Censorship Con

A profound reversal in attitudes has taken place in the last twenty years. While in the 1960’s the cries of “freedom” and “liberty” came from Progressives, today it is the right that sees liberty under attack. The campaign rhetoric of the four Republican candidates for President all put the defense of liberty at the top of their agenda. They see in Progressives attempts to regulate bad actors in the world’s of finance, health insurance, or environmental pollution a basic attack on the free market. As Rick Santorum said on Super Tuesday about Obamacare, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is the beginning of the end of freedom in America. Once the government has control of your life, then they got you.”

I think we need to really consider whether liberty is the value that trumps all others in our society. Let’s take the case of the publisher of backpage.com. 

The biggest forum for sex trafficking of under-age girls in the United States appears to be a Web site called Backpage.com. This emporium for girls and women — some under age or forced into prostitution — is in turn owned by an opaque private company called Village Voice Media. Until now it has been unclear who the ultimate owners are.That mystery is solved. The owners turn out to include private equityfinanciers, including Goldman Sachs with a 16 percent stake…

There’s no doubt that many escort ads on Backpage are placed by consenting adults. But it’s equally clear that Backpage plays a major role in the trafficking of minors or women who are coerced. In one recent case in New York City, prosecutors say that a 15-year-old girl was drugged, tied up, raped and sold to johns through Backpage and other sites.Backpage has 70 percent of the market for prostitution ads, according to AIM Group, a trade organization.

Now the State of Washington has passed a law creating criminal penalties for sites like backpage.com for advertising girls under the age of 18. And what is the response from backpage.com–“Censorship”.

“There’s going to have to be a challenge to it,” said Liz McDougall, general counsel for Village Voice Media Holdings. “Otherwise it would effectively shut down an enormous portion of the Internet that currently permits third-party content.”

Now where have I heard that before? The defenders of Kim Dotcom and the other pirates who have lived luxuriously off the stolen work of musicians and filmmakers around the world, say that any attempt to block these sites is censorship. This is utter nonsense. As I have pointed out before, the issue is not Google or Baidu’s precious freedom, but their precious revenues.

How did we get to this point that the Libertarian rhetoric dominates our political debate? The Village Voice’s liberty to service pimps of underage girls, trumps society’s right to protect those girls from exploitation? The selfish individual’s liberty to not buy health insurance and make the rest of us pay for his emergency room care trumps society’s right to create a working health insurance system? Megaupload’s liberty to host stolen movies trumps the artist’s right to get paid for his work?

As I have said before, we must come off the barricades and stop using this foolish rhetoric of censorship and liberty where it really does not apply. You have no right to free food. Why do you think you have a right to free music? It is time for all the parties involved to sit at the table and figure out some solutions that afford the creators of imaginative work to get paid for their considerable labors.

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21 Responses to Censorship Con

  1. Morgan Warstler says:

    “regulate bad actors”

    Over and over you say the wrong thing.

    If you NEVER tried to “pick the winner” – and just focused on ctaching and prosecuting bad actors WITHOUT favor…. we’d pretty much agree.

    Let me say it again:

    1. you get no elite juice to use gvt. to pick winners.
    2. you get no judgement calls on prosecution

    Then and only after all of that has been purged, you can go after bad actors to your hearts content.

    Jon, this is about not letting liberals matter more, or have more sway, it isn’t about letting conservatives break laws.

  2. Morgan Warstler says:

    when you are JUST focusing on bad actors… this shit is impossible:

    http://freebeacon.com/loose-bulbs/

    To me, the bigger danger is ALWAYS shit like this write large.

    I’d rather trust the Tea Party to go after bankers than to trust you to stop this junk

  3. len says:

    http://news.cnet.com/8301-31001_3-57408033-261/new-copyright-center-ready-to-fire-on-pirates-exclusive/?part=rss&subj=news&tag=2547-1_3-0-20&tag=nl.e703

    Clients, graduated response, fear by entertainment industry insiders that the ISPs don’t have the guts for the fight (or the theat of imposing a user fee/tax made them less queasy), critics of the bill on the board (co-opt) and so on.

    Seems to me, Jon, the plan is going forward and now you’ll have your own army for it, so what’s the problem? Well, for one, it may not be the ISP queasy that becomes the weasliest queasy. The real challenge is not becoming yet another source of alienation between artists and fans.

    Why do they think the music should be free? They don’t. They know it doesn’t have to be that expensive or lock up the copyrights as inheritable wealth. They believe a mashup on YouTube is fair use. They want to choose who they listen to, watch, hang out with on Facebook, and sometimes it isn’t the quality of the production; it’s the honesty of the message and the emotions. They don’t want to be programmed any longer. They want to interact, to be considered, to be necessary and not simply when bunched into a stadium. They want to connect.

