Thursday, January 19, 2012

Explaining the Wireless to the Unwired

I had a very productive day without twitter I took a stand against SOPA and made my voice heard. What I didn't expect (and was enheartened to see) were people whom I emailed who weren't connectedto the tech interests of the day.
My own mother (god bless her) took the time to actually research and respond to my email, and engaged me in a dialogue about SOPA/PIPA and copyright. A fun time was had by all.
Except my wife - writing a 2,000 word detailed response takes a LONG time.
Below is a slightly edited transcript of the conversation - only certain personal responses have been omitted. If anyone sees any factual inaccuracies or logical fallacies, please don't hesitate to contact or correct me - it's the only way I'll ever learn! :-D

I actually did a little reading up on the legislation proposed, not just the stuff about it on the internet.  No where is there an automatic shut down of any web site that I could find.  From what I read about the legislation, the site is notified and has a specific amount of time to respond to the complaint.  The response is reviewed. If, after reviewing the response, the complaint of copyright infringement is justified, the site is asked to desist.  If they refuse, it goes to court.

Why is this so different from what you wrote about?  What you are describing above can't get passed, because it is clearly unconsitutional.  As I have come to understand it, there are still a
lot of bugs in the legislation, but it is no where near as harsh as we are being lead to believe.  So, what is the fuss all about?  That some of the monster web sites won't be as lucrative, or that we won't be getting fed viruses as easily from overseas unregulated downloads?
Why are these problems?
... (Separate email)
FYI intellectual property rights are not long term.  Neither are copyrights.  Both are limited, and eventually everything is in the public domain.  No problem, right?  But do you want it to be legal for anyone to use pictures of you without your knowledge or permission?
Or your family?  
The issue is not the existing laws, but some of the epropaganda implies that it is.  Those laws have been OK for years; not perfect, but OK.  It is the ability to apply them to the internet as applied to other media that is on the line here.  Why is that a problem?
Let me first express my immense appreciation that you are taking this issue seriously and with critical thinking. I would like to take time to properly construct a detailed response that respects the effort and
thought that you have put in to your previous emails. As I am still at work at the moment, this may take some time.
Thank you and I love you.
fyi iit looks like Obama will veto even if it does pass congress, which it probably will not. Are you familiar with OPEN?  It seems to be the back-up legislation.  This whole mess is a fight between two types of media giants, and the arena is congress.  In my opinion, none of this really affects our lives very much but it might affect the income of a large bunch of millionaires. 

Alright, let's give this a shot. **DISCLAIMER: LONG ESSAY FOLLOWS**
It might be helpful to read this post  I wrote a little while back detailing my particular views on culture and knowledge. And this article is a pretty thorough analysis of why the bills in their present form are still unacceptable. What I think is telling is that the movie industry has spent $91 Million (not an exaggeration) lobbying Congress to get them to adopt this bill, but when people protest, they are dismissed and called "abusive." So paying off Congress to support your attempts at curtailing speech is fine, but actually USING your Constitutionally protected speech is now "abusive?" The MPAA has also actively refused to even TALK to people in the tech sector who are affected by this bill, despite being issued an invitation by the Senator of California! They aren't interested in anyone else's opinions but their own.

Regarding the DNS blocking provisions, that particular language was removed only this week after extensive protest by members of the tech industry. The bill was being pushed to a vote by its sponsors before the public at large was even being informed what it was. Rep. Lamar (R-TX) who sponsored the bill still says that there will be amendments in the future to extend DNS blocking provisions.
Let me explain this - in order for a computer to access a website, it first needs to send a request for the site out on to the Web. DNS Lookup servers then route the users request to the physically relevant site. If your site isn't on the DNS, for the purposes of the internet, it doesn't exist. Even if I were to type the address directly in the bar in my browser, I would be unable to reach it. The site technically DOES exist - it exists on the server where it is stored - BUT NO ONE WILL BE ABLE TO ACCESS IT. So technically they aren't taking the site down, but that is effectively what they are doing. This process isn't automatic - it requires the actions of an individual to file a complaint (ANY individual, whether they own the supposedly infringing content or not). But once the complaint has been filed, the enforcement is, for all intents and purposes, automatic.
That portion (which is out of the present bill at the MOMENT, but which they have stated that they PLAN on re-entering) commands DNS blocking of sites after merely alleging that they infringe. You are cut off from the web UNTIL your case goes to trial.

