Tag Archives: Congress

Against SOPA and PIPA, for an open Internet

If you haven’t heard of SOPA and PIPA, you will today, as reddit, Wikipedia, Google, Craigslist, Free Software Foundation, and many other websites protest those Internet censorship bills today. The so-called Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is a House bill (H.R.3261) and the so-called PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) is a Senate bill (S.968) (most recently renamed Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011). Both have nothing to do with promoting creativity and everything to do with giving a few large copyright holders priority over the Internet, requiring censorship of links to entire domains. Have you heard of the Great Firewall of China? That’s where the Chinese government censors entire domains such as facebook, youtube, and twitter because they contain some content that the Chinese government doesn’t want distributed. SOPA and PIPA would do the same thing, except putting Hollywood in charge of what would be censored. In a perfect example of the DC lobbying revolving door, former Senator Chris Dodd, now Chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America, called the anti-SOPA blackout an “abuse of power”. Funny how it’s only an abuse of power when we fight back.

If you don’t believe me, listen to Mythbuster Adam Savage.

Here’s a technical explanation. And here’s a letter of objection many of the engineers who built the Internet.

Here’s where the anti-SOPA blackout started: Continue reading

SOPA Could Destroy the Internet as We Know It —Adam Savage

Congress reconvenes in January and will take up the Internet censorship bills SOPA and PIPA again. The House only deferred SOPA because of widespread public outcry. Proponents of SOPA, funded by big corporate money, are probably just hoping opponents will be distracted by the holidays. Adam Savage reminds us why we need to be vigilant and keep flooding Congress with calls to vote down those bills or anything like them.

MythBuster Adam Savage wrote for Popular Mechanics 20 December 2011, SOPA Could Destroy the Internet as We Know It

Right now Congress is considering two bills—the Protect IP Act, and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)—that would be laughable if they weren’t in fact real. Honestly, if a friend wrote these into a piece of fiction about government oversight gone amok, I’d have to tell them that they were too one-dimensional, too obviously anticonstitutional.

Make no mistake: These bills aren’t simply unconstitutional, they are anticonstitutional. They would allow for the wholesale elimination of entire websites, domain names, and chunks of the DNS (the underlying structure of the whole Internet), based on nothing more than the “good faith” assertion by a single party that the website is infringing on a copyright of the complainant. The accused doesn’t even have to be aware that the complaint has been made.

I’m not kidding.

He goes on to correctly compare SOPA and PIPA unfavorably to the already bad Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998. You remember, the DMCA that big copyright holders used to sue pre-teen video and audio “pirates” and to take down websites on suspicion. Savage cites a case where somebody with no copyright still got YouTube vidoes taken down under DMCA. Yes, SOPA and PIPA are even worse.

If you like YouTube, twitter, facebook, blogs, etc., it’s time to speak up. Call your Senators and House members. Send them email. Write them paper letters. Petition them. Show up at their offices. Petition the White House to veto it if Congress passes it, and any other bills like it. Right now we still have the Internet to organize these things.


Version Tracking for Congress

Stuff that’s been old hat for decades in the computing world is fresh and shiny in government. Govtrack.us tracks not only bills, but also voting records and videos of Congress members. And it adds RSS feeds, old hat to most people on the Internet, but radical innovation for legislation! You can now subscribe to every bill, vote, and YouTube video that your Congress critter posts, including many of their floor speeches. Those are especially enlightening, seeing them speak in front of a mostly empty chamber, especially compared with their previous voting and speech records. Govtrack should be useful not only for the public, but for Congress members and their staffers, for example by making it easier for them to read the bill before voting on it.

Maybe using the Internet to shine a little light on Congress can lead to a more open Internet and maybe even a more open society.

Lessig’s Herculean Holiday Present: Reboot the FCC

1990.05.0243.jpeg Here’s a good test for the new U.S. Executive: to recognize that steady pragmatism means radical change, starting with the FCC:
The solution here is not tinkering. You can’t fix DNA. You have to bury it. President Obama should get Congress to shut down the FCC and similar vestigial regulators, which put stability and special interests above the public good. In their place, Congress should create something we could call the Innovation Environment Protection Agency (iEPA), charged with a simple founding mission: “minimal intervention to maximize innovation.” The iEPA’s core purpose would be to protect innovation from its two historical enemies—excessive government favors, and excessive private monopoly power.