    The reality is the spell is broken anyway and this is sort of a rear guard action for the old guys and gals to keep the checks coming in the mail. But this will be the last generation of it so your kids might want to plan accordingly.

    We don’t need you. We have our own shit. :)

  4. John Papola says:

    @Morgan Warstler

    I love Obama’s energy department. It’s so horrendously corrupt, it’s like the anti-statist gift that keeps on giving.

    As for the defense of big content, sorry, but there’s a very legit debate over whether Disney has the “right” to use government force on people drawing Mickey Mouse. Yes, people should have the absolute right to make a living through peaceful commerce. No question. But it’s not clear to me that aiding corporate jackboots as they harass their biggest customers belongs in that category.

    And, no, liberty is not the only value that matters. But it IS the most important. From it emerges our creativity, our opportunities and our rising standard of living. It is the means to our good-society ends, be them viewed through the natural rights or utilitarian welfare maximization.

  5. Fentex says:

    Now where have I heard that before? The defenders of Kim Dotcom and the other pirates who have lived luxuriously off the stolen work of musicians and filmmakers around the world, say that any attempt to block these sites is censorship.

    Numerous people have patiently replied to your worries in detail about the economic, social and philosophical issues raised by the Internets capabilities.

    I don’t recall any proclaiming a desire to exploit immature victims of sexual predation and your effort to conflate reasoned discussion with despicable slavery is unworthy and insulting.

  6. Fentex says:

    A few posts ago you conflated the vandalism of Anonymous with discussion of a free and uncensored Internet as here you attempt to conflate sexual predation with it.

    If this is the standard of logic you prefer then people are correct to be worried that should people sharing your ambitions get the ability to shutdown web sites they will apply the same laxadaisical associations and standards of reasoning in annihilating others opportunities.

    Screaming “think of the chuldren” in the hope of instigating unreasoning unconscious and unconscionable supplication to every abuse of civil independence and freedom isn’t a mature recognition of limits to freedom and liberty it’s a plain assault against the concept.

    It’s the very thing this post appears to critique at it’s beginning but then appears to try and best the Republicans at. If you really want to avoid using “this foolish rhetoric of censorship and liberty where it really does not apply.” you would be well advised not to try and use the rhetoric of demonising all opposition by attempting to associate them with child molesters and vandals.

    That does not hold any high ground.

  7. Fentex says:

    It is time for all the parties involved to sit at the table and figure out some solutions that afford the creators of imaginative work to get paid for their considerable labors.

    Spotify is a text book case of the problem in doing this. It’s popular, it reduces infringement, builds a customer base and is being crushed by rights holders unwilling to acknowledge market realities apparently being more interested in keeping control than making sales.

    In France a report regarding HADOPI, their three strikes law, has been trumpeting it’s success in reducing infringement of movies. Supposedly reducing French P2P sharing of movies by more than 50%. In the same period sales and attendance of movies in France fell by about 3%.

    While this seems like copying has no meaningful effect on sales a comic might point out it suggests copying and private promotion has a positive effect as suppressing it correlates with decreasing sales.

    But what’s probably really happening is that competition for peoples attention and money is fierce and new markets are siphoning from movies (and music). Piracy is likely not the problem.

    The fundamental problem business has with selling music today is that it every customer born after 1990 knows it should be cheap and available on demand from anywhere at any time and there’s no way pretending it should cost what it did back in the day distribution was a physical problem will change that.

    So services like Spotify, or other innovative subscription concepts, are where the future lies – but as long as rights holders resist this and block them from growing and/or being born in the first place the more they demand that people ignore them and the more they fund private sharing through their intransigence.

    Even if nigh on every infringing web site could be blocked it wouldn’t help. The web is merely the most obvious of the modern technologies that have destroyed the past.

    In unconnected (by landlines) Africa people share music via bluetooth phone to phone and that’s only going to get easier with improving technology and hardware.

    I carry a 32Gb thumb drive on my keyring – it’s smaller than my little finger, always with me, and two years old. There’s smaller, better, higher capacity devices available today and in five years they’ll come free with your breakfeast cereal. I use mine haphazardly and mostly to keep editing tools to hand but it’s trivial to imagine how these things can be used to distribute media.

    Business has to get it through it’s head that the sharing genie is never going back in the bottle.

    Yet it remains possible to compete with it. People value and will pay for quality, authenticity, ease, access, other intangibles and the very tangible live performance.

