Tag Archives: tech populism

The Sky Is Falling, At Least in the EFF’s Digital World

“What color is the sky in your world?” 

A polite and gently humorous way to tell another party that their reality may be a little different to the one the rest of us are experiencing. Unfortunately it’s Chicken Little, if you’re the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and you inhabit a digital world in which the sky is constantly falling.

 

Nowhere is that more evident than this week, as the organization that charges itself with “Defending Your Rights In the Digital World” channels the righteous efforts of its legal team towards supporting Movietube, a site that excels in ripping off the digital rights of creators.

The concept is simple, until you choose to complicate and obfuscate in the manner that the EFF has down to a fine art.

Movietube and the  sites that it associates with its service are operated to serve up stolen content, unpaid and unlicensed from its original creators. That content gives the site a selling point to attract its traffic, on the basis of which it sells advertising, subscriptions, or both. Less some minor hosting and maintenance costs, the gap between what the site should have paid for that content and what it can bring by providing it for free is pure profit. Profit that the creative talent behind said content can never see, of course, because Movietube and its ilk are ripping them off without compunction or a care for the law.

The latter is important, because these sites operate outside of national law, in the digital world that the EFF is so staunchly defending. This is a world in which the creator has no rights or respect, and serves simply to make the content that others can profit from. To confirm this, look no further than the site’s policy on content licensing:

“Luckily we are not a US company, so we do not need to respect US laws.” -Movietube

By running their sites from countries without the motivation or means to pursue them, the current legal framework makes it extremely difficult to protect intellectual property across some international borders. Productions that might cost hundreds of millions of dollars and countless creative hours to make are immediately released for free public viewing in this reality, which begs the question: how are creators supposed to live in this world the EFF is trying to mould?

 

 

But while it conveniently ignores the legal transgressions of piracy sites in favor of spouting its latest Doomsday scenario, the EFF simultaneously exaggerates the legal action being sought by rightsholders in their suit against Movietube.

Far from seeking “one court order to bind… the entire Internet,” as the rather Tolkien-esque language employed in a blog by EFF lawyer Mitch Stoltz proclaims, studios are in fact seeking injunctions based on infringement complaints that are well established in copyright case law.

Moreover, these actions are pursued in federal courts that fully respect our founding legal principle of due process. Action is only taken against defendants if and when an independent court determines that the legal rights of US creators have been violated, and only binds third parties that have direct ties with the infringing party, by actively aiding that copyright infringement.

With these details presented, the only recourse for those with a pathological fear of any legal action involving Internet content restriction is to muddy the waters. By painting the issue with broad strokes Doomsday scenarios and infusing the discussion with the fear-mongering so characteristic of technology lobbying.

The sky is falling…. again.

Which brings us back to SOPA; such a frequently used crutch of the technology lobby that its original context matters not a jot, so long as it supports that aforementioned skyline from falling to whatever is chosen as this week’s extinction level event.

The EFF and its well-positioned cronies around the tech sector keep returning to SOPA for one reason: it’s the perfect rabble-rouser. SOPA is to tech populism as Obamacare is to the political far-right in the US, a cultural shorthand guaranteed to raise the ire of your rank and file, regardless of how it is twisted or inaccurately applied as a comparison.

As effective as this tactic is, it tends to be rolled out whenever the underlying argument against the actual issue is inherently weak. After examining the content of Movietube’s character, and the exaggerated rhetoric of the EFF’s argument against penalizing it, we’ll leave you to decide which world is the better one for creators to live in.

 

The Reality of Asking ICANN to Unveil the Anonymous

One of the greatest strengths of the Internet, its ability to operate without right or regard for international borders, is also one of its most troubling. This truly global nature opens up unique opportunities that no other channel can reach but can also used to bypass strong legal frameworks.

Intellectual property is one of those affected areas, and it is for this reason that rights holders and authorities are trying to add a layer of accountability to commercial operations online.

ICANN Logo

ICANN Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Standing against these efforts is the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Dedicated to blocking any initiatives that it fears will alter the early days of an Internet without limits – and often without respect for laws – this is an organization with its fingers in a lot of pies. And with its friends in high (tech) places, the EFF also has the funds and associated lobbying power that it denounces in other activist groups.

That said, it comes as no surprise to see the EFF rallying its troops for a debate around the responsibilities of ICANN – the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers – which is the US-based entity charged with keeping the Internet “secure, stable and interoperable.” 

That would be fine if the EFF had any intention of making its case in a calm and measured manner. After all, it is ICANN’s stated goal to hear from multiple stakeholders and come to a balanced conclusion about what the wider online community wants to see from the organization. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen in the past, tech sector-backed lobbying groups like EFF tend to take an extreme tack to their activism, rooting arguments in Orwellian language and playing on fear as a primary mode of influence.
That’s a requirement in this case, because there’s no reason to believe that legitimate online entities will be subject to some unprompted mass outing and stripped of their digital liberty by rights holders, as the tech lobbyists are beginning to paint this particular picture. ICANN president Fadi Chehadé  said as much last week in Washington, confirming that the organization will strictly avoid becoming any kind of “content police.”

The issue here is about identifying the bad actors online through ICANN, not molding the organization into judge, jury and executioner. That said, there is still a fundamental role for it to play in securing creative rights online, as its stated objective alludes to.

As a fundamental organizer of the Internet, ICANN cannot avoid its responsibility to aid authorities when a crime is committed. Where anonymity helps criminals, whether content thieves, data hackers, our worse, it should be lifted to help investigators shut down illegal operations.

As a side note, it’s worth remembering that this proposal is not yet final, but it being discussed by a working group at ICANN.  Despite being at such an early stage, EFF lawyers are already calling this idea “troubling,” citing a desire to prevent spam and other minor irritations, at least in comparison to the theft of creative works that anonymity can sometimes cloak.

“Respect our privacy” is the call on early EFF materials. This should really read “Respect Our Piracy,” as the organization once again lines up to fight the removal of a key provision for hiding those who own the domains facilitating content theft.