Tunisian State Secretary Says Censorship Is Fine Because The West Does It Too

from the being-a-rolemodel dept

This weekend we came across a post by Karin Kosina which highlighted the problem in saying that sometimes it's okay to 'filter' (censor) certain websites.

"Tunisian state secretary Sami Zaoui just announced (mirror) that they will keep blocking websites that are "against decency, contain violent elements or incite to hate". When criticised that this is inacceptable in a democracy, he responded (mirror): "Wrong! Even the countries that are most evolved when it comes to freedom block terrorist sites"."

In the case of Tunisia, which just had a revolution or perhaps is still in the process of a revolution, it becomes immediately clear what the problem with such filtering is. Basically, the government is keeping a tool in place which has been used to silence critics in the past. Also, the conditions for which websites are censored are quite vague. Inciting hate and containing violent elements seem quite clear, but as we've seen in Turkey, such conditions can easily be stretched and that's without even taking the 'decency' condition into consideration.

Both the US and the EU are obviously failing to be a rolemodel when they should be. Many politicians in the EU have embraced the idea of an internet filter to block child pornography. As for the US, they could be seen seizing domain names of 'rogue websites'. On the one hand, politicians of the west love talking about the principles of freedom, but on the other hand they hate to actually live up to their own standards when something like WikiLeaks or a music blog comes along. The problems of this for the US and the EU have been discussed here in detail before.

What such censorship also does, is create a dangerous precedent, because it allows for repressive governments to create excuses for censorship. This is to be expected, and we've predicted similar things in the past. If Western countries are really serious about stopping internet censorship (and they're probably not that serious), they need to actually learn to live up to that ideal. Otherwise, we're going to see more and more state-supported censorship defended by the fact that Western nations are just as bad.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    icon
    The eejit (profile), Jan 25th, 2011 @ 9:21am

    To those who said that this would never happen...

    Happy now? You've just been proven wrong.

     

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  •  
    identicon
    MIke's Frontal Lobe, Jan 25th, 2011 @ 9:31am

    I've decided that anytime someone's been stopped from doing something illegal, that they're being censored.

    I'm now going to wish myself "good luck with that."

     

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    •  
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      Mike Masnick (profile), Jan 25th, 2011 @ 9:55am

      Re:

      I've decided that anytime someone's been stopped from doing something illegal, that they're being censored.

      Never said any such thing, of course. But prior restraint in which people are blocked from saying things without a trial on the merits, in which they're able to present a defense of what's been said... well, that is censorship.

      If someone is doing something illegal, charge them with breaking the law. What do you have against that basic concept?

       

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        The Infamous Joe (profile), Jan 25th, 2011 @ 10:38am

        Re: Re:

        If someone is doing something illegal, charge them with breaking the law. What do you have against that basic concept?

        Judges are expensive?

         

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        average_joe (profile), Jan 25th, 2011 @ 11:12am

        Re: Re:

        Call-to-arms words like "prior restraint" and "censorship" get thrown out by Mike a lot, for the obvious rhetorical reasons. Mike uses those terms interchangeably whether he's referring to situations where conduct and content is blocked because of the views being expressed (actual censorship), or where unprotected conduct and content is blocked in a copyright context (not censorship). Mike's really good at blending the two to further his agenda, I'll give him that.

        Copyhype today has another outstanding piece called "Copyright and Censorship." Terry Hart refers to conduct such as Mike's as "First Amendment Opportunism." I love that! I highly recommend it: http://www.copyhype.com/2011/01/copyright-and-censorship/

         

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          The Infamous Joe (profile), Jan 25th, 2011 @ 11:30am

          Re: Re: Re:

          or where unprotected conduct and content is blocked in a copyright context (not censorship)

          ..and when entire sites are taken down to fight "piracy"? Isn't that prior restraint, which is a form of censorship? Are you not in the least bit concerned that all it takes to have a site taken down is for a big corporation to call the government with "evidence" and ask for it to be taken down?

           

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          •  
            identicon
            Anonymous, Jan 25th, 2011 @ 11:35am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            How about you, Masnick, and every other piracy apologist here read Terry Hart's article.

            Once you've done that, all of you can stop this silly charade.

