Final Project: Stop SOPA at Yale – by “Mollie D”

    

 

       Our project was to plan and implement an advocacy and awareness campaign concerning the Stop Online Piracy Act. This piece of legislation, currently being debated in Congress, would place severe restrictions on Internet activities and free speech. The act also restricts Americans’ ability to obtain affordable prescription drugs from abroad. SOPA is the culmination of entertainment and pharmaceutical industry pressure on Washington to place stringent protections on intellectual property, and the resulting draconian measures threaten to undermine the fundamental principles of Internet freedom. The Internet has grown at such an astonishing rate because it has largely rejected harsh restrictions on user activity. SOPA violates the theoretical pillars necessary to the Internet’s functionality, and breaking the Internet in such a fashion would bear negative consequences for individuals and businesses that rely on the Internet’s facilitation of free information exchange.

       In formulating our project, we decided that a campaign aimed at students and tailored to their concerns would maximize the effectiveness of our efforts. We thus chose to use Internet and social media based methods of communication, and we concentrated our substantive content on issues most relevant to college students. We did not limit our coverage to these issues though, as we aimed to provide a breadth of information about the bill’s negative consequences. By using social media platforms, traditional media outlets, and two different blogging platforms, we were able to spread our message to many Yale students and provide valuable information about SOPA’s Internet-breaking policies to the campus. We hope the lasting impact of this campaign will not only be to facilitate continuing interest in SOPA’s progress, but also to engender a general sense of vigilance in the form of participatory democracy concerning free speech and Internet regulation that resonates well into the future.

Part 1: Launching a Campaign

       Our primary goal of this project was to spread awareness of SOPA and hopefully rally others around opposing it. In order to do this, we tried to appeal to many different groups by using a variety of platforms (Facebook, Twitter, WordPress). We also attempted to broaden our appeal by using satire and humor in addition to more pointed intellectual critique of the legislation. We tried to tap into the very things that SOPA would likely cut into: user-generated content, memes and places where you can share links. While we created a lot of our own content, we also tried to post relevant and interesting articles and sites that others had made. One particularly enjoyable and interesting story involved “The Megaupload Song” that received a takedown request, presumably automated, from some RIAA-related entity (Universal Music Group) because it featured many RIAA artists even though Megaupload (a major file-sharing site) owned all the rights to the video. If you’re curious, the (quite catchy) song can be found on Youtube, and there’s more information here. Also, if you’re into remixes, check out this link.

       A major challenge for our group in promoting the anti-SOPA movement was fighting the general Yale apathy and our generation’s apathy that comes with having people constantly inviting you to do things (spamming you). This challenge was exacerbated by finals period, and consequently, we weren’t able to get an Op-ed published in the YDN (as they stop publishing early in December). However, we were able to raise a good amount of awareness as many Yalies hadn’t even heard of SOPA prior to our outreach. Through explaining SOPA’s specific relevance to college students as well as posting some of the amazing articles and content available around the web, we were able to educate (and hopefully inspire) a lot of people.

       As of this writing, our Facebook page has 130 likes which is equivalent to about 3 percent of the Yale Undergraduate population.  While this number is fewer than we would have liked, we speculate that many people for political reasons and/or page like accumulation effects were reluctant to like our page. However, our Facebook page insights seem to indicate that many people still benefited from and engaged with our content. As we see below, our weekly total reach (the number of unique viewers who saw our content from 12/8/11 to 12/14/11) was 3,303 and peaked at 5,191 for the weak ending 12/12/11. Thus, a large percentage of Yale undergraduates likely read something we posted and learned more about SOPA.

 

       To complement our Facebook and WordPress, we created a Twitter account, @StopSopaYale, to complete our social media approach. The Twitter was useful in that it let us keep a small but interested group completely up to date on every #sopa happening. Additionally, the Twitter account was useful because it let us retweet other people’s views and comments on the SOPA debate. This allowed us to combine other people’s opinions with our own and give a lot of different viewpoints on the topic. The Twitter page was also an interesting foray into trending topics and extremely concise posts, a nice contrast to the more drawn out and in depth arguments of our WordPress blog.  Currently, we have 20 Twitter followers and we are on the list of one anti-SOPA advocate.

       In our opposition to SOPA we took both the pragmatic path into what specifically the SOPA legislation said and would do immediately (and why their is concern about intellectual property protection) as well as the somewhat hyperbolic path, wherein we demonstrated the absurdity of how broadly SOPA is written and speculated on the potential consequences that SOPA could have. In this way, we provided our audience both with a quick draw in (the two line memes and absurd scenarios depicted in videos) as well as further information if they were interested in understanding the issue on a deeper level.

Part 2: A Creative Approach

       In raising awareness within the Yale community about the flaws of SOPA, we aimed to create original content which would specifically appeal to Yale students, both in addressing issues relevant to our audience and by presenting this material in an entertaining form.  Thus, we created internet memes, videos, an op-ed for the Yale Daily News, and a blog.  Additionally, we wrote an anti-SOPA form letter for Yale students to send to their members of Congress which was tailored to reflect a Yale student’s perspective.  Finally, to make all of this content easier to access, we either linked the material to the Stop SOPA at Yale Facebook page or we created static HTML pages for the material with corresponding tabs to our Facebook page.

