Saturday, February 4, 2012

Corporate Sponsored Censorship of Your Internet

You know since this whole SOPA/PIPA thing came about I started thinking about censorship and how it has started to invade our lives. When those who had settled here freed themselves from the Tyranny of British rule, it was with the belief that a free and open society was better than one where a ruler sought to control the freedom of information and of its people's rights. They believed that whatever they did it would have to be better than what they had left behind. 

There have been a lot of arguments from people that the First Amendment is not absolute that the framers would have never intended that. Let's examine that for a moment. Remember that these people were oppressed from speaking the truth in both written form and speech as well they had no ability to petition their government for grievances. People who are generally oppressed this way want something different, they don't want something a little different but usually they want the very things they believe they have a right to as a living being who thinks. 

So its not far fetched to think that the framers of the constitution believed the only type of government that was one they would live under was one that was exactly the opposite of the one they fled from and fought for independence against. One usually does not fight so vigorously for something they believe so little in. So assuming the framers in fact did intend the First Amendment to be absolute then lets take a look at what it says:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Now remember we are assuming this to be absolute, our congress shall make NO law that abridges the freedom of its people to speak openly or privately in anyway, and the right of the press to print freely said speech. It's pretty easy to read and understand what they wanted and what they wrote down.

We are all taught in school that we live in a democracy, of course this is incorrect as we live in a republic but that matters very little to the point I'm trying to make. Because the reality is we live in a very different country one in which the corporations have slowly over time moved our government from a democracy or republic to what is called corporatocracy. This type of government isn't one in which the people make the rules by which to live, but one in which the corporations do. 

Now this kind of thing has been going on for a while, in fact long before the Internet was even created. Corporations spend millions of dollars paying off the United States Congress to buy legislation that favors them. They do this with powerful lobbying groups who's job it is to convince these congressmen to vote in a way that undermines decency and fairness for cash. Its called corruption but you won't hear anyone in Washington refer to it like that. For them its just called "Business as Usual". 

As if somehow referring to it in that way makes it less nefarious. Basically they are just saying its the way things are done and if I don't do it someone else will. So if I don't take the money they will just buy someone else's vote instead.

Since the beginning of the Internet it has always been at times a shady place where criminals come together to meet and organize criminal activity, but it has also been a place that people from all walks of life came to meet who would have never met otherwise. It has been a place that unleashed innovation through new ideas, spawned a community of freethinkers and allowed most of us to see the possibilities we had never dreamed of before. 

To say that the Internet was one of the greatest inventions of the world is not giving it enough credit, because without the Internet so many technologies we take for granted today would simply not exist. Without the Internet there would be no need for them and we would be as closed off as we once were. The Internet bridges the world like nothing else.

In 1998 your congress created one of the worst piece of legislative documents to ever be forced onto the American people and it was the first step in a line of attempts to censor the Internet for Americans. It was called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). So where did this legislation come from you may ask? Well to understand this lets go back to the fifteenth century and talk about the invention by a man named Johannes Gutenberg, movable type printing. 

With his invention of the printing press, never before had there been such a device that could mass-produce books before. So effective was it that Britain created a law that allowed books to be printed only by one company and only with their permission. The first kind of law prohibiting mass production of goods this way, it was called the Licensing Act. In 1710 Parliament passed a new law which took rights away from one company and the government and gave those rights to the authors of those books.

It was called the Statute of Anne and it gave authors the exclusive right to print a book for 14 years and another 14 years after that if the author was still alive. Now remember copyright law was created and intended to protect the copying of written works not, ideas, photographs, music, movies or anything else you just feel like preventing someone from sharing with someone else. On December 20, 1787, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to James Madison concerning the recently-drafted Constitution. In this letter he wrote:

"I do not like... the omission of a bill of rights providing clearly and without the aid of sophisms for freedom of religion, freedom of the press, protection against standing armies, restriction against monopolies, the eternal and unremitting force of the habeas corpus laws, and trials by jury in all matters of fact triable by the laws of the land..."

