Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thankful for the Internet

I love the internet! I use it to connect with friends and family, to find recipes, to do research for my books, to swap critiques with all my writing buddies, and to hunt for a literary agent. Without it, I'd be totally isolated on this little rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

But now, my dear friends, the internet is in trouble.

Congress is right now considering the PIPA bill, which will give the GOVERNMENT the power to SHUT DOWN YOUR ENTIRE SITE if they think you OR ANYONE YOU LINK TO infringes on someone's copyright. This will not stop piracy as the bill's advocates claim. Pirates are smart. They will find a way. The people in trouble are people like us, who value the free exchange of ideas. People who enjoy youtube and facebook. People who don't want internet censorship like they have in China and Iran.

Here are some of the people against the bill: the Association of College and Research Libraries, American Library Association, Association of Research Libraries, Center for Democracy and Technology, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Human Rights Watch, and Public Knowledge.

Who is for it? The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), Microsoft, the Copyright Alliance, and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association.

Who's side are you on?

Click here to join the fight! Let congress know you're thankful for the internet.

PROTECT IP Act Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.


  1. YouTube recently flagged my kid's Hip Hop Class that I videotaped and put up for grandma to see ... because they're playing a copyrighted song in the background. Never mind that it's less than 30 seconds. Never mind that they guy playing the music PAID for it. Craziness.

  2. While I feel that people who create things should be able to make a living at it, I also think copyright paranoia suppresses creative expression. I would say the Hip Hop Class was creating a legitimate derivative work, not infringing on anyone's moneymaking ability. How many things have I bought after hearing or reading them for free the first time? TONS!

  3. Wow, that is crazy. Thanks for the info!

  4. Hm. I'm hoping reason steps in here and mediates. I know there's cause for concern, but this sounds severe. I hope it doesn't happen. Thanks for giving us a heads-up on it.

  5. Sorry to be a pedant, but as the lawyer in the crew:

    @Susan Youtube will flag anything at the request of the rights holder, and music companies have their rights managed by large CROs, such as ASCAP and BMI that are notoriously aggressive, so this has nothing to do with the PIPA bill. The fact that the guy who played the song bought it isn't relevant. I mean, it's good that he did, but this doesn't protect the right of playing it and then distributing it online. THat wasn't his intention, and I hope he can work matters out, but this issue will not be affected one way or the other by PIPA.

    @Rebecca Derivative works are still infringements if you don't have the permission of the rights holder of the original work. The only exceptions are parodies and fair use, i.e. using in a music class to teach about the music. Again, this has nothing to do with the PIPA bill.

    I'm somewhat skeptical of the idea that even if PIPA passes, we'll see much activity as a result of it, given most rights holders have neither the means nor the desire to go chasing after infringers. I'm also against the idea that use of copyrighted works without permission is necessary for creative expression. I'd always recommend getting permission, out of courtesy if not legal necessity.

    The MPAA, often painted as the big bad just out to grab as much money as possible, protects the interests, not just of high paid stars, but of minimum wage set workers and others who are the hardest hit by infringement and piracy.

    So to answer your question, I am on the side of PIPA, and if I caught someone selling copies of my book and pocketing all the profits, odds are the money at stake is not enough for a lawsuit to be sustainable, but if I could shut down their site, I would.

  6. @Emily If it's true that the YouTube flagging is unrelated to PIPA, that it's just large corporations going after parents posting videos of their kid's dance class using current laws on the books, then imagine how much worse it's going to get with PIPA. Which, as far as I can tell, takes the current laws and puts even bigger boots them and allows them to shut down almost anyone for infringement on the level of my YouTube video (or much less)? I see nothing good coming from that.

    I'm about as anti-pirate as they come (evil, wrong, won't tolerate it in my kids, etc.), and I've already seen people try to pirate my work (and know many people who have been pirated). My concern is not that this will stop pirates (because really? I don't think it will), but that it will cause all kinds of unintended draconian consequences in the pursuit of that elusive goal. If your book is being pirated, you can already pursue them with the laws on the books. I have friends this is happening to right now, and I know people who are already trying to pirate my book (that's been out less than a month). There are means to address this, some more effective than others. What you don't have is the government coming in and shutting down the site for you. The real question to ask, I think, is what price you're willing to pay to have the ability to make that happen?

