day of your life in the 21st century.
I’m one of those engineers – you rely on my code every time you use a browser or a smartphone or a game console. I’m not exactly a leader among them as you would understand the term, because we don’t have those and don’t want them. But I am a well-known philosopher/elder of the tribe (I’ll name two others later in this letter), and also one of our few public spokespersons. In the late 1990s I helped found the open-source software movement.
I’m writing to educate you about our concerns, which are not exactly the same as those of the group of firms you think of as “Silicon Valley”. We have our own culture and our own agenda, usually coincident with but occasionally at odds with the businesspeople who run the tech industry.
The difference matters because the businesspeople rely on us to do the actual technical work – and since the rise of the Internet, if we don’t like where a firm’s strategy is going, it tends not to get there. Wise bosses have learned to accommodate us as much as possible and pick the few fights they must have with their engineering talent very, very carefully. Google, in particular, got its huge market capitalization by being better at managing this symbiosis than anyone else.
I can best introduce you to our concerns by quoting another of our philosopher/elders, John Gilmore. He said: “The Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.”
To understand that, you have to grasp that “the Internet” isn’t just a network of wires and switches, it’s also a sort of reactive social organism composed of the people who keep those wires humming and those switches clicking. John Gilmore is one of them. I’m another. And there are some things we will not stand having done to our network.
We will not have it censored. We built the Internet as a tool to make every individual human being on the planet more empowered. What the users do with the Internet is up to them – not up to Hollywood, not up to politicians, and not even up to us who built it. Whatever else we Internet geeks may disagree on among ourselves, we will not allow our gift of fire to be snuffed out by jealous gods.
Because we will not have the Internet censored, we are also implacably hostile to any attempts to impose controls on it that could be used for censorship – whether or not that is the stated intent of the controls. That is why we were absolutely unanimous against SOPA and PIPA, and a significant reason that you lost that fight.
You speak as though you believe that the technology industry stopped SOPA/PIPA, and that by negotiating with the industry you can set up the conditions for a successful second round. It won’t work that way; the movement that stopped SOPA/PIPA (and is now scuttling ACTA) was much more organic and grass-roots than that. Silicon Valley can’t give you the political firepower or cover you’d need. All you’ll get from them is a bunch of meaningless press conferences and empty platitudes from CEOs who have nothing actually to gain by helping you and really wish you’d go away so they can get back to their jobs.
Meanwhile, the engineers inside and outside those companies will take it as their duty to ensure that you lose that battle again if you try to fight it again. Because there aren’t a lot of us, but the vast mass of Internet users – who do vote in numbers large enough to swing elections – have figured out that we’re on their side and we’re their early-warning system. When we sound the tocsin – as we did, for example, by blacking out Wikipedia – they will mobilize and you will be defeated.
Accordingly, one of the cardinal rules for any politician who wants to have a long career in a 21st-century democracy has to be “don’t screw with the Internet”. Because it will screw you right back. At least two primary challenges to SOPA/PIPA sponsors are in the news right now because they wouldn’t have happened without the popular outrage against it.
Hollywood wants you to screw with the Internet, because Hollywood thinks it has problems it can solve that way. Hollywood also wants you to think we (the engineers) are foes of “intellectual property” and in willing cahoots with criminals, pirates, and thieves. Neither of these claims is true, and it’s important that you understand exactly how they’re not true.
Many of us make our living from “intellectual property”. A few of us (not including me) are genuinely opposed to it on principle. Most of us (including me) are willing to respect intellectual property rights, but there’s a place where that respect abruptly ends. It stops at exactly the point where DRM threatens to cripple our computers and our software.
Richard Stallman, one of our more radical philosophers, uses the phrase “treacherous computing” to describe what happens when a PC, or a smartphone, or any sort of electronics, is not fully under the control of its user. Treacherous computers block what you can see or hear. Treacherous computers spy on you. Treacherous computers cut you off from their full potential as communications devices and tools.