In this letter Jefferson makes it very clear he does not like the idea of monopolies. He sights further in another letter to Madison August 28, 1789:

"I like the declaration of rights as far as it goes, but I should have been for going further. For instance, the following alterations and additions would have pleased me... Article 9. Monopolies may be allowed to persons for their own productions in literature, and their own inventions in the arts, for a term not exceeding ___ years, but for no longer term, and for no other purpose."

Here he is very clear, he wanted copyright abilities to only be allowed by individuals and not by companies. The term of monopolies allowed by persons specifically means only individuals can claim copyright. In a Jeffersonian world individuals hold all the copyrights and corporations to use them would probably have to get permission or pay the individual to use them. What Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution actually says is:

"The Congress shall have Power to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;"

Well this seems pretty straight forward and clear, Congress gives the power of individual Authors and Inventors the right to protect their work for a limited amount of time. Jefferson said specifically in another letter to Madison:

"I sincerely rejoice at the acceptance of our new constitution by nine states. It is a good canvas, on which some strokes only want re-touching. What these are, I think are sufficiently manifested by the general voice from North to South, which calls for a bill of rights. It seems pretty generally understood that this should go to juries, habeas corpus, standing armies, printing, religion and monopolies. I conceive there may be difficulty in finding general modification of these suited to the habits of all the states. But if such cannot be found then it is better to establish trials by jury, the right of Habeas corpus, freedom of the press and freedom of religion in all cases, and to abolish standing armies in time of peace, and monopolies, in all cases, than not to do it in any... The saying there shall be no monopolies lessens the incitements to ingenuity, which is spurred on by the hope of a monopoly for a limited time, as of 14 years; but the benefit even of limited monopolies is too doubtful to be opposed to that of their general suppression."

Here he states clearly that one he doesn't like the idea of monopolies but should they be allowed, they should be limited to no more than 14 years. The most interesting thing about this letter is that it was dated July 31, 1788 before the Constitution was fully ratifiedSo here we have maybe the most important American to ever live, after all he did write the very document that secures for all of us the very freedoms we do have that others are trying to take from us. 

He is pretty outspoken about the idea of corporate monopolies and the idea that individual protection is ok but should be very limited as to not stifle innovation. After all 14 years is long enough to make plenty of money on your work at which time it should go into the public domain, allowing others the right to change it, improve it, make derivative works. At which point you as the individual have the right to invent something new to which you have exclusivity of 14 years.

Again and I hate to say this but the framers were absolute in their thinking when drafting the bill of rights and the constitution. They wanted to make it clear, sometimes pretty terribly so, that somethings are the way they are. Jefferson believed strongly that intellectual property was a terrible idea but if he had to do it, he wanted it to be very limited. In a letter to Isaac McPherson on August 13, 1813 he wrote:

"If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it."

He clearly says you own something only so long as you keep it to yourself, as soon as you tell someone its public domain. It's how he thought, and what he believed. So let's move forward to 1976. Copyright law sure changed a lot since its inception, The Copyright Act of 1976 would give ownership of the work to the author for a term no less than the life of the author and an additional 50 years beyond that. Corporations who were never intended to even own this kind of monopoly were given an additional 75 years to hold on to their ownership. 

Then in 1998, Sonny Bonehead, oh I mean Sonny Bono having been heavily bribed, I mean lobbied, authors a bill that would allow copyright holders to hold onto their works for an additional 70 years and for corporations 120 years after creation. So now we are back to the DMCA. In the 90's with the invention of the CD player and later the tools to rip the music from the disk, came the ability to store that data in a small format called MP3

This is significant because at the time formats that were used to extract music from disks created quite large files making them not very useful for transfer over the Internet. Remember that most people had very slow dial-up connections that allowed a very slow transfer of data over copper phone lines. 

Suddenly mp3s allowed what was once a very large file to become very small without the loss of too much information. Now remember everyone was using dial-up so the transfer of large movies was next to impossible. So the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) had nothing to worry about that time. However, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) began to take notice. Suddenly with pressure from World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the RIAA the DMCA is born.

Of course the RIAA didn't much have any use for it until the explosion of Napster a year later. Suddenly people all over the world could trade any mp3s they wanted for ones they had and vice-versa. Napster had started a revolution. Teenagers and College kids had created a buzz that would spread all over the world, forever changing the Internet and music, all in the spirit of free trade and an open free society. It wasn't hatred of the music industry but rather a love of it that started this. 

