Monday, January 5, 2009

Copyright Debate by Name-Calling

I like a good debate about copyright as much as anyone. There's plenty to argue about: the law, what the law should be, the economics of the entertainment industry, the fairest and most effective anti-infringement strategies and tactics, etc. There is plenty of room for reasonable people to disagree, and there are also times when people who are normally on opposite sites of these issues to cooperate. For example, when I was working as an attorney on the McCain campaign, I developed a very civil working relationship with Larry Lessig, who lent public support to our campaign's efforts to persuade YouTube not to remove campaign videos immediately upon receipt of copyright complaints, irrespective of the merit of the claims -- despite the fact that I had worked as a studio anti-piracy attorney, and Lessig was a proud Obama supporter.

But reasonable debate, and the possibility of cooperation and compromise, can't happen when people just call each other names. Case in point is yesterday's post by BoingBoing co-editor and prominent copyleft activist Cory Doctorow about the RIAA's decision to drop MediaSentry as its Internet investigator. It's amazing how much vitriol and name-calling Doctorow is able to pack into one short post about what is really a fairly insignificant event in the copyright wars:
  • "outsource [sic] enforcement thugs"
  • "a sleazy outfit that changes its name as often as it changes its testimony"
  • "unbelievably stupid"
  • "MediaSentry's goons will end up on the breadline"
There's not much content to his post, or evidence or explanation of the alleged "thuggery" "sleaziness," "name-changing," "testimony changing" "unbelievable stupidity," or "goonishness." Apparently we're just supposed to trust that if Doctoroff calls MediaSentry lots of nasty names, that's good enough. Never mind that the complaints about MediaSentry's alleged invasions of privacy and violations of state private-eye license requirements appear to be without merit.

Keep in mind that Doctorow is not some fringe character among the copyleft. He is a fellow and winner of a 2007 "Pioneer" award from the EFF, probably the most prominent of the copyleft organizations. And he was the "Canada-U.S. Fulbright Visiting Research Chair in Public Diplomacy" at USC from 2006-07.

I'm not saying that we all must get along. We won't. But we'll never get anywhere if the "debate" is just name-calling.


  1. And isn't it also true that the "thuggery" and "sleaziness" that Doctoroff is attacking is web-surfing activity that could apply to, say, journalists and any number of professional websurfers who are totally unaffiliated with the recording industry? In other words, his blind hatred for the recording industry has led him to a radical and expansive position that could ensnare people who have no part in this dispute. Be careful what you wish for: MediaSentry today, Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist tomorrow.

  2. I don't mean to be a troll, but why the high-horse when in your previous post you call Yglesias's reasoning "laughably false" and a "rant." Is that any more reasoned debate?

    (btw, Doctorow has reams of thoughtful posts on copyright - see his book "Content")

  3. There's a vast difference between describing a post's "reasoning" in harsh terms, and then going on to explain why the descriptions are warranted (which is what the post you reference did), and simply hurling nasty terms at people or groups, as if that constitutes an argument (which is what Doctorow's post did). But your larger point is valid; everyone on all sides of the debate should take care with their language.

  4. So, let me get this straight: you don't think Cory Doctorow's discourse befits his status as a professor at the USC Center on Public Diplomacy?

  5. I wouldn't necessarily classify "thug" as name-calling--in the hip hop community, it's sort of a compliment.

    "Unbelievably stupid" is rude though.


Comments here are moderated. I appreciate substantive comments, whether or not they agree with what I've written. Stay on topic, and be civil. Comments that contain name-calling, personal attacks, or the like will be rejected. If you want to rant about how evil the RIAA and MPAA are, and how entertainment companies' employees and attorneys are bad people, there are plenty of other places for you to go.