Reboot the FCC, We’ll stifle the Skypes and YouTubes of the future if we don’t demolish the regulators that oversee our digital pipelines. By Lawrence Lessig, Newsweek Web Exclusive, 23 Dec 2008

Lessig gets the connection with his old topic of intellectual property and copyright. Those are monopolies granted by the federal government, and they have been abused by the monopoly holders just like the holders of communication monopolies: Continue reading

America’s Punditocracy Expressed Its Shock

29 September 2008, the day the Internet was validated as more influential than the traditional press:
People discovered that to “Change Congress,” you simply need a ballot box – or the threat of one.

All this was reflected on political sites, forums and blogs – but not a hint of this sentiment was expressed by the professional media. So when Congress rejected the Bill on that Monday, America’s punditocracy expressed its shock. It also reported that the markets were “astonished” – the markets being presumed to have a better grasp of what American citizens want than American citizens themselves.

All week, the media had refrained from comment that might embarrass the political class. In fact, the first professional column I read which was reflected the true feelings of many US citizens around me was written from 3,500 miles away and published in London’s Sunday Times.

Sudden outbreak of democracy baffles US pundits, By Andrew Orlowski, The Register, Posted in Government, 3rd October 2008 18:47 GMT

Dinosaurs were probably shocked by mammals, too.


Movie King of the Internet: Bad Idea

kong_iup2.jpg Andrew Odlyzko asks what if the duopoly gets its way and completely does away with net neutrality:
But what if they do get their wish, net neutrality is consigned to the dustbin, and they do build their new services, but nobody uses them? If the networks that are built are the ones that are publicly discussed, that is a likely prospect. What service providers publicly promise to do, if they are given complete control of their networks, is to build special facilities for streaming movies. But there are two fatal defects to that promise. One is that movies are unlikely to offer all that much revenue. The other is that delivering movies in real-time streaming mode is the wrong solution, expensive and unnecessary. If service providers are to derive significant revenues and profits by exploiting freedom from net neutrality limitations, they will need to engage in much more intrusive control of traffic than just provision of special channels for streaming movies.

— The delusions of net neutrality, Andrew Odlyzko, School of Mathematics, University of Minnesota Minneapolis, MN 55455, USA odlyzko@umn.edu http://www.dtc.umn.edu/odlyzko Revised version, August 17, 2008

Why is that?
But video, and more generally content (defined as material prepared by professionals for wide distribution, such as movies, music, newscasts, and so on), is not king, and has never been king. While content has frequently dominated in terms of volume of traffic, connectivity has almost universally been valued much more highly and brought much higher revenues. Movies cannot be counted on to bring in anywhere near as much in revenues as voice services do today.
The Internet isn't about Sarnoff's Law (broadcast content like TV, radio, and newspapers) or even about Metcalfe's Law (1-n connectivity, like telephone or VoIP): it's about Reed's law, 2n-n connectivity, such as blogs, P2P, and facebook). That's my interpretation; Odlyzko probably wouldn't agree.

Anyway, that video content such as movies is king is one of the primary delusions Odlyzko addresses in this paper. The other is that movies need to be streamed in realtime. It is mysterious why people continue to believe that in the face of the massive evidence BitTorrent and other P2P services that deliver big content in chunks faster than realtime. I can only attribute this second delusion to a bellhead mindset that still thinks in terms of telephone, which was realtime because nobody knew any other way to do it back in the analog-copper-wire-connection day.

As Odlyzko sums it up:

The general conclusion is that the story presented by service providers, that they need to block net neutrality in order to be able to afford to construct special features in their networks for streaming movies, is simply not credible. If lack of net neutrality requirements is to be exploited, it will have to be done through other, much more intrusive means.
So why let the duopoly force a policy on everyone else that won't even work to the advantage of the duopoly?