Internet Memes:

       The use of internet memes provided an effective and engaging way to point out the ridiculous elements of SOPA.  In generating our anti-SOPA memes, we drew from internet memes which were already popular and recognizable, such as the Lazy College Senior or Futurama Fry.  Thus, Yale students would be able to easily recognize the humor which we aimed to convey. Plus, internet memes can be easily shared and transformed.  Consequently, we hoped that our fans would not only share our anti-SOPA memes, but would also craft similar memes themselves.  Some topics which our memes addressed were the possible end to interactive websites such as Facebook and Wikipedia, the end to fair use online, and the halting of future innovative online start-ups.

Video Posts:

       Similar to the internet memes, the videos which we created aimed to point out insensible aspects of SOPA in a humorous way.  However, through videos we could portray these aspects in a more in-depth form to help our audience gain a better understanding of the problems created by SOPA.  For instance, the video entitled SOPA Courtroom Battle illustrates the extreme changes SOPA will make in criminalizing copyright infringement.

Form Letter:

       By creating an anti-SOPA form letter, we hoped to encourage students to be active participants in the Stop SOPA at Yale campaign, rather than just passive followers.  While creating awareness on campus about SOPA is important, it was equally important to us to inspire a response to the bill.  As mentioned above, we tailored the form letter to address the concerns of Yale students.  This form letter, with instructions on how to send it, was posted both on our Facebook page and our blog so that it could be easily accessed.

Op-Ed:

       As another form of outreach on campus, our group wrote an op-ed piece to be published in the Yale Daily News.  Unfortunately, it was too late in the semester for the op-ed to be published immediately, but it can currently be found on our blog and an updated version will be posted in the YDN early next semester.  Like our other creative content, the op-ed piece exemplifies many of the problems with SOPA and the article’s sarcastic, comical tone aims to keep our readers engaged and entertained.  Also, the op-ed piece directs our readers to visit our Facebook page, AmericanCensorship.org, and Wired for Change.

Blog:

       The Stop SOPA at Yale blog provides a forum for our group to express our opinions about SOPA extensively and provides a space for our followers to contribute their own viewpoints.  Similar to the op-ed, the blogs are written with the goal of being both informative and compelling.  Our blog posts touch on a variety of topics, ranging from the different camps of anti-SOPA supporters to the effect SOPA can have on healthcare.  In addition, three of our members held a live blog session to cover Congress’ markup debate of SOPA.  Through the blog, our group elevates our position in the anti-SOPA movement: not only do we provide a channel of information to Yale students, but we are also contributing to the online voices against SOPA.

Part 3: Becoming a Part of the Action

       One of the more interactive aspects that we integrated into Stop SOPA at Yale was our creation and operation of a live blog. After learning that there would be Congressional debate held to discuss the SOPA legislation on Thursday, December 15 (which just so happened to fall in the middle of our SOPA campaign), we realized it presented a great opportunity to add very direct and significant value to our campaign efforts. We would have been foolish not to somehow take advantage of the fortuitous timing of the most defining event to take place regarding SOPA to date. Sooo, we decided to conduct a continuous live blog during the House of Representatives’ Full Committee Markup. For the sake of clarification or if you are not really sure what a markup is, it is “The process by which congressional committees and subcommittees debate, amend, and rewrite proposed legislation.”

       Up to that point, the majority of our campaign’s content was based upon content published online, in the news, by political commentators, activists, etc. We had yet to really dig deep into the real diplomatic activity and reality of what was actually happening with SOPA on Capitol Hill, or among the politicians who will ultimately dictate the bill’s fate. We knew that by monitoring and providing commentary on the live debate IN CONGRESS, it would add a heightened level of authentic value to our campaign.

The very nature and benefits of maintaining a live blog carried unique advantages that fundamentally differed from the other aspects of our campaign (Facebook page, normal blog, memes, creative scenes, op-ed, etc)….

       Live blogging gave us a channel to portray not only our opinions about SOPA and why people should take a stand against it, but also the ability to present a discussion based on the statements made by representatives in Congress to support our previously published content. Furthermore, as proactive “Anti-SOPAs,” conducting this event forced us to seriously pay attention to what is ACTUALLY going on with SOPA in the political sphere. When participating in a public protest, it is very easy to get caught up in the overwhelming flood of public opinion online and in the media. Blogging live on the congressional hearing during which political figures delivered their positions helped us stay grounded.

       The main goal of our campaign was to engage Yale students in a compelling way. We believed that a live blog would be (relatively) more captivating (to the extent that a live blog really can be) than other forms of content. Our idea was that a live blog on the Congressional markup would attract more attention to the issues we were trying to convey to the student body. We also realized this would make the substance of the debate more accessible. Essentially, we sought to accomplish two campaign goals: 1) more exposure for our campaign, 2) heightened attention and knowledge to students about the bill itself.

       We believe we were able to bring the experience of the House debate in an appealing way to those who may not have followed it live, but wanted to have a taste of what went on. The live blog was an aspect of our campaign that probably linked closest with the “real-life” implications surrounding SOPA. The most fitting conclusion I could provide about this endeavor would be – POLITICAL PARTICIPATION AT ITS FINEST!