  8. Jon Taplin says:

    @Fentex-My contention is fairly simple. Don’t use the first amendment as an excuse for criminal behavior. Both Kim Dotcom and the Village Voice are trying to cloak their craven avarice in the tones of some courageous fight for freedom. This is a crock and you know it.

  9. len says:

    On that, I agree with Jon, FWIW. It’s one thing to be chasing down old ladies who use a tune for wedding video. That’s dumb. It’s another thing to be operating a massive server farm for distributing other people’s work and profiting by it in the large. These are the people one can profitably litigate and should. I’ve no sympathy for Megauploads and the Village Voice.

    Taste? People are paying for Katy Perry and Justin Bieber. The media mourns Whitney who killed herself the old fashioned way but dissed Davy Jones who was healthy until his heart gave out. Big Media hypocrisy is a pit with no bottom.

    The big difference is now a small voice can find an audience and say what they want to say or what needs to be said. There is no A&R guy telling them “not with our money”.

    Money? Not so much but that’s ok. For the artists, it’s a better world today than it was when the Majors owned it.

  10. AMusingFool says:

    @len

    I think you’re close to hitting the nail on the head here. The key point that I think you’re missing is that it isn’t “us” vs “them” anymore. Now everyone can be a creator and a publisher. The only ones threatened are the old gatekeepers (publishers and distributors, mostly). Well, and the recording industry is being disposed of. But since that’s only a small part of the music industry, and the overall music industry is growing, I’m really not seeing the downside.

    As far as the specifics of backpage.com, I think regulating away the site is not only a form of censorship (because I’m reasonably certain that not everything occurring there is illegal), but it’s actually counterproductive to the purpose of stopping the illegal stuff, as well.

    If it’s really a hub for illegal activity, monitor it and figure out who the bad actors are. That’s police work. Yes, it’s harder than flipping a switch (which just forces that activity to find another home), but it’s more effective in the long run.

  11. AMusingFool says:

    @Jon Taplin

    I think you’re badly oversimplifying here. If setting up a cyberlocker is such a full-proof business model, why are the incumbent players not getting into that business themselves. Where’s Universal’s cyberlocker?

    Also, you ignore that such sites have many more legitimate uses, as well as that those sites pretty much always follow DMCA takedown requests. It also ignores some specifics of megaupload (yes, Kim Dotcom is a flamboyant schmuck, but that’s not illegal, last I checked), where they worked with artists to help promote them.

    You also seem to be ignoring the physical impossibility of monitoring all the data coming into such a site. Work off filename? Ok, is the file what it claims to be? And now, the hard part: does the person have the rights to have a copy of that? Do they have the rights to distribute it? Is it still under copyright? If so, is it distributed under something like a Creative Commons license? Can you, 100% programmatically (because it would take roughly the entire world’s population to do it by hand), answer all of those questions? To help answer there, here’s a handy copyright flowchart for the part about still being under copyright:

    And, of course, then there’s some really hard questions: do you know the year of creation (yeah, that sounds easy, on its face, but look at this mess)? Do you know who the rightsholder is (keeping in mind that the copyright office still hasn’t digitized its records)?

    Does the fact that most of those questions are impossible to answer in anything like a timely manner mean that any such business model must be outlawed before it can be tried? If so, that sure doesn’t sound like ‘Promoting the Progress’ to me.

  12. Fentex says:

    Don’t use the first amendment as an excuse for criminal behavior.

    I don’t believe any part of Kim Dotcoms defence against claims of criminal enabling of copyright are going to be appeals to the U.S Constitutions First Amendment.

    I’m fairly sure his defence is going to be rooted in arguments that his company fulfilled all it’s obligations regarding copyright laws – whether true, successful or not.

    You continue to attempt to conflate separate issues.

  13. Fentex says:

    As far as the specifics of backpage.com, I think regulating away the site is not only a form of censorship (because I’m reasonably certain that not everything occurring there is illegal), but it’s actually counterproductive to the purpose of stopping the illegal stuff, as well.

    This very argument was made some time ago when grandstanding politicians used moral panics against Graigs List to makle it harder for law enforcement to track possible abuses.

    This article on Techdirt, and the many previous articles linked to on that site, highlights the very predictable and accurately predicted, effect of blindly attempting censorship.

    It is ineffective, has many side effects and actively hampers intelligent law enforcement.

    If this Backpage is a place such evils as forced prostitution are funded then it’s a resource for finding the villains and prosecuting them.

    The more authorities are mindlessly reactionary to all breaches and intrusive in surveillance the quicker the entire Internet will be strongly encrypted and hidden.