             

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            •  
              identicon
              I-blz, Jan 25th, 2011 @ 11:49am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              You're the masker in all this, not us. You have so thoroughly convinced yourselves that you are in the right, that even in the face of overwhelming odds against you, you continue to deny.
              Read any of "Masnick" , as you so derogatorily call him,stories in the prior restraint of the blogs, which has been playing out for SIX MONTHS, btw, and you will se that it is inexcusable to block a blog for any amount of time, much less over half a year.

               

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                identicon
                Anonymous, Jan 25th, 2011 @ 11:59am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                No one's opportunity to post a blog has been censored, you buffoon.

                None of the protected speech on any of those sites was taken and not allowed to be put on the net.

                You dolts have been so brainwashed by your goofy leader that you don't even make sense any more.

                It's just crazy talk at this point.

                 

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                  The Infamous Joe (profile), Jan 25th, 2011 @ 12:07pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  No one's opportunity to post a blog has been censored, you buffoon

                  I was unaware that the ability to create new speech meant that destroying old speech was not censorship. As soon as you point me in the direction of that caveat of the first amendment and I'll be glad to concede that. As is stands in my mind, if I write a book and you burn it to stop the spread of its message, I have been censored, even though I can just write it again.

                  None of the protected speech on any of those sites was taken and not allowed to be put on the net.

                  That's odd, if you were to try and visit those sites, you've get a nice page saying the domain has been taken down. Or am I wrong about that too?

                   

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                    Anonymous, Jan 25th, 2011 @ 12:31pm

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                    I was unaware that the ability to create new speech meant that destroying old speech was not censorship.

                    No servers were taken, so no old speech was destroyed. Sorry.

                    if you were to try and visit those sites, you've get a nice page saying the domain has been taken down.

                    And all the protected speech on there was still on their servers and free to be posted on the net. Sorry.

                     

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                      coldbrew, Jan 25th, 2011 @ 3:50pm

                      Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                      Hmm. So the servers are material to whether or not the crime of censorship was committed? By that logic, if I link to servers with infringing content, the fact that I don't host the servers should be significant, correct?

                      It's so difficult to tell when the servers on which the content is hosted are relevant and when they aren't. Guess it depends on one's agenda.

                      Have any criminal charges been filed in the ICE seizures at this point?

                       

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                    Anonymous Coward, Jan 25th, 2011 @ 1:19pm

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                    [I]f you were to try and visit those sites, you've get a nice page saying the domain has been taken down.

                    If we reshape the technical underpinnings of the 'net, we can remove the ability for some federal magistrate to rubberstamp that kind of censorship. The cost will be in reduction of our ability to fight things like conficker.

                    Which evil do you prefer?

                     

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                  identicon
                  I-blz, Jan 25th, 2011 @ 3:01pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  I never said that the ability to blog was blocked, I said the BLOGS THEMSELVES were. The blogs nigh-immediately set up new domains, and continued blogging, but they should not have to do even that; and the issue is not even that, but is the fact that the blogs Did not infringe, but their users did, and the content could be taken down by the owners fairly easily, but instead the blogs were completely covered up, without warning in some cases. But you'll come up with some rebuttal, won't you?

                   

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              identicon
              TDR, Jan 25th, 2011 @ 11:55am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Give me an exact quotation where he supports "piracy." Exact words. Now. Otherwise you're a liar. Unless you give a complete retraction of everything you have ever said on this site.

               

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              The eejit (profile), Jan 25th, 2011 @ 3:14pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              I've read it, twice, and I can see the sort of logic behind it. You, however, are an idiot. At no point does he see that the copyright laws are terrible in their scope.

              Nor does he address how much difficulty there is in trying to seize digital goods that are effectively infinite. And that is where Hart's premise falls down.

               

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          Bas Grasmayer (profile), Jan 25th, 2011 @ 12:40pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          How is that not censorship? Censorship is suppression of communication for particular reasons.

          The fight of 'pirates' and WikiLeaks is the same fight. It's the struggle of the world to adapt to the information age.

          Would you agree with this?

           

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            identicon
            Anonymous, Jan 25th, 2011 @ 12:45pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            You would like the fight of Assange and the pirates to be the same, but it's not. Not even close.