Part 4: A Rewarding Experience

       Ultimately, we deemed our advocacy campaign a success. As is discussed above, our data shows that our Facebook page reached a large number of individuals, both those inside and out of the Yale community.  We believe that we helped further the anti-SOPA cause and exposed the weak points of the legislation. It was especially exciting to be involved with the anti-SOPA activity at this particular stage, when the bill is one of its most hotly debated points. This allowed us to piggyback off of other anti-SOPA campaigns’ publicity and allowed us to run a live-blog of the bill’s mark-up in Congress.

       It was an extremely rewarding experience for us all, both in terms of educating others about the dangers of SOPA and learning ourselves about the controversial bill, as well as about other related debates regarding the freedom of the Internet. The project also allowed us to gather (or hone) many different skills using technology that we might have never been exposed to, including creating and running a blog (and live blog), creating memes and other internet videos, writing simple HTML, and using and linking Twitter, Facebook, and blog pages. The project was therefore a perfect culmination of our semester in Introduction to Law and Technology, reinforcing and combining new technological skills with knowledge about current Internet debates that in the future will allow us to be better informed and more active citizens of the Internet world.

Mollie DiBrell
Charles Gyer
Sam Helfaer
Nicholas Makarov
Zachary Tobolowsky
Will Kirkland

Yes, we have no scarcity. – by “Nathan B”

It’s almost as if the law of gravity had stopped working.

For centuries, the law of supply and demand has been one of the foundational concepts of modern economics; it was the beginning of every high school econ class, a ubiquitous term as broadly-understood as the notion  that matter gravitates toward other matter. What, then, are we to make of a world where this fundamental tenet of the free market (or at least half of it) simply ceases to exist?

Demand for goods, services and information is unlikely to dissipate any time soon- supply, however, is another story. The entire notion of supply is built on scarcity, because  the limitations of resources and manpower mean that only so much can be produced and offered to consumers. Modern technology is changing that. Though it may sound ridiculous, the principle of a “post-scarcity” world is in some respects oddly intuitive, because when things like  information are reduced to ones and zeros and their cost to reproduce and distribute is virtually nil, why should it ever be in short supply or even have a cost at all?

The answer is an idea called “artificial scarcity,” a principle which says that even though we can produce more than enough of something to go around, we shouldn’t. This is nothing new, as it forms the basis for the entire notion of intellectual property- access to information must be controlled, because if anyone can have it for free, how can it ever turn a profit? Or, more simply, infinite supply and finite demand is a great deal for consumers, but not so much for producers.

One could go on at length (or perhaps even teach a seminar) about the ways in which access to artificially scarce information is regulated and monetized, but it goes further than that. For now, it’s primarily information which is subjected to this treatment, but what happens when you don’t need to buy a computer, a phone or even a sandwich, because your 3D printer can make them all for you? Is there a way to get out of this jam without placing untold restrictions on the spread of information?

Yes, but it might not be pretty. Welcome to the world of post-scarcity anarchism, a phrase coined by author Murray Bookchin in his book of the same name (available here and here, ironically in both artificially scarce and readily available versions, respectively) to describe a world where capitalism and the state have no purpose, as there are enough resources for everyone. Information is shared freely and services are provided in pursuit of prestige, not profit. Ridiculous? Possibly. Utopian? Definitely. Impossible? Maybe not.

The question comes down to consumers- will they continue to pay for goods and services which they can get for free with ever-increasing ease, or will they begin to break down one of the basic building blocks of capitalism? For now, it seems that a mixture of both is preferred, try though copyright-holders may to stem the tide of things like file-sharing. Still, online communities like Wikipedia, Slashdot and Reddit are growing at stunning rates as users elect to contribute to a communal, readily-available pool of information for free. If more and more of society really is moving online, perhaps freely-offered, user-generated content will come to replace the copyrighted materials of old.

Nonetheless, producers can and will continue to fight against the natural erosion of scarcity, but as they say: in the end, gravity always wins.

Can Communities Better Police Copyright? – by “Daniel A”

Source: http://tctechcrunch.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/stealitshot.png

Six years ago today Youtube.com launched as a video dating site out of then-CEO Chad Hurley’s garage in Menlo Park, CA (you can see what it looked like here). In its early days the founders did everything they could think of to try to get people to start using the site, including offering money to girls via Craigslist to post videos and attract more male viewers.

After realizing that the market for video dating services wasn’t all that hot the company changed focus to a new model that centered on letting people share videos easily online. The site made a number of strategic decisions in its early days which led to enormous growth in its userbase including using Flash to encode videos on the site (making them accessible to users across browsers and operating systems), implementing social tools to better engage the community (commenting, video responses) and, probably most importantly, allowing videos to be embedded in other sites on the web.

While innovation in design definitely gave Youtube an advantage over competing video sites in its early days, another important reason for its growth was the massive amount of copyrighted content that it carried. As noted in the Viacom v. Youtube case, although the site put a number of controls in place to make sure it abided by DMCA regulations in order to qualify for safe harbor protections, early on it didn’t ban or remove content unless a copyright owner submitted a DMCA takedown notice which left policing the site up to copyright holders and allowed copyrighted content to remain on the site for extended periods of time.

