Intellectual Property

Is the Internet Too Censorious?

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In "Not Your Father's Censorship," Harvard professor Harry Lewis ends on this worrisome point:

The Internet is, for the most part, privately owned. So is the publishing business, where the free market has always worked. If a publisher doesn't want my book, I can take my business elsewhere, but I can't cry censorship. We wouldn't want government regulation of book publishers, and we don't need it. Is the Internet any different?

The Internet is different from publishing, in fact if not in theory. Were one publisher as dominant as Google or YouTube, its corporate judgments might have a very big impact on the free flow of ideas. And the DMCA [Digital Millenium Copyright Act] protocol presents opportunities for the powerful to suppress speech by spurious invocation of copyright law. In the United States, the Internet is still the "most participatory form of mass speech yet developed," as a federal judge, Stewart R. Dalzell, wrote in overturning an early Internet-censorship law. For the Internet to remain so, more legislation will be needed to guarantee its openness.

Whole essay here in the Chronicle of Higher Education, via Arts & Letters Daily.

I find this worrisome partly because I'm not sure what the point is. Does Lewis want more government regulation of the the tubes? Or less?

Virtually across the board, the DMCA is a bad law, which just gave big content companies whatever they wanted. It will go away eventually because tech marches on, but it can do a lot of damage in the meantime; would that it were dismantled today.

However, the idea that Google and YouTube should be held to different rules because they are ginormous in today's market is troubling. For starters, as Lewis notes, you can go elsewhere to post and read material. Indeed, precisely to the degree that big sites start to be seen as choking off more and more things, they'll lose market share. In any case, the point is not the guarantee of an audience or a slot on a big site. It's the freedom to express yourself somewhere.

One trend that's making a comeback with the Obama ascendancy is the need for smart folks not to regulate the Net per se, but to, you know, come up with better rules that will help make sure that everything that's so super-duper about cyberspace stays that way (see Jonathan Zittrain's The Future of the Internet for a taste of this argument). As a replay of debates that took from 15 or so years ago, there's always a lot of subtle or not-so-subtle attacks on how commercialization, profits, etc. will somehow destroy the very ethos of the ether and lead to Internet equivalent of Wal-Mart (or back in the day, AOL, which somehow managed to bring Internet access to more people than any other provider).

Reason on the Internet.

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  1. Indeed it is, you do bring up some very good points.

    Jess
    http://www.privacy-web.us.tc

  2. I certainly agree that the current IP regime needs serious overhauling.

    But quite frankly the DMCA is a godsend for me. I’ve got websites publishing my photos without credit (or even a link back to the source material), sometimes cutting out the Copyright notice, in some cases charging subscriptions to view my work, and associating my work with other work that I and my photographic subjects don’t want to be associated with.

    Now I am sure some of you absolutists will say, “Suck it up.” If you don’t want other people posting, selling or otherwise using your photos don’t make them available in such away that others can make use of them.

    That is one answer. But as long as there is some sort of Copyright regime in place, there needs to be a way for the little guy to enforce his rights.

    If it weren’t for the DCMA, I’d have to hire a lawyer, or go pro se in federal court. I don’t have that kind of time or money, so basically I would have no options.

  3. Dangerous levels of alpha and gamma satire particles began flooding Hit and Run…

  4. Copyright is intellectual slavery. Information wants to be free.

    When all works are published by the government this will no longer be an issue.

  5. Visit my website and stop the IllegalMexican and libruhtarian Kochtopus agenda – click ‘n’ learn.

  6. Hmmm. One indisputable fact about the Clinton administration is that it pushed strong copyright very hard. I was never clear on why the administration took that position, though I suppose it might have had something to do with the Hollywood angle. No telling for sure.

    Anyway, that would be neither here nor there, except that I’m wondering if Obama will follow suit, what with all of the Clinton appointees he’s surrounding himself with. Any clue about who he will appoint to the PTO slot?

  7. I wrote Orrin Hatch (who wrote the DMCA) about the Dmitry Slyarov case. I was impressed that the return correspondence addressed my concernes. It was not a form letter. In it he claimedb that the DMCA “struck the proper balance between content holders’ rights and consumers’ rights.”

    Three years later he proposed new legislation expanding on the DMCA. I wrote him again and asked him why we need to upset the “proper balance.” His staff sent me back a form letter that time.

  8. Hatch is another slave of the copyright lobby.

  9. And I say that as one of the few around here who actually thinks copyright protection is, by and large, a good thing. Just not at the ridiculous level it’s set to today.