    When my 8 yo's Hip Hop video snippet is already caught in the net, the price is already too high for me.

  7. Okay, but let's separate some concepts here, because you're conflating several. "The government" is not who is flagging the dance recital, and music rights are a very interesting and twisted area of the law, so saying that because a music CRO can flag you with laws on the books says absolutely nothing about PIPA. If there were CROs for book publishers or software companies *then* that would create the situation you see on YouTube. However, CROs have been tried by other creative guilds and groups and have been shut down again and again by the courts. So your example of the YouTube incident doesn't pertain here.

    Secondly "the Government" is not going to shut down your site under PIPA. PIPA would give rights holders, and only rights holders, one more remedy. No one but the rights holder has the power to make use of this law - because everyone else, as the name implies, have no rights. Thus, if you accidentally link some copyrighted material, the person you would be dealing with would be the rights holder, namely the author. Can some authors be jerks and maybe shut down sites? Sure. Is this worse than the status quo where aggressive rights holders can file frivolous lawsuits and eat away your economic resources? Not as far as I can tell.

    Which isn't to say that every writer should support PIPA. Go with your own heart on that one, but be very careful about how you present the issues. Make sure you know the lay of the legal landscape, and delineate this carefully when making an argument. As authors we need to know our legal rights and how legislation affects us, and that requires careful research and precise arguments.

  8. I don't think I'm conflating things by saying the government will shut things down because they are the ones with the legal authority to execute that command ("shut down a website"). It certainly is the rights holders making the claim that their rights have been violated, but the government is putting the power of enforcement behind that claim. The "remedy" in this case is "shut it down first, ask questions later" something that I think goes too far. Right now, the aggressive CROs have flagged my YouTube video, but they do not have the right to pull it without proving in court that I've actually violated copyright. Under PIPA, my understanding is that they will not have to prove anything; allegation alone will be enough to shut it down (me individually or YouTube generally).

    As for writers, I'm know several that would love to be able to shut down a site that is actually pirating their books, but don't have the resources to make it worthwhile to prove it in court. It would appear that PIPA would allow them to shut the bookshare site down, without the cost of proving it in court. This might be a good thing for those authors (maybe, assuming piracy doesn't actually help authors get their names more visible), but I'm not sure that it's worth the loss of due process. Obviously, that's my opinion, and they might feel differently about it.

    There's a great article in the WSJ on this today.

  9. Great discussion going on here! I'm very interested to see both sides.

    I'm always very careful about using copyrighted material. I make sure we buy all our sheet music and I don't post recordings of anything we didn't write or arrange from out-of-copyright material ourselves.

  10. Yes, fair enough on the procedural due process point -there we can agree to disagree - but I am a stickler about blaming "the government" because I really do believe that implies that the government would be the one checking for sites and making the requests to shut them down. The government does provide a legal framework, but if you, for example, get your site shut down by Bob Roberts of Des Moines, that is not "the government" coming after you any more than your response lawsuit would be "the government" going after him. I would only use the term "government" if it is the state suing you for a crime, in a People vs. case.

    I feel very strongly about this because to me it is very important to understand what actions are the government empowering people to enact new remedies, and what actions are the government getting involved in private affairs by creating a police state. PIPA is the former and not the latter. This isn't "the government" spying on your web habits. A swat team won't break down your door over your YouTube clip - and that may sound silly, that anyone would think that, but in all my years practicing law and working in politics, I've found it is essential to be very careful about this. "PIPA provides broad new remedies that are invasive", is, I think, the issue at stake here. "The government is going to shut down your website" is propaganda. It doesn't really explain the issue and instead makes a statement that is sure to get attention, but people's immediate reaction isn't useful to the debate. They imagine Big Brother trawling the web, shutting down sites with impunity.

  11. So will random citizens have the power to shut down other websites? Or just random citizens that have produced copyrighted material?


What be on yer mind?