Interestingly, a number of other video sites were cropping up around the same time, many of which were able to build just as active and vibrant communities as Youtube, but differed slightly in their approach. The most notable example is Vimeo.com which actually launched in the Fall of 2004. The site’s primary focus has always been on allowing people to share original content with family and friends. Although it lacked some of the features that Youtube implemented early on which prevented it from getting as wide of distribution and usage, the site also banned commercial videos from its inception and seemed more focused on curating a community of artists/videographers. As a result, the site built a community that was much smaller but also much less inclined to share copyrighted content.

The story of Vimeo seems to suggest that even though both Youtube and Vimeo had similar policies with respect to DMCA regulations that the nature of content actually changed as a result of design and community standards. Because Youtube sought broad rapid adoption, it optimized its site and its videos for getting as many views as possible across the web which may have actually hurt its ability to create a self-policing community of users to minimize copyright abuses. On the contrary, by fostering a small tight knit community with strong standards Vimeo was able to push users to share only original content.

Although Youtube arguably won the web video war it is interesting to note that, given the right incentives, a strong community-based approach to copyright management could actually lead to better outcomes for artists/creators than the caustic use of DMCA takedown notices.

Files Beware – by “Jennifer W”

Drama for files-storage sites has sharers worried about their cyberspace security. Sure Napster is long gone, and the DMCA is old news in regard to its take-down [left-hand-on-red-circle, right-foot-on-green-square] games and processes, but the saga of cyberspace control continues with the latest filings by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) against file storage and sharing sites like Hotfile.com.

After reading through a few articles, I feel that it’s important to recognize the mindset afflicting organizations like the MPAA. I’ll call it the ConFricDA [Copyright Control Freak Logic of the Digital Age] mindset.

ConFricDA minds process the current social landscape in a different manner than the rest of us. Their symptoms include believing that:

(re: the internet user)

…the internet is made up of infringers; constantly stepping on someone else’s toes in order to become famous in cyberspace.

…everyone wants to become famous just like in Hollywood & Nashville.

…internet users cannot become popular without help from professionals.

(re: the information on the internet)

…popular files become popular because they belong to professionals and professionals do not allow flagrant distribution of their intellectual property therefore popular files must also be pirated files.

(re: websites that host information on the internet)

…since websites have developed methods of profiting off of a user’s popularity, websites are interested in professional products being posted illegally because those  will obviously bring in more money for websites than anything else posted.

…as a result of the above, it is unhealthily for websites to promote files-sharers attempts to become popular because file-sharers will only become popular through the help of professionally owned intellectual property. Thus, encouraging users to create files that will become popular is equal to promoting illegal pirate activities.

(re: law suits)

…sue and ask questions later. Money talks and those without it shut-up and shut-down.

Editor’s note:** You should not perform business operations or surf the web while suffering from ConFricDa. If you are afflicted with ConFricDA seek the help of anyone possessing common sense immediately. Business activities conducted while affected by ConFricDA often include frivolous lawsuit filings against service providers, hosts, and other ‘enablers’ of user directed content creating headaches for dozens if not thousands of bystanders and the overall irritation of the cyber society.

Yet, businesses continue to disregard warnings over their ConFricDA driven actions due to the other major symptom of ConFricDA–a great, even overwhelming, desire for control over society’s knowledge of, and/or general awareness of, intellectual property and products.

In other words, organizations of people out of ideas have become control freaks in the digital age–afraid of the need for further idea creation for themselves to prosper. In an attempt to slow the need for their own generation of new ideas and developments, they desperately try to stop others from having progressive thoughts, claiming that new thoughts are constantly infringing on the intellectual property rights of those who have come before.

Now I know you might say, but MPAA is complaining about the distribution of its own products not derivative videos, mash-ups, etc. True, but the measures by which they are trying to enforce their rights will disrupt the ability for everyone, derivative makers, original makers, and viewers, to transfer information through digital file-storage sites. I mean if we related the MPAA’s latest suit to a physical library that found a counterfeit dollar bill on it’s third floor, we should sue and demand a closing of the library for having allowed the illegal dollar bill to sit on it’s floor–those hoping to go their for books be damned.

Who the heck would go for that? So then why are we standing for such paralyzation of our digital file-storage facilities?

The safe harbor measures of the DMCA were put into place to help elevate the ridiculous fear-mongering of organizations like MPAA who sue anyone that sneezes around something that could-possibly-maybe-in-some-way-kinda infringe on their copyrights or those of their members by even providing service to an infringer, whether they know it or not. Yet, we still have these suits being filed because the current copyright laws are so illogically distorted to fit an age that is nothing like that where they came from that we can’t avoid continuing to fight the same issues.

So have fun, legal bodies and attorneys that will chew on the endless grizzle that cyberspace provides to those who seek it. No matter how many safe harbors, procedures, or fair use generalities you generate, there’ll never be an elegant process to copyright in the digital age until the current copyright law is either expertly altered or simply abolished. But I guess for some, that means job security but for file storers, it means insecurity.

