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Cory Doctorow on the Three Strikes Death Penalty

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David Weinberger: You folks are coming up with a plan that has been submitted to the Congress It is the 21st century - what does the 21st century Broadband Plan look like? Cory Doctorow: Well, I don't know what it should look like overall. It's probably not within the scope of a short interview. But I'll tell you what I'd like people to take into consideration And that's that the internet is not just a way of downloading movies, or downloading music, or downloading [games] for that matter. The Internet is a lifeline to every aspect of our digital lives. So, most of us probably couldn't do our jobs without the internet. So cutting off your internet is cutting off your livelihood, Most of us probably couldn't get health care or get the most out of the health care without the internet. Most of us, probably, if we've got kids, our kids couldn't do their homework without the internet or for doing continuing education, we couldn't continue to be educated without the internet Most civic participation involves the internet both in the gross scale like donating money to a candidate you know, like the equivalent of knocking on doors in the 21st century But also, you know, increasingly you can't get a permit to, like, build a shed out back without the internet Every aspect of our digital lives moves through the internet And all the research bears this out. You know in the UK we have this digital inclusion research that takes and controls two groups of people who are the most disadvantaged. One has the internet and the other one doesn't. The ones that have internet access have lower overheads, they have more disposable income to spend on their kids' education, their kids have better chances of being socially mobile and so on. So all that stuff is part of what we get out of the internet. But we routinely treat the internet as though it's just a kind of glorified cable television. And so we have things like the "three strikes" proposal that's now moving through the Anti-Counterfeiting and Trade Agreement thanks to the US trade representative, thanks to America's own trade policy that says, among other things, that if you are accused without conviction of violating copyright three times - no judge, no jury, no trial, no evidence - we take away your internet for a period of time and we add you to a list of people for whom it's illegal to provide internet access. So this is, like, so grossly disproportionate first of all to the crime, such as it is but second of all to notions of justice. I mean imagine if - as Ed Felten has pointed out - imagine if we said: "Oh, you've been up to some nasty things with the photocopier Publishing gets to come over your house and take away everything printed. You can't read for a year, because you've done something wrong with the photocopier." That's the right scale to be thinking about here. One way to understand just what a death penalty this is for participation in the electronic society is to think about the corollaries So imagine if Universal Music stood accused of three acts of erroneous copyright accusation You know, Universal Music has in fact committed more than 3 acts of erroneous copyright accusations. They routinely erroneously accuse people of violating copyright DW: They systematically do this, I mean seriously. I mean, the take down notices letters sent to YouTube, for example are - they know that there is ton of stuff that's going to be... that is not a violation but it's, you know... CD: "Can't make an omelette without breaking eggs, comrade." So, what if, when Universal did that, what if we accused Universal of three bad accusations We needn't even have to prove it, right? What if we accused the of three bad accusations and for one year, Universal wasn't allowed to use the internet? We'd go round with a set of bolt-cutters to every Universal office all over the world, and we'd go to their wiring closet we'd cut their DSL line and fiber They could do all their business for a year by fax provided they weren't using Voice over IP lines to transmit those faxes, right? They could use paper memos for a year. Universal would collapse in an instant. It would be the end of generations long media empire and the collapse of one of the great, you know, entertainment industry giants It would just pop like a soap bubble. DW: And I would like to find a single hard drive of the purest-hearted individual, the most law-abiding... that does not contain three copyright violations Just three arguable copyright violations. CD: Right, but let's leave aside that: assume that they are as pure as the driven snow. We're not talking about copyright violations We're talking about accusations of copyright violations. Now this comes to the next point, which is, what if you ARE guilty of three copyright violations is this proportional? And as you say, I don't think it is because first of all, we all stand in violation of copyright and I see this everywhere I go. One of my routine questions is "Who in this room isn't a pirate?" right? So I went and spoke to Disney in Burbank And I said: "Who in this room isn't a pirate?" Mostly, they were engineers, but there were a couple of lawyers there None of the lawyers put their hands up, right? because they know that they are pirates A couple of the engineers went [slowly rises his hand] And the lawyers looked over and went [shakes his head] And they put their hands down. Because you have to be, right? It's impossible not to be a pirate in this day and age. Everyone is violating something There is a very memorable moment in Kirby Dick's movie, "This Film is not yet Rated" which is a movie about the MPAA's rating system and specifically about the fact that it is done in secret And Kirby hired a private eye to figure out who are the people on the secret ratings board and then submitted the movie to the ratings board So, he gets a call from the head MPAA lobbyist who is in DC - he used to be a congressman He says: "Kirby, I've seen your movie and I want to talk to you about it." And Kirby says: "Wait a second. You saw my movie. Are you in L.A:?" He says: "No, no, I am in DC" and Kirby says: "Well, how did you see my movie inDC? The copy that I gave the ratings agency is here in LA." He says: "No, no, they made a copy for me." And Kirby says: "What do you mean, they made a copy for you?" And he says: "Well, it's OK, though, because I put it in my vault." Right? We're all copyists. So, is it proportional? Does it make sense as a punishment to say: "We think you committed a civil offense against a media giant Therefore you can't be educated, you can't get health care, you can't vote you can't participate in civic life. All of these things are now off-limits to you" and again, that's not proportional, that's not a good broadband strategy for the nation So, if you're crafting a broadband strategy, whose objective it is to see that your society successfully transitions to a digital one and becomes one of the winners in the digital era, the way it was the winner in the hard goods era There is no way to do that that starts by saying: "We will arbitrarily suspend or withdraw network access from people on the basis of accusation or even conviction for copyright infringement. The idea of enacting the death penalty against someone should - if it even exists in law - should be reserved for the most heinous of crimes and not for mere civil offense. DW: Thank you CD: You're welcome

Video Details

Duration: 6 minutes and 59 seconds
Year: 2009
Country: United States
Language: English
Producer: David Weinberger
Views: 207
Posted by: calmansi on Nov 21, 2009

Interview by David Weinberger for the Broadband
Strategy Week
"Author and activist Cory Doctorow argues that the Internet is too central to our lives to be taken away for three accusations of copyright infringement. Along the way he proposes that turnabout is fair play, and thus Universal (for example) ought to have its access to the Net taken away if it issues three false accusations of infringement. "
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