            Massive copyright infringement on a global scale is not leaked diplomatic cables.

            Sorry.

             

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              The Infamous Joe (profile), Jan 25th, 2011 @ 1:09pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              It's not the initial actions themselves, e.g., piracy and leaking documents, but the reactions of those who feel injured by those actions that are the same. In both instances the reaction was an attempt to control something uncontrollable and when that failed, to enact laws to attempt to make it possible. Laws that can and will have severe, unstated (maybe unintended?) consequences, aka chilling effects.

              So, since the reactions were the same, the fight against the reactions are, in fact, one and the same. To leave the internet alone, and by proxy, useful.

               

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              identicon
              Some of my best friends are Anonymous Cowards, Jan 25th, 2011 @ 6:48pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Yes, you should be sorry. I'm pretty sure you don't realize why, though.

              So... Keep on chewing feces and spitting all over TD's comments section, I'm sure it's worthwhile to you.

               

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  •  
    identicon
    John Doe, Jan 25th, 2011 @ 9:42am

    Same thing with Iran...

    There was a news article in the last few days about Iran executing two people who videotaped some of the riots after the recent election. The US government opposed the executions saying that what they did was important for freedom. Of course at the same time some in the US government are calling for the execution of Julian Assange.

    It is do as I say, not as I do.

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 25th, 2011 @ 10:27am

    "Wrong! Even the countries that are most evolved when it comes to freedom block terrorist sites."

    I know the issue here is completely disparate, but I can't stop thinking about how Nazi Germany responded to critics by saying they were following the American model for minority treatment.

     

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    Berenerd (profile), Jan 25th, 2011 @ 10:41am

    So when is...

    "Tunisian state secretary Sami Zaoui just announced (mirror) that they will keep blocking websites that are "against decency, contain violent elements or incite to hate".


    So when will news sights such as Foxnews and republican sights and church sites that tell people gays are evil gonna be shut down by ICE? Just curious so I can point and laugh were the only place you will be able to browse to is a picture of a cute and fuzzy bunny....only without the bunny...someone might get offended and all...

     

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    Bas Grasmayer (profile), Jan 25th, 2011 @ 12:32pm

    Re: discussion over the word censorship

    First of all, everyone is pointing their finger at Mike, but he's not the one that wrote this particular article.

    Secondly, I use the word censorship very carefully and with principle. To me, censorship is blocking the distribution of particular information (or erasing this information altogether) for some specific purpose. Such a purpose might be to save industries which are unable to sustain themselves due to technological developments, it might be to prevent people stirring up hate (which is why Mein Kampf is banned in many countries), but it might also be to silence political opposition or human rights advocates.

    So there's my definition of censorship. Maybe it will help you understand the way I try to bring to light certain issues regarding this topic, such as the above article. Personally, I think there is no such thing as 'good censorship', since it blocks the free expression of thought.

    I think it is very important that we live in a world in which we can all express our ideas, no matter how extreme. This is better than forcing people with extreme views into isolation, which only radicalises them. It's better that we as a society are aware, than unaware of such thoughts.

    Well, and you can guess what my feelings are when it comes to censoring for saving out-dated industries or to prevent whistle-blowing.

    I have much more to say about this, so if anyone wants to take a shot... do your thing. Let's have a good discussion :-)

     

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    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous, Jan 25th, 2011 @ 1:36pm

      Re: Re: discussion over the word censorship

      The entertainment industry obviously isn't outdated, as everyone is quite desperate to take their work without paying for it.

      Try again.

       

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        The Infamous Joe (profile), Jan 25th, 2011 @ 1:48pm

        Re: Re: Re: discussion over the word censorship

        The need to create entertainment is certainly not outdated, but their need to control distribution, or their desire to get paid for each instance of an infinite good-- those are outdated.

        In much the same way, there is still a need for ice in your freezer, but you no longer pay someone in an insulated truck to drive it to your house so you can buy it from him.