Offline Piracy, Online Security – by “Robert C”

The internet has dramatically altered distribution for all manner of information goods, and has greatly reduced the friction and cost of sharing content to nearly zero. The flow of communication, data, and commerce online travels through a vast array of applications and services controlled by countless entities. Such Interconnectedness is made possible because all of these entities adhere to similar technological standards for communication, and because the  organizations responsible for the backbone of the web act as agnostic conduits upon which packets can flow freely (the extent to which this will remain true is debatable, but the topic of net neutrality we must save for another time).

Jonathan Zittrain’s 2006 Harvard Journal of Law and Technology piece emphasizes the importance of the passive nature of the online network of gatekeepers and distributors to the growth and development of the internet as we know it. Zittrain focuses on legal battles with ISPs and applications, and the liability that service providers face for piracy and copyright infringement. What Zittrain fails to mention are the ways in which the growth of the internet has facilitated offline counterfeiting, trademark infringement, and copyright violations.

The U.S. District Court Decision in Viacom v. YouTube refers to the case of Tiffany v. eBay, where Tiffany, Inc. sought damages from eBay because as much as 75% of the Tiffany merchandise sold on eBay was counterfeit. The case was dismissed as the court held that generalized knowledge was not sufficient to compel action on the part of eBay, lending legal creedence to the defense assertion that online marketplaces are only an agnostic platform for connecting third parties, and therefore not responsible for the actual nature of the physical goods changing hands.

While eBay was able to dodge responsibility in the case of Tiffany, pressure continues to mount to crack down on counterfeit trade online. Industry organizations, particularly the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) have increased pressure a great deal in recent years, even offering rewards up to $1 million for reporting software piracy. The Anti-Piracy Year-In-Review 2009 from the SIIA, the association removed 90,000 online listings for illegal software, representing over $75 million of potential sales. While this may seem significant, to put these numbers in perspective, the Adobe, the software company best known for Acrobat, Illustrator, and Photoshop (and perennial favorite target for software pirates) booked 2010 revenues of $3.8 billion.

The CEO of Adobe, Shantanu Narayen, explains that for desktop software of the nature that Adobe sells, piracy rates can reach as high as 80% to 90% in emerging markets. Narayen sees the transition of Adobe’s products from the desktop to the cloud as a major advantage in combating piracy, as web based applications are not locally stored and require authentication for usage. Surprisingly, for at least some companies, it seems as though the movement of content into the cloud represents a way to combat piracy rather than to facilitate it.

DMCA: Weapon of Scientology? – by “JeeYoung K”

Even though in Lenz v. Universal, the court ruled that the copyright holder has to consider fair use before issuing takedown notices, it has not stopped DMCA abuses. One of the most amusing and disturbing abuses is one by the Church of Scientology.

Unlike other religions (I am mainly thinking of Christianity) which have much emphasis on spreading the words of their scriptures, Scientology is very protective of its “scriptures” both from its followers and its critics. For those of you who are not familiar with the myth of Lord Xenu, it goes as follows. (WARNING: Reading the following story without proper training, i.e. not having paid your dues to the Church of Scientology, may cause you to catch pneumonia!) The myth tells a story of Lord Xenu, who was a dictator of “Galactic Confederacy” of 75 planets 75 million years ago. After a political struggle he brought billions of people to Earth to destroy them and their floating fragments are the cause of our spiritual harm today.

Lord Xenu as depicted in BBC documentary Panorama: Secrets of Scientology (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l42UrHDx4lE)

The Church of Scientology keeps this information (available on Wikipedia) from its own members is by telling  them that the story is so powerful that the knowledge of it is dangerous. However, recently with more and more defectors it has been difficult to keep the information secret and Scientology has resorted to copyright and trademark laws. In September 2008 an alleged rights group called American Rights Counsel LLC issued 4,000 DMCA takedown notices to anti-Scientology videos on youtube. In order to protect its safe harbor youtube had to take down the videos until they received counter-takedown notices.

This example illustrates the loophold in DMCA. People can use it to suppress other people’s voices simply because they do not agree with them. It is true someone could file a suit against the people who have sent takedown notices without reasonable grounds to suspect copyright infringement, but more often than not the cost of litigation dissuades people from doing so. Moreover there are cases (think McCain campaign videos) where there is a window of time after which the information loses its value and the few days during which the information is unavailable can do considerable damage.

Having said that, most of anti-Scientology videos were back up following counter-takedown notices. While DMCA is not perfect, it does provide a procedure for the accused infringer to put back its content if he/she considers the accusation to be false. Jane Ginsberg makes a similar point in her essay “How Copyright Got a Bad Name for Itself” comparing the US system with that in the EU where the E-Commerce Directive allows takedown notices but no counter-takedown notices.

So what is the solution to be? How can we stop well-intentioned copyright law from being abused as a weapon to secure private injunctions? I do not know the answer, but ToryMagoo44, an ex-scientologist, says Oprah!

Click Oprah and Scientology Censorship to watch a video by ToryMagoo44 pleading Oprah to invite her to the show.

Copyright in a Free (gratis) World – by “Max C.”

