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

Julian Assange: Champion of Freedom of Expression or Criminal? – by “Nick M”

Censorship vs. Freedom of Expression

In the United States, freedom of speech is the very first protected right listed in the Bill of Rights. As the First Amendment reads:

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.

The Supreme Court has had many interpretations of this amendment over what “freedom of speech” in the First Amendment actually implies. Although one might think of freedom of speech as closely associated with our identity and heritage as Americans and thus a ubiquitously accepted right, there have been several controversial rulings on this issue, especially in cases where one individuals’ freedom of speech might be perceived to infringe on others’ preserved rights (ie: if my freedom of speech to shout fire in a movie theater infringes on your freedom to not be trampled).

Indeed, practically speaking, it is apparent that simply not all types of speech can be tolerated for a society to function. Some forms of speech are accordingly plainly and thoroughly outlawed by US law, such as fraudulent advertising, child pornography, fighting words, words used in a criminal transaction, unlicensed broadcasts, copyright infringement (hello DMCA), libel, slander, and threats, among others. Most of these forms of speech are restricted because they have a compelling government interest: the US government may regulate, or censor speech if it has a compelling interest, is a public concern, or threatens national safety.

 

All the cool kids are doing it

For example, it is even considered legal to express certain forms of hate speech as long as one does not actually do the activities or encourage others to do them. However, once these groups overstep their boundaries and their actions can be interpreted as violating a compelling government interest, they can (and have) been regulated. For example, the Ku Klux Klan has been denied certain marching permits (a real tragedy) and the Westboro Baptist Church (which became famous recently for protesting military funerals) was sued for its activities (however the ruling was later controversially overturned on appeal in the US Supreme Court). These examples illustrate that while legal history has defined certain finite limitations on the freedom of speech, courts have ultimately historically held that in order for freedom of speech to exist, it must necessarily be protected to allow the unpopular, offensive, and distasteful.

Background on Wikileaks

The “Wikileaks controversy” is a great example of the tension between this freedom of expression and censorship. Wikileaks (NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH WIKIPEDIA) is the name of an international non-profit organization run by founder, editor-in-chief, and director Julian Assange, that publishes submissions of private, secret, and classified media from anonymous news sources, news leaks, and whistleblowers. Since it went online, the site has published an extensive catalogue of secret material, ranging from materials on procedures at Guantánamo Bay, to the contents of Sarah Palin’s private email account. Look at Trigg!!!!

What Assange and his Wikileaks team are doing is technically not illegal under international law nor under various countries’ laws (more to come on this later); nonetheless, several nations (notably Assange’s home country of Australia, China, Germany, Iceland, Thailand, and the United States) have limited access, or in some cases blacklisted and completely blocked all traffic to the site. The United States has blocked access to the site in various government agencies in addition to issuing several other 1984-reminiscient demands. I’m insulted they didn’t threaten Yale. (Although this claim was later refuted by government officials…).

Larry Flynt Reincarnate- Another Champion for Freedom of Expression?

Julian Assange

 

 

 

 

 

... and Larry Flynt, separated at birth?

 

 

Assange himself believes that Wikileak’s role (and his on Earth apparently) is to expose injustice, not to provide an even-handed record of events. In an invitation to potential collaborators in 2006, he wrote, “Our primary targets are those highly oppressive regimes in China, Russia and Central Eurasia, but we also expect to be of assistance to those in the West who wish to reveal illegal or immoral behavior in their own governments and corporations.” He has argued that a “social movement” to expose secrets could “bring down many administrations that rely on concealing reality—including the US administration.”