Now to clarify your points as they stand.
1) there is no language stating that those responsible for the sites themselves ACTUALLY have to be notified - merely that an attempt at contact must be made before they go after the site itself. If they cannot notify for whatever reason they chose - "we tried to mail it, but there was no address" - they may immediately proceed to a court case against the site itself, without any opposition. After the case, the site is placed on a blacklist that cuts it off from all funding - no ads, no Paypal, no Visa, no online transactions at all.
The law also requires that information services like Google preemptively block ALL INFRINGING CONTENT. That means even before a complaint is filed. which is physically impossible, as there is no way for google to know if the address it is automatically indexing contains any relevant material. The content industries themselves have a difficult time discerning whether content is legal, and they expect everyone else to know automatically.

2) Just because a law is unconstitutional, doesn't mean it can't get passed. It must be challenged in court afterwards, and the Supreme Court is notorious for throwing out cases it doesn't wish to deal with. The last law it DID rule as unconstitutional was COPA (I believe) which attempted THE SAME censorship under the banner of "protecting the children." Many modern governments engage in wholesale censorship of free speech after passing laws that they "claim" will only be used for the "good of the nation and it's people."

3) The present set of laws already dictate a legal procedure to address all of the problems surrounding piracy. There already exists a method to sue such individuals, and the courts provide an avenue of redress for these grievances. Unauthorized commercial distribution of intellectual property is already illegal, and we don't need laws to make it "more" illegal. What these laws are designed to do is give additional powers to those claiming infringement before proof of any illegal activity is actually provided. They abolish the right of "innocent until proven guilty." \

4) While supporters of the bill claim that this will "only impact infringing sites," that fails to take into account the actual provisions of the bill, which force these sites on to a blacklist that is then foisted upon everyone else. Imagine if google, yahoo, bing, and the like could never exist because they would get fined if a site that a USER linked to in their own SEARCH was found to be "infringing" - that's what this bill would do. There are enough problems with the copyright laws we already have - the FBI seized dozens of legitimate websites and held them for OVER A YEAR without a trial. These were sites posting songs SENT TO THEM BY THE RECORD INDUSTRY TO DISTRIBUTE. The only information provided was an FBI redirect screen that claimed that there was child pornography on the sites.
Yes. You could be on the hook for child pornography for posting a song or video someone sent you to preview and spread to your audience.
Another individual was sued when a song he had authored turned out to have the same title as an unreleased Michael Jackson tune. Why is the FBI being used to combat infringement when they have real felonies to pursue?
Under this law, the satire that Greenpeace uses to get it's message across may be in danger of censorship. While multiple courts have sided with them, the cost of fighting legal battles is high. This is the problem with all of these laws that take a "shoot first, decide if it's legal later" approach. Many businesses are, can, and will be destroyed through frivilous lawsuits. Why are we looking for ways to add to the tally of destroyed jobs? Additionally, NO LAW on the books give a penalty for the party who accuses OTHERS of infringement. I can keep suing you until it sticks, since there is no repercussions for me. By refusing to add a penalty for wrongful accusation, this creates an extremely bad system of incentives where copyright owners say "pay us or we'll sue you" to anyone they want, simply because the cost of fighting it in court is too painful.

5) Regarding viruses - you get them just as easily from legitimate looking sites as you do from filesharing. easier, actually, since all you have to do is look at the comments surrounding a download site and you KNOW whether the file is real and works or whether it's a hoax. I have never seen anyone get a virus filesharing movies and music. I have seen plenty of people get screwed by the rootkits (a form of virus) that Sony et. al. forces people to install on their computers in order to have the privilege of watching the content they legally purchased. Why do downloads need to be regulated? and why is the internet something the US gets to control? and how on earth could we possibly even HOPE to regulate it in an economically sustainable manner? What's strange is that all of this is especially targeted toward foreign sites. or it isn't. The answer changes depending on the day and the audience. Regardless, how is a foreign site under US jurisdiction? What about foreign citizens in foreign countries, like Richard O'Dwyer? why are they held accountable to US law when their actions are declared legal in their own countries?

6) Finally, we come to the crux of it all - copyright itself. The constitutional role of copyright (Article I, Section 8) outlines the purpose and boundaries of this right.