I track all of my time on my computer with a utility called RescueTime. Here’s a breakdown of how I interact with the copyrighted online world. For the month of January

The big idea: I’m spending 628% more time on copyrighted content that is being given away than content I’m paying for. Much of it is ad-supported, but much of that ad money never ends up in the pocket of the artist: most content creators on youtube, reddit, 9gag, devour, or blogs never profit off of their creations.

Free needs different protections

Copyright is a way for people to monetize and control their creations. Yet in its current form, copyright law only protects the already wealthy and powerful: corporate intellectual property. Free artists can’t control their creations with copyright. The artists don’t have the resources to monitor and sue those who take copyrighted material. Nor can free artists create protection mechanisms. DRM is only viable as a large corporation with an R&D budget, and even then, DRM is a miserable failure. Right now, free internet artists generally cede all control of their art from the moment they upload it. (In fact, some of the websites they upload to explicitly seize the rights.) These free copyrighted works cost almost nothing to reproduce, and were never intended to be monetized.

Do you really think someone was going to monetize this?

How existing copyright law harms free art

Copyright law doesn’t just fail to protect free art: it actively harms it. A free artist today produces lots of goods that render him vulnerable to copyright infringement. Because a three note sample can lead to a lawsuit of copyright infringement, and even a successful legal defense can take years and cost millions, free artists might err on the side of not producing rather than risk infringing. (Franzia could sue this free artist for this useful infographic, but I doubt it’s really hurting their business.)

Because nothing is being bought or sold, free artists would generally like you to spread their work. The more eyeballs see it, the greater success— a fabulous piece of free art that is never viewed or linked to is pointless and disheartening to the artist. However, existing copyright makes users hesitant to spread or repost potentially copyrighted material for fear of infringement.

Among ad-supported artists like sponsored youtube channels or blip.tv personalities like Day9, it’s not clear small-scale copyright infringement harms them. Downloading Avatar might mean you won’t buy a ticket to see it in the theater, but downloading Day9 might make you a loyal follower and in fact increase the value of his brand. Indeed, Day9 acknowledges and throws shout-outs to those who remix his own copyrighted material.

Why Creative Commons isn’t an easy fix

Seriously guys, your FAQ is 23 pages long. That's way more reading than I'll do to license my forever alone image macro.

Creative Commons was supposed to patch existing copyright law and help out free artists interested in permitting others to redistribute their works. It recognizes that many artists that produce freely available works still would like attribution or recognition— indeed, that is the only payoff! But Creative Commons is tricky for small-time creators, and increases the barriers to entry. Big idea: using Creative Commons is a barrier which chills creation.

Edit: there are lots of reasons why Creative Commons is a barrier or less effective than a legal change in defaults. To name just a few, Creative Commons introduces complications in web design (do you have to attach those symbols every time you place an image anywhere in a website? How do users with direct URLs to an image find out if it’s licensed under Creative Commons?), Creative Commons is hard to understand for most people (copyright law is confusing business), and Creative Commons is particularly tricky with especially important free media, like Wikipedia. (Wikipedia actually requires ceding a lot of author rights to upload)

These problems would be resolved if content defaulted into being available for non-commerical reproduction/use with attribution. In many file types, attribution is not only possible but often automatic via metadata. Producers would no longer need to understand complicated terms of an extra body like Creative Commons. And people that really didn’t care wouldn’t have to lift a finger in order to permit others to edit, remix, and repost their content.

Solution: If the default for internet-published material was attribution and non-commercial use, and corporate creators would have to opt in to greater protections, we’d have a better system for copyright. And we’d have more lolcats. Are you really going to be against this?

PS: this is the most permissible Creative Commons license (Attribution) but in reality, you’re free to not attribute me. I don’t care. And I don’t want other people to have to add these kinds of disclaimers to works they don’t care about. We should force those that want to enforce their copyright fully to opt-in.

Who’s Responsible for Harassment? – by “Shirley B”

Harassment is no new phenomenon on the Internet.  As astutely stated by Penny Arcade, normal person + anonymity + audience = Total ****wad. (Don’t click if cursing offends!)  But for websites that present a platform for user-generated content, harassment has presented interesting new problems.  Are these websites liable for user content?  Are they simply providers of the platform on which users place content or are they themselves content providers?

Two years ago a Twitter user was harassing a woman named Ariel Waldman over the social networking website.  After submitting a complaint to Twitter, an administrator removed the tweets from the public time line.  However, when Waldman asked that the user be banned, she received a reply that the comments were not illegal, simply malicious, despite the fact that Twitter explicitly lists harassment as a violation of the Terms of Service, and reserve their right to remove content and users in violation of their Terms of Service (though are not obligated to).  Twitter promised to revise its Terms of Service to clarify its enforcement policies, but would do nothing further, for fear of a lawsuit.  Jason Goldman, the product manager for Twitter, stated in a post at getsatisfaction.com that “As a communication utility, Twitter does not get involved in disputes between users over issues of content except in very specific situations. Twitter is a provider of information, not a mediator.”  In the same post, Goldman also stated that the company was working on improving its blocking feature, which could solve the problem of harassment.  Problem solved.  The issue was only with Twitter’s ToS, its enforcement of it, and their insufficient blocking tool.  Not quite.