  10. Copyright good; DMCA hideous.

  11. Reason on the Internet.

    There’s reason on the internet!?!?!

  12. Amongst our weaponry are such diverse elements as fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency, an almost fanatical devotion to the Obama, and nice red uniforms!

  13. the need for smart folks not to regulate the Net per se, but to, you know, come up with better rules

    If these are government rules, then I think this is a distinction without a difference.

  14. Wrong thread!

    I know, I know you can’t post correctly. I didn’t want to say anything. I just wanted to try and ignore your crass mistake.

  15. One indisputable fact about the Clinton administration is that it pushed strong copyright very hard. I was never clear on why the administration took that position, though I suppose it might have had something to do with the Hollywood angle.

    Naah. Ya think?

  16. @Pro Libertate
    It was called Jack Valenti.

  17. I wasn’t implying that Hollywood wasn’t one of the reasons, but I think that other IP-interested groups may have had a hand in it as well. Like publishing.

  18. there needs to be a way for the little guy to enforce his rights

    Agreed, but little guy or big, the principle remains the same. If you made it, you have exclusive rights to its usage. That so simple a principle is so misunderstood by so many so-called “libertarians” is illustrative of libertarianism’s intellectual inconsistencies.

  19. [T]he idea that Google and YouTube should be held to different rules because they are ginormous in today’s market is troubling.

    No doubt you all remember the powerhouses at the turn of the millennium: AOL, Lycos and Homestead. We all see clearly what happened when they didn’t give what their customer base demanded and I see no reason Google or YouTube are any different.

  20. If you made it, you have exclusive rights to its usage. That so simple a principle is so misunderstood by so many so-called “libertarians” is illustrative of libertarianism’s intellectual inconsistencies.

    That you seem to forget the principal of “Derivative Works” and it’s legislated place within the copyright scheme is illustrative of your intellectual inconsistencies. D.W. flies in the face of “exclusive rights”.

    I support most forms of Copyright and the ability of the creator to not have his work ripped off, but when a YouTube video uses someone’s music, say that of Tripping June, as backdrop to their skateboard antics it in no way dilutes the music or it’s brand.

  21. I support most forms of Copyright and the ability of the creator to not have his work ripped off, but when a YouTube video uses someone’s music, say that of Tripping June, as backdrop to their skateboard antics it in no way dilutes the music or it’s brand.

    Wait, so you support the right of the creator to not have their work ripped off, but using that work for some other purpose entirely isn’t ripping them off? Nice theory. Lemme borrow your wallet to test it out.

  22. No publisher would ever publicize this as well as the internet:

    http://www.theflatearthsociety.net/forum/

    No, this is not a joke. These people are awesome. I encourage you to debate with them for a larf…

  23. Wait, so you support the right of the creator to not have their work ripped off, but using that work for some other purpose entirely isn’t ripping them off? Nice theory. Lemme borrow your wallet to test it out.

    I didn’t say passing another’s work off as your own, nor wholesale copying and retail of a work of art. I am not addressing counterfeiting.

    If you can show me how using a portion of an artist’s work (derivative or otherwise) devalues and causes the artist to loose revenue from the original work then your strawman might be valid.

    Actually, I suspect the opposite to be true. Moby’s sampling of old Blues and Gospel musicians(some anonymous) for his album PLAY, likely led to a wider audience for said music. I dare say a generation was reintroduced to the music of Queen thanks to the publicity surrounding Ice, Ice, Baby. I do feel that Queen should have been rightly credited with the now infamous bass line, but it in no way reduced sales of Queen’s Greatest Hits, and likely led to this cover of it.

    As for my wallet, I will gladly ship this ratty piece of leather to you, complete with the entire contents(minus a State required ID) and you are free to do with it as you please. I will ship it to you via Priority Mail for $4.80. Please provide your mailing address on this board. I regret that I have no cash or credit cards in it, but a stack of receipts and a few business cards will be included for your perusal.

  24. More than once I have heard the following words uttered in seriousness: “It’s censorship because they won’t post my article!” Apple won’t publish on their site your vulgarity laden review about how terrible iPods are? Censorship! Some blog doesn’t have comments? Censorship! Snopes won’t post your 9/11 Troof article? Censorship! Sometimes I suspect that many of the folks walking around aren’t the same species as I.

  25. Sometimes I suspect that many of the folks walking around aren’t the same species as I.

    If you’re Homo awesomeus like me, your suspicions are correct.

  26. Faaaaannnntastic!!! Someone else who wants to regulate us into freedom!

    Spare me, please.

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