June 23, 2006

DMCA chilling effects and its discontents

Another pro-DMCA paper which trivializes the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)'s chilling effects on research has prompted a rebuttal comment from Ed Felten:

DMCA boosters can repeat the speech-was-not-chilled claim as often as they like, but it's still false. There are two big examples of the chill. First, WE ACTUALLY DID WITHDRAW THE PAPER FROM PUBLICATION at the Information Hiding Workshop. Second, ONE OF MY COLLEAGUES LOST HIS JOB BECAUSE OF THE PAPER. Sorry for yelling, but I'm sick of having this lie repeated.

At the time we filed our suit, the RIAA and SDMI had not withdrawn their threats -- they told the press that they had never objected to our paper (which was false) but they refused to tell us that they would not sue if we published the paper. And note that the RIAA and SDMI were not the only two parties that had threatened us. The other party, Verance, had done nothing to withdraw their threat. It was only after we filed our lawsuit that all of them promised definitively not to sue.

In fact (before recent posts about it) *I* didn't know about the person who lost his job because of the paper, and I've probably followed the case more closely than 99.9+% of anyone interested.

But sadly, the issue is intrinsic to the politics of the pro-DMCA argument. To wit: If the DMCA hurts "good" people, there's a problem. So DMCA advocates are driven to say it only hurts "bad" people - and thus any "good" people affected must be either a) not really "good" or b) not really affected. It's problematic to impugn the high status which accrues to a Princeton professor, so that leaves attacking the effects.

To fair, from the outside it's sometimes hard to distinguish truth from hype. This is one reason I believe wolf-crying "journalists" do much harm, by raising phony alarms (but then, I'm bad at politics). And many people have very misleading ideas about how much support is available for civil-liberties defense (see, e.g. the CyberPatrol case - "What I found out was that those organizations, through no fault of their own, were able to give me a lot of sympathy and not enough of anything else, particularly money, to bring my personal risk of tragic consequences down to an acceptable level, despite, incredibly, the fact that what I had done was legal.")

I really don't know how to counter this. I get too much grief myself, even from activists who should know better, when talking about the risks of the DMCA.

Update: Bill Herman has a long rebuttal to the pro-DMCA paper.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in dmca | on June 23, 2006 09:18 AM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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