John Dozier Jr., an expert in Internet law, says that Twitter may have surrendered its safe harbor under the Communications Decency Act when it edited the user’s page, which it did when it removed it from the public feed.  “If they’ve edited content based on their subjective perspective, they put their immunity at risk and virtually their entire online business, because then they’d be liable to defamation claims or anything else that a publisher would,” Dozier says.  What if a website had knowledge of the harassment – had seen it, had watched it continue, and were fully aware of the problems it was causing – but did not take any action?  Could this lack of action, this implicit approval (or at least lack of disapproval) of the content entangle them in the same liabilities that publishers face?  Madeline Rodriguez takes this a step further in her article “Reexamining Section 230 of the CDA and Online Anonymous Speech: Defamation on the Internet and the Websites That Facilitate It.”  She says, “if an ICP [internet content provider], and certainly an ICF [internet content facilitator], has reason to know, or anticipate, that at least some of the postings on their website are defamatory, false, anonymous, annoying, or harassing in nature, then they will be considered a co-author of the defamatory, false, anonymous, annoying, or harassing postings, and just as liable as the original poster, losing their CDA 230 immunity completely, and be subject to full monetary, legal, and equitable damages by an aggrieved party.”  This seems to suggest that Twitter is co-author of the harassing posts, and as a creator, could be at risk of a lawsuit.

Malcolm Coles, a UK blogger who believes that Italy made the right decision in deciding against Google, argues that these Google executives are absolutely responsible for the content published on their website, because they are responsible for the systems that police that content.  While the problem that Madeline Rodriguez presents only seems relevant to cases in which the website owners have actual knowledge of illegal activity, Coles suggests that Google indeed should be able to have actual knowledge of every incidence of illegal activity on their website.  He blames Google for not having an adequate policing system, since the video was taken down two months after it was posted (though only two hours after an official request by the Italian police).  Coles claims that Google facilitated the posting of the content through its negligence, and that it “has ongoing control over that platform” which involves it in content publishing in a way it does not a “camera-maker or tissue-box manufacturer.”

Harassment presents a new problem for user-driven content websites.  It is difficult to find, unlike copyright infringements, often ambiguous, and is obviously a sensitive subject. It also involves publishing original opinions and user-generated content in a way that infringement does not.  While I certainly don’t think that websites such as Google, YouTube, Twitter, or the New York Times (for its comments sections) should be held liable for what others post, it is interesting to look at the fine line between facilitator and provider that these sites are walking in the case of harassment.



Cultural [Re]Mediation: Evolving Reading Practices in the Digital Humanities – by “Brendan S”

I thought I would use this week’s blog post to give a rundown on some of the things I learned this past weekend at the “Past’s Digital Presence” Conference on the digital humanities which took place at Yale. I was lucky enough to be there all day recording video of the conference, and got to see almost a dozen presentations; several of them are, I think, quite relevant to themes we’ve been discussing in this course.

On a broad level, the conference was concerned with questions such as access to information, methods of sharing and analyzing culture, and our evolving roles – as researchers, librarians, readers – in consuming via these new methods. I’ll focus here on two of the talks, both of which fell under the session on “Evolving Reading Practices,” and dealt with how new technologies are altering how we interact with creative works via the Internet – particularly relevant to the topic of gatekeeping and online intermediaries,

Patrick Redding – “Viral Meters: Reading Frank O’Hara on YouTube”

In this talk, Redding talks about how digital media can blur the distinction between primary and secondary sources. Digital texts are mobile, and mutate frequently; we frequently interact with digital facsimiles and annotated hypertexts. In many cases, in fact, our initial interaction with a text is not in the traditional form of a book, paper, or film, but rather with text as multimedia hybrid. He illustrates these points through an analysis of various adaptations of and responses to Frank O’Hara on YouTube, presenting us with new ways of imagining traditional poetic concepts.

Redding presents five videos as examples. The first is a high school teacher’s take on “Having a Coke With You,” in which the teacher has inserted Google-imaged photos in order to provide students with visual context for concepts in O’Hara’s poem that might be unfamiliar.

The second, “As Planned,” incorporates music, type, and motion graphics to create not only a visualization of the poem, but also a visual reading, interpreting aspects of the poem such as its tone and syntax through visual forms. Third is “Lana Turner Has Collapsed,” a poetic riff on the mashup genre, set to a Nirvana song (a quick YouTube search turned up one with Madvillain as well). The last two are produced by independent filmmaker Joseph Fusco, and provide two very different interpretations of the same poem; the narrator, background music and visuals actually change the meaning of the piece.

(Here are the other three.)

I would guess that most (if not all) of these videos, are technically in violation of at least one copyright, but none has enough views to merit bothering with a takedown notice; it’s likely anyway that the copyright owners either aren’t even aware that these videos exist, or recognize their utility and cultural significance. Since none of the videos are direct, unaltered copies of creative work, each adds a new level of interpretation or understanding to O’Hara’s poetry, and even the songs fall under a loose definition of fair use, I can’t see any incentive for a copyright holder to want one of the videos removed. However if YouTube (through some hypothetical new technology) were to start preemptively identifying every case of infringement, it’s more than likely that videos such as these would get taken down for no good reason.