Many agree that Assange’s work is beneficial and even noble, believing that by increasing transparency of government operations, Assange will ultimately force governments to act in more accountable manners. Calling Assange a “champion of freedom of speech,” proponents of his work believe that Assange provides information that the public has a right to know, and that both international and US efforts to suppress his efforts constitute a significant threat to freedom of expression world-wide. Proponents of his cause believe that the right to freedom of information outweighs the potentially dangerous effects of revealing US military strategy, pointing to the fact that none of the published cables were kept at the highest levels of secrecy, inferring from this that nothing truly sensitive has been revealed. Organizations such as Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned the “blocking, cyber-attacks and political pressure” directed at the cables’ website from all over the world, and expressed concern at comments made by American authorities “concerning Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange.” “This is the first time we have seen an attempt at the international community level to censor a website dedicated to the principle of transparency,” RSF said.

Indeed, Assange’s work has been received to some international acclaim, as the Wikileaks foundeer has received a number of awards and nominations, including the 2009 Amnesty International Media Award for publishing material about extrajudicial killings in Kenya and Readers’ Choice for TIME magazine’s 2010 Person of the Year.

Or a Criminal?

However, despite the seemingly good intentions of Assange’s work, his work has had serious repercussions. Some of the information that his organization has published includes confidential military documents that reveal great deals of US strategy and policy. As Wikileaks makes this information publically-accessible, Assange’s work has potentially compromised US national security, essentially placing in danger not only the lives of soldiers who rely on the secrecy of these documents, but also the lives of citizens at home who are now more vulnerable to attack.

Claiming that his information compromises national security, the US Justice Department has attempted to prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act, which makes it broadly illegal to compromise national security by interfering with the US military. In 2011, an unknown person in Cambridge, Massachusetts, had received a subpoena regarding the Espionage Act’s “conspiracy” clause 18 U.S.C. § 793(g), as well as the federal embezzlement law 18 U.S.C. § 641, a statute used in some other Espionage Act-related cases. A grand jury has begun meeting in Alexandria, Virginia, to hear evidence and decide whether an indictment should be brought.

However, critics of the legal approach of charging Assange under the Espionage Act argue that the broad language of the Act could make news organizations and anyone who reported, printed, or disseminated information from Wikileaks subject to prosecution as well. This slippery-slope argument might ultimately undermine this attempt to prosecute Assange, as further spinoffs from this type of reasoning might be interpreted as uancceptably limiting freedom of expression (if a magazine publishes an article from a magazine that publishes an article from a magazine that publishes an article from Wikileaks – WHERE DOES IT END!!?!?!).

Despite his steel-clad safe haven behind these concerns, Assange has faced a growing number of other problems, including rape charges in Sweden (Update: Good news for Assange! The rape charges have been dropped….but replaced with….?) and having his assets frozen by a number of banks. He does not operate out of an office, but rather remains on the move for extended periods of time in order to avoid extradition to countries that would be eager to repay him for his “noble work.”

My Take

Has the US acted correctly in its response to Assange and Wikileaks? Should our censorship laws be altered to prevent this type of unwanted freedom of expression? Does their inability to prosecute (as of yet) mean that Assange is without blame?

Yes, no, and probably not. The fact remains that our First Amendment technically protects his right to freedom of expression, and, just like protecting the right to protest military funerals, if we want to stay true to our traditions of maintaing a society of freedom of speech, Assange shoudl not be prosecuted for his Wikileaks-related work. Our censorship laws in this regard, should not be fundamentally changed in order to close a loophole that Assange is seemingly exploiting. Thus, the fact that the US (at best) is proceeding cautiously with charging Assange is the correct response if we wish to maintain true to our traditions.

This does not, however, mean that I believe Assange to be a noble champion of our First Amendment rights. I believe his actions to be wrong, plain and simple. The fact remains that in order for a government to function properly, not all information can or should be transparent. As a citizen, I willingly abdicate my right to know this information, trusting my government to make certain determinations for me. Voting with my feet, I can choose what country to live in, and what  government to trust (granted, this is not possible for everyone, but the concept is clear).  Thus, Assange’s actions don’t increase the global levels of democracy through transparency of government operations, in my opinion, but rather make the world a more dangerous place for me to live in, as a result of the increased knowledge of the US military’s vulnerabilities.