    Effective policing is policing by consent. Authorities that actively respect the rights of citizens will engender the cooperation of citizens.

    Enabling casual censorship on the basis of political hotspots is not respecting citizens and will only set populations against their governments.

    “They’re worse than a crime; they’re a mistake”

  14. len says:

    @AMusingFool

    The key point that I think you’re missing is that it isn’t “us” vs “them” anymore.

    I agree. “They” are irrelevant unless they want to play. I have a dualistic view: there are players and there are “audience”.

    Some folks here should read that CNN article I posted though and understand they have there own “go get ‘em” mob dressed up in nice suits who tell the ISP’s whom to harass. It could get rather sticky. The problem is the Bigger They out there is taking control of everything from the food supply to the web in ways that enable them to squeeze at will.

    The Fuzz (to use an old term) have been using the ISPs to track criminals for quite awhile. It overwhelms them so they tend to pick and choose and as they have in Britain, they start joining the side of the media moguls (think Murdoch). Then we are truly hosed.

    All that considered, I tend to worry more about them squeezing access by the indies to free YouTube distribution. If they start locking out access, we’re screwed.

    Good to see you back, AMF.

  15. len says:

    Re: recording industry. I think it hurts the right below the top guys who have to spend a lot of money staying current. Two of my friends have the original Muscle Shoals Sound and equipped it with vintage gear (eg, board used for Zeppelin and the Beatles, etc.) and seem to be doing ok with boutique work. Henry wasn’t wrong about that: really good sound requires really expensive gear. We can do ok with out laptops and software but an analog limiter or vocal amplifier is still a better sound. Higher quality recording always has a place. It’s the lower quality music that has to compete and then it is a matter of the theme. I figured even my Ave Maria (Schubert) would do ok (16k downloads and climbing). I was very surprised to see Samantha Brown hit 800 downloads in a month. No not industry numbers, but again, within the scale I operate it’s quite good and confirms that a good beat and a bit of cheek still work in pop music.

    We all take ourselves too seriously when we really ought to be making people feel something sweet, blue and sexy. So ahm going downtown with Samantha Brown. ;)

  16. Fentex says:

    In complaing about those ocncerend with censorship I think you confuse people who understand the dangers of poorly drafted legislation that empowers priviledge seekers with obtuse sneaks seeking their own priviledge.

    I think you imagine SOPA, ACTA and the TPPP to be morally proper efforts to restrain wide spread ill willed abuse of technology and infrastructure and people who fear their crushing independent expression to be shallow self serving whiners.

    You are mistaken if you believe those things about the legislation in question, because;

    a) First, they are not moral. All these bills were drafted in secret with the express intention of excluding the major interested party in I.P laws – the public, so that the particular interests of the lobbyists present oculd be served.

    b) They exist to restrain abuse. If they did they’d be written to be only effective when applied to abuse. But they are not,. They stamp all over rights of individuals, such as any right to do with your own property as you please, to work with others in ways not endorsed by the corporate lobbyists who drafted the law and to freely report accurately. If these laws wanted to only restrain abuses there’d be no diffilculty in adding phrases such as “[restriction applies] where intended to circumvent legal protected rights.” to prohibitions on, say, modifying a game console.

    But they don’t. And they will be used by companies with deep pockets to the greatest extent they can be to protect incumbent monopolies. You don’t even need to have any new laws to watch wealth attempt to assert priviledge by burying those with less under costly suits.

    Putting aside esoteric arguments about intelligence on friends and enemies needing to evaluate them by capability rather than intent there are simple practical examples on display from use of the DMCA to illustrate censorship in action, through these tools.

    Most recently I recall an example of a man caught on film being drunk and silly restrained in a cop car. For some reason a studio had the footage taken down through a DMCA complaint – I think because what made it interesting to peopel was his singing of The Bohemian Rhapsody. This was plainly silly and the video was quickly restored. Some might confuse this with censorship but really it was just silly enititled over-reach of intellectual priviledge.

    What followed next, however, was censorship. The man in the video then issued a DMCA take down of the video, while having no legal basis on which to do so but apparently feeling humiliated by it. But because the DMCA is a clumsy tool ISP’s are in no position resist any demand any person with a little chutzpah can use it to censor most anything.

    One small clear example that demonstrates clear censoring through abuse of over reaching legislation. And anyone paying attention sees many more.

    Any new legislation that wants to restrain abuse of reasonable legal rights needs to be discussed in public among all interested parties so that it’s socially acceptable ambitions can be debated, refined, and properly circumscribed to suit the purpose in open debate.