"To promote the Progress of Science and the useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."
If you notice, the law is very explicit that the purpose of copyright ISN'T to ensure that "authors/artists/inventors" get paid, but rather to ensure that such progress occurs for the GOOD OF THE PUBLIC by creating the incentive for it.
Copyright came at a time where cultural creation and scientific exploration was difficult and expensive, only done with difficulty and at great expense. The founding fathers and the framers of the Constitution were all keenly aware of the economic dangers created by monopolies. They fought against the British who specifically imposed their monopolies on trade, industry, fishing rights, and everything else they could lay their hands on. Both Jefferson and Madison considered it a necessary evil, and they were in good company for believing that copyright should not last one day longer than necessary. That is why it specifically stated "limited times." While under the original incarnation of the law, copyright only lasted 14 years, with an additional 14 added when in commercial use, those boundaries have been continually pushed FAR beyond what is necessary to merely incentivize creativity. In the present day, not only am I paid for my ENTIRE LIFE, but also for 75 years after my death, my estate is entitled to royalties. They weren't the author. they weren't the inventor. According to the constitution, they should not receive anything. Copyright law is presently in service to corporations who, similarly, have no title to either author or inventor. Furthermore, that right has been extended to derivative works which were NEVER created by the author or inventor again in contradiction to the articles of the constitution.
As the internet has shown us, we no longer need economic incentive to create, because there is no economic COST to create. By that very consideration, the overall length of copyright should be shortened, not lengthened. By transferring rights for ever longer times from the Public Domain to copyright holders (which is what the law does) you have turned copyright from an attempt to encourage creativity to a form of welfare for those who are already wealthy. It is senseless and wasteful.
"Eventually everything is in the public domain..." this is only true if the law isn't retroactively changed, which has happened THREE TIMES already.
Here's a list of culture that isn't available in America this year as a result of retroactive copyright law. Priceless cellulite films are decaying in their canisters because there isn't commercial interest in Hollywood, but they REFUSE to let public interest groups digitize and archive them for cultural preservation. The Mona Lisa still exists, but how many more wonderful Renaissance works have we lost in time since we didn't have the technology to copy them? The cultural experience of all works (their beauty, not their physical essence) is by its very nature freely accessible to all. Copyright takes those things away from us.

So yes. There is a problem.
There is a parable where a naughty boy breaks a window in a village. As all the angry townspeople gather to discuss what to do with the boy, one villager speaks up.
"Wait! Now that the tailors window is broken, he'll have to buy one from the glazier, who can then buy that new table, and the furniture maker can then hire another assistant, who will need a new uniform from the tailor! This child is really an economic marvel! he's aided the whole town!"
Is this really true? no. because now the tailor no longer has the funds HE needed since he needs to replace that window - funds which could have been used to buy a suit, or a table, or food, without any overall loss to the welfare of the village. On the whole, the village is worse off for the destructive economic behavior. By taking things which are naturally freely available and forcing me to pay for them, I no longer have funds to engage in other useful, productive activity. Breaking my window by making me pay for a song or a movie rental or software to run on my computer doesn't increase the over economic activity of the country, it merely shifts it away from real goods being produced at a cost into imaginary scarcities that are available for free. It actually undermines efficient economic allocation of resources.

"Do I want it to be legal...?" why not? what harm accrues to me? By the way, I already allow it. Our wedding pictures are being used by the photographer as samples. It doesn't bother me in any way, and more people on the street recognize me. I lose nothing, and he gains. that's a wonderful form of charity - helping his business at no cost to myself. We should encourage THAT more, not lawsuits.
To take a slightly more religious tact, we have a Jewish legal principle - One who quotes a legal innovation in the name of the one who said it brings redemption to the world.
If copyright truly had a basis, it would be illegal to quote a novel legal idea unless the one who said it allows you to. The fact is, Jewish tradition only REQUESTS and lauds attribution, but does not at all accept ownership over non-real objects like an idea, knowledge, a song, or a legal innovation. In fact, the Talmud explicitly praises one who is willing to compete on the open market in a savvy manner, such as handing out tchochkes to kids to acclimate them to come into his store. While cheating and stealing are severely punished and discouraged in the Torah, the spreading of culture and knowledge is always to be encouraged. Sharing "intellectual property" requires no permissions, no excuses, and is a painless way of spreading wealth with the most powerful tool we possess: the internet.
It's important that we take the time to explain and address the concerns of a world not always understanding of our position. The present political generation is one that grew up without the digital technology we all take for granted. If you wanted to publish something, it went into a book, a magazine, or a scientific journal. If you wanted to make music commercially, it could only be done through a record company contract that robbed you of your creative "rights." 
The present powers that be don't understand technology, and while that's (slowly) changing, we need to make sure that we aren't viewed as a bunch of hippie-free-thinking-communist hooligans out to destroy commerce and all that's right and good with the capitalist world they hold dear. We need to show them that our ideas are not new or unique - they form the very foundation that this country was BUILT upon, the very vision of our founding fathers. An unrealized utopia of universal knowledge and understanding that was unattainable UNTIL the last few decades.
And THAT, my friends, is how I explained the importance of the Wireless world to the generation of the Unwired.

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