New Privacy Hypotheticals – by “Bobby D”

Technology is eroding individual privacy more rapidly than either the judiciary or the general population realize. Our project, through a series of hypothetical situations, seeks to (1) provide a clearer look at how today’s technologies put individual privacy at risk, and (2) draw attention to the judiciary’s current understanding of certain issues these developments have created.

Today’s judges do not entirely understand the ubiquity of new technologies in modern America, or the staggering amount of data these technologies (such as smartphones or laptops) contain. Scalia’s public embarrassment at the hands of a Fordham Law class indicates that he does not quite grasp the nature of privacy in today’s Internet age, and judicial opinions in a variety of cases (People v. Diaz, US v. Moreno) reveal that judges do not comprehend the scope with which new technologies affect personal privacy or control. Our Legal Background section describes these matters in more depth, and the Memorandum to the Judiciary enumerates specific proposals to improve judges’ understanding of these issues.

To gauge the public’s opinion, we surveyed Yale students. The survey enforced the notion of a gap in understanding modern privacy: it showed that information or data students hold “somewhat” to “very” private is often data they do not have control over. Students held the content of emails and text messages more private than almost every other piece of data, yet these data are archived by corporations in full. Internet searches and web browsing were considered rather confidential, but Google has no qualms about gathering and using these data. The survey also highlighted areas where law lags behind contemporary expectations. Every piece of data considered substantially private on the survey is collected by web-based corporations, but most Internet users do not realize. Income / Financial Aid Status was considered as private as Medical History, yet nothing like HIPPA exists to protect financial information. What students deem most private is not necessarily well-protected; these students should be aware of that fact, and the judiciary ought to take into account these new societal expectations in determining privacy law.

The privacy hyoptheticals deserve attention from both the judiciary and the broader public. We aim to educate both parties about the countless new ways an individual can lose their right to privacy in today’s world.

To see the project in its entirety please visit our website

Frances Douglas TC ’11 / Bobby Dresser PC ’14 / Stephanie Rivkin PC ’13 / Emily Rosenberg PC ’11 / Joel Sircus TC ’14

 

 

Kahn v. HPD – TV Court — Meet Real Court! – by “Brad”

While we see plenty of lawyers on TV, and there is no shortage of shows about lawyers (new or syndicated), it’s rare to see the TV-court world collide with the real-court world.  But in Kahn v. HPD, an attempt to use “testimony” from an episode of “The People’s Court” by an administrative officer did NOT sit well with the New York Supreme Court Justice Francois Rivera**.  In relevant part:

“The People’s Court” is not a court, body, agency, public servant or other person authorized by law to conduct a proceeding and to administer the oath or cause it to be administered. It is a television show with a production manager, crew, support staff, editors, and actors. Like any other television show, it is supported by its advertisers and its objective is to entertain its audience. It is also edited to allot time for commercial breaks and to complete the show within a designated broadcast time slot. The show has voluntary participants, who are not actors, who speak about disputes on a stage that resembles a court. The words or statements uttered by the these participants are not testimony. They are neither sworn nor reliable. Furthermore, the statements made on the show have no more probative force than the words of an actor reading from a script in a play. The only difference between the two is that the participants of the show may freely ad-lib their lines.

Here, [the administrative hearing officer] gave tremendous weight and probative force to words and statements allegedly uttered by the petitioner on “The People’s Court” television show. He described the utterances as “sworn testimony” and “compelling admissions”. This view of the utterances petitioner allegedly made on the show is irrational. The court uses the adverb allegedly because the DVD submitted, which allegedly contains petitioner’s utterances, does not include a certified transcript of its content. Nor did it contain a certification that it is a true and accurate copy of “The People’s Court” segment that it purports to be.

**In New York, the “Supreme” court is the trial court — the highest court in the state is the Court of Appeals.  Cases go from the Supreme court to the Appellate Division, and from the Appellate Division they may be appealed to the Court of Appeals.  In this case, the result of an administrative proceeding was being challenged in the trial court.

KAHN v HPD (FULL OPINION)