Treacherous computing is our second line in the sand. Most of us don’t actually have anything against DRM in itself; it’s because DRM becomes a vehicle for treachery that we loathe it. Not allowing you to skip the advertisements on a DVD is a small example; not allowing you to back up your books and music is a larger one. Then there was the ironically pointed case of the book “1984″ being silently disappeared from the e-readers of customers who had paid for it…
Some companies propose, in order to support DRM, locking up computers so they can only only run “approved” operating systems; that might bother ordinary users less than those other treacheries, but to us would be utterly intolerable. If you imagine a sculptor told that his new chisel would only cut shapes pre-approved by a committee of shape vendors, you might begin to fathom the depths of our anger at these proposals.
We engineers do have an actual problem with Hollywood and the music industry, but it’s not the one you probably assume. To be blunt (because there isn’t any nice way to put this) we think Big Entertainment is largely run by liars and thieves who systematically rip off the artists they claim to be protecting with their DRM, then sue their own customers because they’re too stupid to devise an honest way to make money.
I’m sure you don’t agree with this judgment, but you need to understand how widespread it is among technologists in order to get why all those claims about “piracy” and lost revenues find us so unsympathetic. It’s bad enough that we feel like our Internet and our computers are under attack, but having laws like SOPA/PIPA/ACTA pushed at us on behalf of a special-interest group we consider no better than gangsters and dimwits makes it much worse.
Some of us think the gangsters’ behavior actually justifies piracy. Most of us don’t agree that those two wrongs add up to a right, but I can tell you this: if you make the technologists choose between the big-media gangsters and the content pirates, effectively all of us will side with the content pirates as the lesser of the two evils. Because maybe both sides are stealing on a vast scale, but only one of them doesn’t want to screw with our Internet or cripple our computers.
We’d really prefer to oppose both groups, though. Our sympathies in this mess are with the artists being ripped off by both sides.
Consider this letter our “Don’t tread on me!”. Our agenda is to protect our own liberty to create and our users’ liberty to enjoy those creations as they see fit. We have no give and no compromise on either of those, but long as Hollywood stays out of our patch (that is, no more attempts to lock down our Internet or our tools) we’ll stay out of Hollywood’s.
And if you’d like to discuss some ways of fighting piracy that don’t involve trampling on us and our users, we do have some ideas.
ESR, you are a brave man. Respect.
Angry Birds boss: ‘Piracy may not be a bad thing: it can get us more business’ | Technology | guardian.co.uk
Rovio Mobile learned from the music industry’s mistakes when deciding how to deal with piracy of its Angry Birds games and merchandise, chief executive Mikael Hed told the Midem conference in Cannes this morning.
"We have some issues with piracy, not only in apps, but also especially in the consumer products. There is tons and tons of merchandise out there, especially in Asia, which is not officially licensed products,” said Hed.
"We could learn a lot from the music industry, and the rather terrible ways the music industry has tried to combat piracy."
Hed explained that Rovio sees it as “futile” to pursue pirates through the courts, except in cases where it feels the products they are selling are harmful to the Angry Birds brand, or ripping off its fans.
When that’s not the case, Rovio sees it as a way to attract more fans, even if it is not making money from the products. “Piracy may not be a bad thing: it can get us more business at the end of the day.”
According to Hed, Rovio has taken some more positive lessons from the music industry, including how it sees its customers.
"We took something from the music industry, which was to stop treating the customers as users, and start treating them as fans. We do that today: we talk about how many fans we have," he said.
"If we lose that fanbase, our business is done, but if we can grow that fanbase, our business will grow."
It seems there may be more partnerships between Angry Birds and music artists in the future, too. Hed explained that Rovio sees Angry Birds as a bona-fide “channel” now, with people spending so much time in the app, it is competing with the most popular TV shows in the US in terms of time spent.
"Already our apps are becoming channels, and we can use that channel to cross-promote – to sell further content," he said. "The content itself has transformed into the channel, and the traditional distribution channels are no longer the kingmakers."
Rovio hasn’t worked with music companies or artists yet, although that is happening elsewhere in the games industry. Social games company Zynga, for example, has run promotions with Lady Gaga and Michael Buble in its Facebook games.
"We have some discussions with labels about what we could do together to give access," Hed told the Midem audience.