Soon that love would sour, igniting a battle between the youth of the day and one of the most powerful corporations in the world. Though a clear winner has yet to be determined, the battle wages on. So what exactly does the DMCA do? Well first it authorizes a copyright holder to have his work removed from a site by issuing a statement to the effect that he or she owns the copyright. No proof is actually needed, only the statement is good enough. 

Usually a person merely has to write a letter or send an email. This has resulted in lawfully obtained and properly licensed material being removed from the Internet, and the censorship of free speech when corporations are faced with information that contradicts their opinions. Thus you may say hey I really dislike this artists work, and if you make reference to it of any kind, without notice your content provider may be served with a letter that forces the removal of this speech. 

Let me be 100% clear, this whole thing violates due process under the law. Due process which is granted by the Constitution of the United States of America. The foundation by which this government was built and functions and the document that secures your freedoms. The other thing that the DMCA did was stifle innovation, how you may ask? One word: DeCSS

In October of 1999, perturbed by the fact that the Linux operating system was unable to play DVDs three programmers created some code called DeCSS (De-Scramble Content-Scrambling System) that allowed the Linux OS to play DVDs by decrypting the CSS copy protection found on all commercial DVDs. Until that point the only way to play a DVD was to buy commercial software that was licensed to play the DVD, software not available for the Linux OS. 

Though not intentionally, the source code for DeCSS was leaked all over the Internet and soon applications began popping up that allowed anyone to extract the movie from a DVD and play it on their computer without the disk. Under the DMCA software that circumvents technology is illegal. This by definition is the censorship of innovation. It is innately human to fiddle with something, to take it apart to see how it works, to destroy it only to rebuild it again. 

Within all of us is the desire to make something better, whether it is something tangible as a product or free flowing as an idea. It is something I believe that makes us very different from the other animals on this planet, the desire to fix what is broken. Here a programmer wanted to play a movie he legally purchased on DVD on the computer he owned and was unable to, so rather than sit by and do nothing he fixed the problem.

In 2001 a programmer by the name of Bram Cohen probably unhappy with the fact that most users were using dialup but desired larger files created a program and protocol called Bittorrent. In an interview later, he stated he was only looking for a solution to a problem. Bittorrent was a Peer-to-Peer protocol which was extremely different than anything before it, because it relied less on single-source servers to distribute these files but used the little bits of bandwidth from each user to distribute all of the data to everyone equally at the sametime in different parts. 

Thus while users one and two were given parts five and six, users three and four were maybe given parts eight and nine. And when someone was given a full piece of that puzzle they helped to distribute it to another while getting a part they don't have from someone who had it. It was an ingenious technology. While it meant waiting a while to get the whole file it meant that in the end it wasn't just you that would have it, maybe twenty others would have it as well. 

This too was a bit of a revolution. The idea that many could work together to make a whole. E Pluribus Unum, you may be familiar with the term, it means "Out of Many, One." It was considered the de facto motto of the United States of America for a long time, even making it on our currency. A Radical idea maybe? Suddenly websites began to spring up all over the Internet hosting links to torrent files made to distribute all kinds of things but mostly movies and music. 

Now the MPAA had it, suddenly pirates had a way to easily mass distribute their movies all over the world. The MPAA and the RIAA began sending out DMCA notices to webhosts trying to get these sites shutdown. Federal authorities under orders from the MPAA and RIAA and with cooperation of some foreign governments, began breaking down the doors of server hosts and confiscating the servers hosting these linking torrent files. That's right, no actual copyrighted material was even hosted on these servers, only links. Government authorities began breaking in, only to grab a few servers hosting a bunch of html and scripting language, text files, what a colossal waste of foreign and domestic tax dollars and the justice system.

They spent many years trying to thwart the pirates only to have one outspoken site called the pirate bay give them the middle finger. You see the pirate bay is in Sweden and the United States have no authority there. In fact several times they have tried to remove the site from the Internet only to have failed horribly. If you head to their site be sure to check out their section of letters from copyright holders and their responses where they poke fun at the fact they are unable to do anything to them. 