One way to get net neutrality would be to let the duopoly have its way, and wait for it to implode. However, given that for streaming video to have any chance of succeeding, the duopoly would have to clamp down on everything else to eliminate any competition, I shudder to think what this would mean. The Internet as a source of real news and opinion would go away. Given that the vestigial traditional news media in the U.S. (TV, radio, newspapers) provide so little news, there's a very good chance that most people in the U.S. wouldn't even know how bad they had it as the country sped its slide into parochialism and irrelevance. How many people even know now that the U.S. has slid from #1 to #23 or whatever the latest number is in broadband uptake? If the duopoly is given its head, even fewer would know.

If we let King Kong Telco and T Rex Cableco battle it out to be Movie King of the Internet, where does that leave poor Fay Wray Public?

FCC, FTC, Congress, executive, and courts, not to mention the public, should all read Odlyzko's paper, and should all refuse the duopoly's demand for special privileges that won't even produce profits for the duopoly. Then all of above should legislate, enforce, and maintain net neutrality so we will all profit and benefit. Yes, even the duopoly can win with this.


Congress at 9% Job Approval: Why Is Lessig Putting Lipstick on the FISA Pig?

fisa_crumbling.jpg Larry Lessig points out that for the first time in history Congress’ job performance is rated (by Rasmussen) in single digits: 9%. Some of his commenters think that has something to do with the recent FISA bill, and others think that’s just a minority concern.

Three quarters of the American people and even a majority of Republicans oppose Bush’s warrantless wiretaps. Two thirds oppose warrantless wiretaps even for communications between U.S. citizens and overseas persons, and almost 2/3 oppose immunity for telcos. Aome people call that a minority. I don’t think that word means what they think it means.

Instead of standing up to Bush as the Constitution requires, Congress capitulated and gave the worst president in history still more powers to spy on the people. And the people do know about it:

“Congress rolled over on FISA” –LA Times
“Democrats voted for FISA out of fear” –Chicago Tribune
“Obama gives telecoms a pass” –Hartford Courant
“Senate approves bill to broaden wiretap powers” –NY Times
“Senate vote backs Bush on wiretaps” –Salt Lake Tribune
“Senate vote gives Bush what he wants on surveillance bill” –Seattle Times
News.google.com finds about 960 other stories much like those.

Is the FISA bill the only reason Congress’s numbers tanked? Nope, but I don’t think it’s coincidence that they dropped immediately after the Senate passed that bill.

Why isn’t Larry Lessig working to convince Obama he was wrong and getting him to fix it, instead of trying to put lipstick on that pig of a bill?


Banana Republic, DC: Telecom Lobbying Revolving Door

800px-Banana_republic.svg.png Greenwald notes that AT&T spends more in three months for lobbying than EFF’s entire budget for a year. Then he spells out how the lobbying revolving door works, and concludes:
The “two sides” referenced there means the House Democratic leadership and the telecoms. Congressional leaders are “negotiating” with the telecoms — the defendants in pending lawsuits — regarding the best way for immunizing them from liability for their lawbreaking, no doubt with the help of the former Democratic members and staffers now being paid by the telecoms to speak to their former bosses and colleagues about what they should do. To describe the process is to illustrate its oozing, banana-republic-like corruption, but that’s generally how our laws are written.

None of this is particularly new, but it’s still remarkable to be able to document it in such grotesque detail and see how transparent it all is. In one sense, it’s just extraordinary how seamlessly and relentlessly the wheels of this dirty process churn. But in another sense, it’s perhaps even more remarkable — given the forces lined up behind telecom amnesty — that those who have been working against it, with far fewer resources and relying largely on a series of disruptive tactics and ongoing efforts to mobilize citizen anger, have been able to stop it so far.

How telecoms are attempting to buy amnesty from Congress, Glenn Greenwald, Salon.com, Saturday May 24, 2008 06:48 EDT

Remember, AT&T and the other telcos and cablecos are the same companies that want to nuke net neutrality in the name of competition and progress; two other flags they behind, just like the banana republic flag of national security.