"It is possible to promote music content through our apps as well… We are positively looking for new partnerships, and we have a rather big team working on partnerships, so it’s just a case of getting in touch with us and we’ll take it from there"
Google Will Start Country-Specific Censorship for Blogs
At some point “over the coming weeks,” Google’s Blogger will begin redirecting users to country-specific domain names — think Google.fr in France rather than Google.com — to avoid universally removing content that would not be tolerated in specific jurisdictions.
A Blogger support post, “Why does my blog redirect to a country-specific URL?,” last updated Jan. 9, explains that Google is using the method to limit the impact of censored content.
Readers will be redirected to sites with their own country’s domain name when they try to visit blogs recognized as foreign, as determined by their IP addresses.
“Over the coming weeks you might notice that the URL of a blog you’re reading has been redirected to a country-code top level domain, or “ccTLD.” For example, if you’re in Australia and viewing [blogname].blogspot.com, you might be redirected [blogname].blogspot.com.au. A ccTLD, when it appears, corresponds with the country of the reader’s current location.”
If you would like to see a non-affected page, you can direct to google.com/ncr (NCR stands for “no country redirect”), which places a short term cookie that temporarily prevents geographical redirection.
Google says migrating users to local domains will help promote the freedom of expression while allowing the flexibility to abide by local law.
Do you think censoring content by specific countries is a good move for freedom of expression? Let us know what you think of Google and Twitter’s moves.
Everyone’s censoring the internet now.
Was Megaupload Targeted Because Of Its Upcoming Megabox Digital Jukebox Service? | TechCrunch
Last Thursday the US Justice Department came down hard on Megaupload and its mega founder, Kim Dotcom. In the days since, there has been a shake-up of sorts in the digital storage realm. Several smaller sites have drastically changed their business models. Others, like MediaFire, reached out to me after I published this post attempting to distance themselves from Megaupload.
However, yesterday, a new theory surfaced that indicates Megaupload’s demise had less to do with piracy than previously thought. This theory stems from a 2011 article detailing Megaupload’s upcoming Megabox music store and DIY artist distribution service that would have completely disrupted the music industry.
TorrentFreak first reported about the service in early December 2011. Megabox was just in beta at that time with listed partners of 7digital, Gracenote, Rovi, and Amazon. Megaupload was in a heated marketing battle with the RIAA and MPAA who featured Kim Dotcom in an anti-piracy movie (5:10 mark). The site had just sued Universal Music Group for wrongly blocking Megaupload’s recent star-studded YouTube campaign. Things were getting vicious in December but the quiet launch of Megabox might have been the straw that broke the millionaire’s back.
Dotcom described Megabox as Megaupload’s iTunes competitor, which would even eventually offer free premium movies via Megamovie, a site set to launch in 2012. This service would take Megaupload from being just a digital locker site to a full-fledged player in the digital content game.
The kicker was Megabox would cater to unsigned artists and allow anyone to sell their creations while allowing the artist to retain 90% of the earnings. Or, artists could even giveaway their songs and would be paid through a service called Megakey. “Yes that’s right, we will pay artists even for free downloads. The Megakey business model has been tested with over a million users and it works,” Kim Dotcom told TorrentFreak in December. Megabox was planning on bypassing the labels, RIAA, and the entire music establishment.
Megaupload was likely large enough to actually find success. Other services have tried what Megabox was set to do, but Megaupload was massive. Prior to its closure last week, the site was estimated to be the 13th most visited site on the Internet, accounting for 4% of all worldwide Internet traffic. It boasted 180 million registered users with over 50 million visiting the site daily. Megaupload was already a seemingly trusted service for artists to distribute their work. Megabox would have a monetized that popularity by passing on the bulk of the earnings back to the artists.
“You can expect several Megabox announcements next year including exclusive deals with artists who are eager to depart from outdated business models,” said Dotcom late last year. But that’s probably not going to happen. Kim Dotcom and several other Megaupload executives are now awaiting trial on various charges including racketeering, money laundering, and various counts of piracy. It seems they flew too close to the sun. High on success and a half a world away in New Zealand and Hong Kong, they attempted to take on the music industry head-on. Now they’re in jail.