So now we fast forward many years, and suddenly people are no longer tethered to the Internet with a dial-up connection but now we have cable, and dsl and fiber. The speeds which seemed impossible to conceive ten years ago are very much a reality today. Suddenly anything you want you can have at the click of a button. You no longer have to wait for it. It's just there. So now comes SOPA and PIPA. 

Unhappy at the fact they have been unable to shut down the pirate bay, the MPAA heavily bribes, oh I mean lobbies a few members of Congress with the idea of a new law. The boneheads in Washington will have you believe they are just thinking of you and I, but actually its primarily greed is all they think about. So a bill completely written by the MPAA and RIAA is handed to Rep. Lamar Smith at which point he begins to get other members of Congress to sign it. What's pretty apparent about Congress is they very often sign things without reading them. 

Suddenly more than half of Congress has signed up in favor of this bill. Has anyone even read it or understand it in Congress? Moreover do they know what would happen to the Internet with such a bill in place? The answer is obviously no.

The RIAA and the MPAA are very large corporations who have built a model of making money that has served them well for more than a half a century. I can see why they do the things they do and I can even understand it. You know this isn't the first time they tried to break things, in the case of the MPAA, Jack Valenti, President of the MPAA at the time described the VCR this way to Congress:

"We are going to bleed and bleed and hemorrhage, unless this Congress at least protects one industry that is able to retrieve a surplus balance of trade and whose total future depends on its protection from the savagery and the ravages of this machine. ... I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone." 

Of course it ended up in a case before the Supreme Court in which they ruled that the VCR was legal for private use by individuals. With no other options the MPAA did something they hadn't thought of, produce a recording of the movie they could sell to the consumer at a reasonable price that allowed the consumer the ability to own it and watch it whenever they wanted. And they made millions of dollars on it. 

And then there was the audio cassette tape, which allowed any person with a radio/tape recorder to pop in one of these cassettes and tape music right off the radio, thus allowing them to save and listen to it whenever they wanted to hear it. And of course the RIAA went ballistic and complained and then they did something they hadn't considered before, they put music on it themselves and sold it to the consumer for a reasonable price and they too made millions. 

Then came along the compact disc and once again the RIAA was up in arms. And once again they made millions. Then came the DVD. The MPAA started to complain but then someone said we can put movies on it and protect them with copy protection and the MPAA loved it and by now they made billions. 

Then came Blu-ray and more copy protection but this copy protection was different, it was unbreakable and so the MPAA loved it and made you guessed it billions. Then blu-ray encryption was broken and the MPAA began a new campaign of lobbying. 

Along the way came the invention of digital files. People didn't think of it as stealing, they just wanted a way to share something they liked with other people so they started sharing music, then movies and now the MPAA and RIAA were faced with something new, an enemy for which they had no defense. How do you make money on something like this? If people are just giving the product away there is no money in that. 

Then this inventive CEO at a company called Apple Computer had an idea. He had already given consumers a way to put all the music they had ripped off their cds on a device he called an Ipod, this allowed anyone to take all their music with them anywhere they went. No longer were you forced to carry around a portable cd player and a binder of cds. He thought of an online store where consumers could purchase individual songs at a nominal fee to put on their purchased Ipod. 

No one in the RIAA thought it would work, after all who would pay for a song when they were able to download it for free. Itunes Music Store launched in April of 2003, within the first week purchased songs had reached a million. By December more than 25 million songs had been purchased, thus proving the RIAA wrong. Netflix has been around since 1997 but it wasn't until 2007 they added streaming to their product line. Suddenly consumers could pay a little more and be able to view movies right from their computers and the MPAA made money licensing all that content to Netflix, soon others followed like Hulu and the MPAA made more money.

So now we've established the RIAA and the MPAA make money, they make a lot of money. Even in the face of piracy they make money. So what we are really talking about is greed. No one needs to make billions of dollars to survive, but greedy corporations believe its all about making more money than you made the previous year. They have built this model where by even if they have made a profit, if they did not make more money than they made the previous year it counts as a loss. 

And corporations like the MPAA and the RIAA thrive on that shit. They spit out huge numbers to Congress arguing losses in the billions, all the while making unbelievable profit, amounts so high its inconceivable. Lets get something straight this is how it works, you make a product, you sell the product, you take the money you made from selling the product and pay the cost of making the product, including the labor if any, involved in making the product. 