Rachael Sullivan – “Dickinson Meets DoubleClick: Remediating Poetry”

Sullivan’s talk was particularly interesting to me because it looked at how texts (in this case, literature) are altered not only by how they’re displayed and accessed online, but also by their context. Sullivan elaborates on two aspects of literacy in the digital age – immediacy, the act of looking at the text; and hypermediacy, in which the text is mediated by external elements. One of the most prominent among these external influences is online advertising.

DoubleClick (now a Google subsidiary), Google’s own AdSense, and other services provide targeted advertisements to many websites, including online repositories of literature and poetry such as Bartleby.com. The challenge that arises when looking at poetry online in this context is sifting through the “noise” that distracts from the text. In addition to advertisements surrounding a poem, for example, and influencing its reading, advertisements are sometimes even hyperlinked to words within the text itself, creating a potentially unreliable version of the text. Of course, this is not an altogether new issue – there are discrepancies in manuscripts vs. typeset poems, and a history of advertisements or other contextual influences in printed texts. But with the proliferation of digital media we’re seeing an exponential expansion of possibilities for remediating a text; with everything hyperlinked and searchable, practically nothing exists in isolation anymore.

The omnipresence of Google, through which it sometimes feels the whole Internet is filtered, raises many questions about the influence of online advertising in how we navigate and consume content. Advertising is of course Google’s bread and butter; everything from run of the mill search results to YouTube videos to maps and news are dished up to us alongside a healthy slough of linked advertising. I’m not sure to what extent this actually influence our online behavior, given that we’re so desensitized to ads that we hardly notice them anymore. Besides, Google’s ads are about as innocuous as they come, a far cry from pop-up cascades and insidious spyware.

Sullivan may appear to be overstating the significance of this particular way of remediating texts, but the questions she raises are worth thinking about, if only to develop a more conscious awareness of the Internet’s effects on how we read. The texts in question aren’t just poetry, but everything we interact with online – and the mediating elements are not confined to ads, but include complicated systems of hyperlinks connecting information in an untold number of ways. Intermediaries such as Google have a profound impact on how we navigate the web, not only through advertising, but most fundamentally through the search and ranking algorithms themselves.

Friend or Foe – by “Reynolds H”

Snake

The main issue with the myriad of user generated content sites(Youtube, Vimeo, etc) are that they offer a highly efficient network for the use and spread of copyright infringing content, obviously. The entire Viacom vs. Youtube lawsuit is based upon Viacom’s belief that Youtube, as a business, benefits from the availability and use of infringing content on the website. Viacom is pursuing Youtube on the basis that they are failing to adhere to the criteria for protecting under Act § 512, complaining that Youtube is neither “act[ing] expeditiously to remove, or disable access to, the material” nor “not receiving a financial benefit directly attributable to the infringing activity”. Viacom claims that Youtube has not put enough effort and technology into making sure that unlicensed copyrighted content is removed from the site. That is why, in the midst of a legal battle, the timing of Youtube’s revelation of the beta version of their new Video and Audio Identification software is so beautifully bratty.

Like a stubborn middle schooler, who only wants to do it their way, Youtube, after being sued, is taking a step toward efficiently handling infringing content. However, they want to make it know that they don’t have to do it. In a recent blog post, Youtube product manager, David King stated that the new Video and Audio Identification “goes above and beyond our legal responsibilities”. But like a stubborn middle schooler, Youtube’s creation may prove to further the reach of the copyright “take-down” abusers, they are currently fighting in court.

Youtube’s Video Identification uses copyright owner submitted material as a template for an automated system which matches the audio and/or video to user uploaded content. When matches are found, copyright owners have the option to block that content, track that content, or monetize the content. Youtube has essentially given greedy copyright owners an easy system to enact frivolous takedown’s on any videos that have any semblance to their copyrighted content. The idea of the software is justifiable and obviously the monetary motivation is at the heart of the system., Video Identification allows for copyright owners to, in effect, license their content to Youtube for monetary return. The system also allows Youtube to take a backseat to takedown claims, giving full onus to the system and the copyright owner. However this passive stance provides the opportunity for the unbridled abuse of the system. With what seems like little room for appeal from the user, the software deals a serious blow to any petitions of fair use. At the heart of the Lenz v. Universal case was how Universal was not acting in “good faith” and did not consider the application of fair use when it issued a takedown notice for her “use” of Prince’s “Lets go crazy”. This new software may take takedowns to an even further level. Imagine the potential of this software. What if a video is posted of a car ride conversation, which happens to involve the background car radio playing a famous song. This software potentially has the power to take match that background song, which has nothing to do with the video itself, and issue a takedown at the will of the copyright holder. Takedowns could begin to be issued even more frivolously than ever before, all while allowing the full burden of “good faith” and fair use consideration to rest on the shoulders of Youtube and its new software.

It will be interesting to see how Youtube chooses to implement this new technology. According to its website, this new software will make money, increase fan interaction, reduce infringement, and provide market data. With the rapid increase in ads, iTunes plugs, increase in competition, and a deal with Universal resulting in the creation of Vevo (Youtube’s music video channel), hopefully money making is still second to the users on Youtube’s priority list, but if not this may be the end of Youtube’s reputation as a place to “Broadcast Yourself”, hurting itself in the long run.