Coders Are Already Finding Ways Around SOPA Censorship - Politics - The Atlantic Wire
A developer who calls himself T Rizk doesn’t have much faith in Congress making the right decision on anti-piracy legislation, so he’s built a work around for the impending censorship measures being considered: DeSOPA. The Firefox add-on is stunningly simple as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) would block specific domain names (e.g. www.thepiratebay.com) of allegedly infringing sites, T Rizk’s lightweight tool allows you to revert to the bare internet protocol (IP) address (e.g. 18.104.22.168) which takes you to the same place. “I feel that the general public is not aware of the gravity of SOPA and Congress seems like they are about to cater to the special interests involved, to the detriment of Internet, for which I and many others live and breathe,” T Rizk told the site TorrentFreak — and you can pretty easily guess whose side they’re on. If that doesn’t work, TorrentFreak points to another developer-made anti-SOPA solution that’s also in the works. Meanwhile, Rep. Darrell Issa is busy rallying developers behind his transparent laboratory for digital democracy, as Reddit-types continue to flood the Internet with protest memes (like the one above).
As the number of acronyms and parentheses in our intro suggest, the technical details of SOPA are, well, pretty technical. And with the exception of anti-SOPA folks like Rep. Darrell Issa and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, most of the members of Congress now considering the legislation are not tech experts. On Friday, the House Judiciary Committee decided to table SOPA until 2012, citing the need to speak to some Internet experts, to balance out the so-far overwhelmingly Hollywood-centric testimonies we’ve heard so far. Civil rights groups hailed the decision as a victory, at first. That is, until committee chairman Rep. Lamar Smith scheduled a last minute hearing on Wednesday morning in an attempt to push the bill to the floor. Not long before he scheduled the hearing — which may or may not happen depending on whether or not the larger Congress decides to break for holiday recess on Tuesday — pro-SOPA lobbyists sent out a press release with the misleading title “Markup Shows Strong Support for SOPA.” It quotes Smith, a Republican from Texas: “The criticism of this bill is completely hypothetical; none of it is based in reality. Not one of the critics was able to point to any language in the bill that would in any way harm the Internet. Their accusations are simply not supported by any facts.”
This must sound insulting to SOPA’s opponents. Especially because an increasing number of tech and legal experts have been stepping forward not only to wonder why Congress hasn’t consulted fact-based research that examines the scope of America’s piracy problem as well as the potential impact of the proposed solutions but also to argue that SOPA itself is downright unconstitutional. The latest to mount the argument against SOPA’s constitutionality is the Stanford Law Review. A well-sourced article published on Monday and authored by three separate law school professors reads, in part:
This not only violates basic principles of due process by depriving persons of property without a fair hearing and a reasonable opportunity to be heard, it also constitutes an unconstitutional abridgement of the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has made it abundantly clear that governmental action suppressing speech, if taken prior to an adversary proceeding and subsequent judicial determination that the speech in question is unlawful, is a presumptively unconstitutional “prior restraint.” In other words, it is the “most serious and the least tolerable infringement on First Amendment rights,” permissible only in the narrowest range of circumstances. The Constitution requires a court “to make a final determination” that the material in question is unlawful “after an adversary hearing before the material is completely removed from circulation.”
Then there’s the lack of facts in support of SOPA. We covered the problem of lawmakers not understanding the Internet last week, but this part is worth repeating:
We recently spoke to Jonathan Zittrain, a professor and cofounder of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, who maintains a number of deep concerns about the implications of SOPA, and while he’s been outspoken elsewhere about the specific line items within the bill that frighten him, he told The Atlantic Wire that he was basically confused about why Congress hasn’t done any real data-driven research into the problem of online piracy. “I would like to find a well-researched, peer-reviewed, credible study about the dimension of the problem this is trying to solve,” Zittrain said, noting that he did not know of such a study — and since he wrote the book on the future of the Internet, he would know if one existed. “It’s costless to the aggrieved industries, so why not do it?”
Stay tuned for more updates on the seemingly neverending SOPA saga. If Smith gets his way, the House Judiciary Committee will reconvene at 9 a.m. Wednesday morning to continue marking up the bill. And we’ll bet you a Buffalo-head nickel that developers, tech experts, law scholars and, well, the rest of the Internet will watch and tweet to make it clear how the groups of people that SOPA will affect most does not support this bill.