What's left over after your overhead is pure profit. Now the way the MPAA and RIAA are complaining you would think they must be losing money every year, guess what not so the MPAA and RIAA made billions last year. In fact they have never lost money, not a single year since the beginning of their industries. These corporations are designed on a model of steal and whine. You heard me they whine about piracy all the time stealing themselves. 

So let me give you an example. A report of Record label accouting shows that 63% of money made on the sale of music goes to the record label, 24% goes to the distributors and only 13% goes to the musicians. From that 13% they must pay the band, the producers, the lawyers, the managers, and they get whats left over. So the math comes out to something like a musician makes $23.40 for every $1000 that is sold. Oh I forgot one major thing, of that $23.40 that goes to the musician it doesn't cover the costs that record label need to recoup for advancing money to sell the music in the first place. So sometimes, the musician can sell millions of dollars in music and make $0.00 out of it. And sometimes they actually still owe the record labels money. This makes me think of the times I hear the RIAA saying things like we need to protect the artists, fuck you douche bags you need to protect yourselves. So there is one reason no one wants to support the RIAA.

So now we see that the RIAA and MPAA make tons of money and yet they try to pass off this piece of shit legislation to censor the Internet. How does protecting intellectual property censor the Internet you ask? Well imagine a world where you buy something or borrow something, a widget and you decide you dislike it and you want people to know about it so you go on to a site that has a forum for people to complain about things they don't like and you create a post about this widget. Suddenly someone comes along maybe the inventor of the widget maybe someone who sells them, maybe just someone who doesn't like people who complain about things. 

And they complain to the government, hey this guy is talking about widgets and I own the rights to that widget. I want you to block that site. And the government blocks the site. And now no one can complain about anything because the site is gone, or is it? Well when I type in the sites domain name I get a message saying that the site violated copyright and was removed. But then I remember the site has an IP address so I try it and it works. 

So now we've seen a couple of things happen government censorship of something they have no business censoring and the fact it doesn't work. SOPA and PIPA were designed with the intention of blocking access to foreign websites deemed as infringers by the corporations who's interests are supposedly being violated. The problem with this is one it breaks DNS by allowing deliberate DNS spoofing, government sanctioned yes, but still DNS spoofing. And at the sametime it doesn't actually stop piracy since the website is still there and can be reached simply by its IP address.

The MPAA and RIAA have convinced themselves even though they have made money on every technology in the past this is one they cannot beat and even though they make record profits every year they will soon be out of business. The worst part about it is beyond convincing themselves they have convinced our legislators, the people we hire to protect us from big bad evil the corporations, sigh.

Piracy has been around a long time even before the Internet and we invented cars, computers, televisions, radios, rockets, toasters, engines, electricity, the telephone, music, movies, ipods, pornography, etc. and someone somewhere made money on it. The Internet runs fine just the way it is, no one is losing money on piracy in fact reports show that pirates spend more money on music, movies and software than most consumers do. 

Companies like Netflix and Apple who take advantage of the Internet consumers, are certainly making money. Maybe the only people losing money are the musicians, of course its not from piracy, its from corporate greed.

"If tyranny and oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy." -James Madison

You were right Mr. Madison, for if we are to believe the propaganda spewed forth by our government and its puppeteers the RIAA, MPAA, MLB, NFL, Nintendo, Sony, Disney, Viacom, NBC Universal, ESPN, News Corporation, Random House, and the Copyright Alliance just to name a few, our enemies are not domestic but include the pirates of China, Russia, Thailand, Hungary, Poland, Mexico, Taiwan, Spain, India, and Italy. 

And of course we must include those dastardly evil Swedish pirates at the most nastiest of all places The Pirate Bay, who consistently flaunt their opposition to copyright and include in a legal section of their site, responses to legal demands with such quips as: 

"the DMCA is a US-specific legislation,
and TPB is hosted in the land of vikings, reindeers, Aurora Borealis and
cute blonde girls."

In closing maybe the best quote of all comes from Thomas Jefferson who said:

I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.

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