    And absent public debate anyone is quite right to fear, even if they don’t bother to investigate in detail, legislation crafted in secret by industry insiders with fat wallets.

  17. len says:

    And they aren’t going to be effective against peer to peer wireless technology. This only works while the ISPs do the enforcing. Centralization is the most limiting form of governing and over a technology that is distributed by design, most ineffective.

    People are bound by insisting on the old music, the old films, the old stars. It’s good to learn from the classics but the future is full of new sounds, new sights and new lights. The future always wins.

  18. AMusingFool says:

    len :
    @AMusingFool

    The key point that I think you’re missing is that it isn’t “us” vs “them” anymore.

    I agree. “They” are irrelevant unless they want to play. I have a dualistic view: there are players and there are “audience”.

    No, what I meant is that isn’t so much players and audience anymore. A lot more of the “audience” are becoming players as well (via remix, or just because the bars to entry are so much lower now).

    It overwhelms them [the police] so they tend to pick and choose and as they have in Britain, they start joining the side of the media moguls (think Murdoch). Then we are truly hosed.

    This is certainly already happening. To the point that the head of the Copyright office is now saying that the media moguls are the only ones who matter. That’s scary.

    All that considered, I tend to worry more about them squeezing access by the indies to free YouTube distribution. If they start locking out access, we’re screwed.
    Good to see you back, AMF.

    I completely agree. I hope TPP gets the same push-back that SOPA got (and that the pushback in Europe is enough to derail ACTA). Those are not helpful, in the slightest. Plus, it’d be nice if ICE had to actually defend some of their domain seizures in court; so they can be told that they don’t have the legal authority to do that.

    And thanks. Wish I’d found out John was posting again sooner.

  19. len says:

    No, what I meant is that isn’t so much players and audience anymore. A lot more of the “audience” are becoming players as well (via remix, or just because the bars to entry are so much lower now).

    I agree but it’s still audience or player. IOW, it’s about who we interact with. T-Bone called it “access”. Jon talked about “who we will let ourselves be vulnerable to”. Yes, the costs are lower so we can make things on laptops that used to require major budgets and teams. Yes, we can put a cat video on YouTube and get millions of hits and even a few dollars if we are willing to say we own all the content. Remixers need not apply.

    A problem for the people is how many causes du jour pop up on the FB page or whatever channel we tuned into. This is deja moo from the sixties when cause piled on cause and after a time it became harder to find anyone willing to march. If the same bull keeps coming up with a different pasture, after awhile the grass just doesn’t do it as a stimulant. We become “comfortably dumb”. The ones who focus and persist come up on top. T-Bone is a good example of that. He sticks to the roots.

    Speaking of, the DJ said last Saturday T-Bone and Elton have a new album coming out soon where Elton returns to his “roots”. It will be entertaining to find out exactly what those are considering his second album is the heavily stringified album with Your Song and that is not usually T-Bone’s tap. So this ought to be a surprise.

    The reality of art is there is a hierarchy of talent and access to resources. The best work with the best. The web did not change the laws of creative physics. It gave us a much bigger cheaper lab to experiment in. It gives those of us with second rate chops a chance to experiment and get our message out there. That is the equalizer: a message doesn’t necessarily need an expensive suit. On the other hand, for those who wait and harvest, a message can be delayed until someone who can afford the suit dresses it up and is annointed The Messenger while the Innovator fades . So ultimately we have to do this because the doing matters most to us, not to win the Rise Prize.

    These things have not changed in the least. What has changed is forgetting is a lot harder once the message is out there, so in that since, the odds are better.

  20. len says:

    “sense”. Benadryl makes typing harder. Treatment week.

    Let’s turn this on it’s head for the sake of argument. Is the thesis that the best only work with the best, (a core Apple belief so not limited to the entertainment industry) an expression of social darwinism?

    http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/08/the-taint-of-social-darwinism/

    The idea of a free market liberty is also a defense of bare knuckles competition. The idea of voluntary association espoused by the libertarians, is it not the same idea that the best work with the best? Or is the judgement of what is best what is also for sale?

    A market elite is an elite until a majority of consumers say it isn’t by voting with their feet/purchase. Then talent is not, for that transaction, the value driving the purchase. A social darwinist argues that it should be and over some number of transactions, that claim tends to be true. Or is it the case that social darwinism and the public good are inherently in conflict and for some categories of transactions, there is no appreciable public good in the way that buying and consuming an ice cream cone in no way contributes to the public good?

  21. len says:

    http://edition.cnn.com/2012/04/19/tech/web/anonymous-music-service/index.html

    Anonymous fires back with services. The Spy vs Spy strip for this month.

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