The slippery slope of censorship: the copyright lobby and child porn

The title of the MAFIAAFire forum post “The Copyright Lobby Absolutely Loves Child Pornography” is intentionally controversial and eye-grabbing, but when you look at the actual content of the post all of a sudden the politics and chess game of censorship as played by the copyright lobby makes all kinds of sense.

From the article, quoting Johan Schlüter, head of the Danish Anti-Piracy Group (Antipiratgruppen) from 2007 May 27:

Politicians do not understand file sharing, but they understand child pornography, and they want to filter that to score points with the public. Once we get them to filter child pornography, we can get them to extend the block to file sharing.

And later in the article (this time, quoting the original poster in the present day):

The reasoning is simple and straightforward. Once you have established that someone who is in a position to censor other people’s communication has a responsibility to do so, the floodgates open and those middlemen can be politically charged with filtering anything that somebody objects to being distributed.

This is a perfect example of the “slippery slope” problem. With apologies to Procter and Gamble, a slightly modified version of the old Pringles slogan applies here: Once they drop (censor something), they can’t stop.

I detest child pornography as much as any other law-abiding citizen. However, a far worse problem than child porn is censorship of otherwise legitimate speech because of suspected copyright infringement. In the past, the NFL has censored obvious fair use of football telecasts (the only example I know of), mainly because YouTube made it so easy and few people bothered to contest the DMCA notices. I can only imagine what it will be like to try to use the net when someone suspects something is child pornography, when it clearly is not, and the request just gets intercepted. This is further complicated by the fact that even “virtual” child pornography has been outlawed.

The ends do not justify the means. We need to stop blatant censorship dead in its tracks now, or we will certainly regret the end result and wish we had acted sooner in a few years. I support in principle the work of the German group Mogis (), which is against the censorship of the Internet.

I concur with one of the conclusions of this post:

The conclusion is as unpleasant as it is inevitable. The copyright industry lobby is actively trying to hide egregious crimes against children, obviously not because they care about the children, but because the resulting censorship mechanism can be a benefit to their business if they manage to broaden the censorship in the next stage. All this in defense of their lucrative monopoly that starves the public of culture.

If you are disgusted after reading this, you’re not alone. I think the copyright lobby has honestly reached a new low. I hope you, my readers, can see through this pathetic ruse; if you can avoid purchasing the products of the copyright lobby, please do so. I realize some people just can’t, and that’s fine. But the only way we will be able to speak the language of the large corporations is by hitting them in the pocketbook.

Update 2011-12-05: The above-linked post may bring up a “403 Forbidden” server error due to a misconfiguration on the destination server. If this happens, please copy and paste the link target into a new tab and it should load.

Update 2021-07-22: Replaced dead link with link.

“Library of future” initiative becomes corporate battleground

Wired reports on Sony’s decision to side with Google in a highly contentious lawsuit between Google and rivals Microsoft, Yahoo, and Amazon.

The lawsuit centers around privacy concerns and the fact it would give Google monopoly-like status on book rights that would be impossible for other companies to acquire without their own lawsuit.

Worse for Google, the Department of Justice is also investigating the settlement–a rather ominous and foreboding development.

I have never been all that positiviely impressed with Sony; they are probably the only company with a hand in consumer electronics and entertainment (the latter through their acquisition of Columbia Tri-Star in 1989 and CBS Records in 1987). The second DVD player my mom ever bought was a Sony, and it was the first to fail; the RCA player purchased a few months before still works today as far as I know. It has always seemed to me that Sony built up a good reputation in its early days, and somehow managed to keep it afloat enough to justify some kind of premium pricing even though the reputation it has is probably less deserved today.

Still, today, I’d really like to give Sony the benefit of the doubt. Yes, even though this is the same Sony known for the doomed Betamax and Digital 8 videotape formats, and the XCP and MediaMax copy protection scandal of 2005.

I don’t know much of the details and motivation behind why Sony would back Google. I do know that it’s Very Bad to let any one company grow to an effective monopoly; there is a reason we have the Sherman Anti-Trust act in the US and why similar legislation and oversight exists in the EU and elsewhere. And this does smell like something Sony would do not out of concern for its customers, but for its own corporate interests. I also believe we, as a society, should not reward a company that puts shareholders above customers when filing amicus briefs in these legal chess games.

Maybe my instinct is off the mark yet again, but it is what it is.