         

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          identicon
          Anonymous, Jan 25th, 2011 @ 2:23pm

          Re: Re: Re: Re: discussion over the word censorship

          Sorry, but when you guys start pulling out the nonsensical analogies, it's just like Godwin's law.
          Later

           

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            The Infamous Joe (profile), Jan 25th, 2011 @ 2:40pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: discussion over the word censorship

            So pointing out that the ice industry was significantly changed when the a technology was introduced to allow people to perform that function themselves at home is nonsensical when comparing it to the RIAA/MPAA, whose industry is being significantly changed by a technology that has been introduced allowing people to perform a major part of their function at home.

            Roger that.

             

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        Bas Grasmayer (profile), Jan 25th, 2011 @ 1:50pm

        Re: Re: Re: discussion over the word censorship

        The parts that struggle to survive likely are. If there is a demand for something, but an industry cannot figure out how to monetize it and that is caused by development in technology; then something is definitely outdated.

        But I understand you will never agree with me.

        Either way: thanks for the activity and challenging my assertions. It keeps me on my toes and helps me in articulating what I have to say.

         

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        •  
          identicon
          Anonymous, Jan 25th, 2011 @ 2:27pm

          Re: Re: Re: Re: discussion over the word censorship

          They completely understand how to monetize it.

          Their issues have not been due to some new technology that has replaced old technology, but illegal activity that has until now gone unpunished

          Big difference.

           

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            The eejit (profile), Jan 25th, 2011 @ 3:44pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: discussion over the word censorship

            Wrong wrong wrong wrong
            Wrong wrong wrong wrong
            Wrong wrong wrong wrong
            Wrong wrong wrong wrong
            You're Wrong
            You're Wrong
            You're Wroooooooooooong

            So, instead of attacking Grokster, Napster, Kazaa, Limewire et al, if the big labels had actually worked with these companies, not only could they have discouraged piracy, but projections at the time meant that they wouldn't be in deep financial trouble now.

            Had Big Music actually bothered to have a conversation, instead of arbitrarily deciding that it wasn't in their best interests to SUE SUE SUE, then they might not be in as deep financial trouble now.

            Had the Big Labels actually connected with fans, they could have vastly monetised it and then gone on happily ever after.

            The world changes, and the free markets are supposed to force the evolution of businesses. Instead, there is no free market and people are ignoring what they feel is dumb law (like the $5 barefoot permit in Miami, or Segregation.)

            The Old Way is not the True Way anymore. And the Free Market is trying to speak. But these fatcats are bitching because their dish isn't being filled up anymore.

            So they resort to extortionate tactics, and bullying, and bribing (and yes, lobbying IS a bribe, just all nice and legal) instead of being innovators.

            These groups could be shining beacons for progress. Instead, they are struggling. Look at Terra Firma, being dragged down by EMI. Look at Sony BMG, look at Universal, who need the merger with NBC merely to survive.

            But no, it's all about the skull and crossbones.

             

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    identicon
    dubs, Jan 25th, 2011 @ 1:11pm

    re:

    hmm, maybe we should stop using the west as the moral standard... it makes no sense... we are not democracy incarnate even though that's what's being claimed by our governments. This is just a dumb PR war waged by one clan of spin doctors against the others.

    What the tunisians did - that was democracy in practice, and tunisians capacity for democracy is what is being attacked by the government's censorship, and what they are really effectively afraid of. They should just try to get an early taste now of learning about the meaning of the word accountability, because I imagine it will be vital to their survival in coming years.

    my 2cents anyway

     

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    johnjac (profile), Jan 25th, 2011 @ 1:51pm

    First they came

    First they came for the child pornographers,
    And I did not speak out because, yeah those guys are sick

    Then they came for the terrorist
    And I did not speak out because, yeah those guys are bad

    Then they came for the extremist
    And I did not speak out because, well, ummm, I don't think I'm extremist

    Then they came for me

     

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      johnjac (profile), Jan 25th, 2011 @ 1:52pm

      Re: First they came

      Then they came for me [end-of-file]

       

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    •  
      icon
      Dark Helmet (profile), Jan 25th, 2011 @ 2:20pm

      Re: First they came

      "First they came for the child pornographers,
      And I did not speak out because, yeah those guys are sick

      Then they came for the terrorist
      And I did not speak out because, yeah those guys are bad

      Then they came for the extremist
      And I did not speak out because, well, ummm, I don't think I'm extremist

      Then they came for me"

      Then they came on Eileen, which was just gross....

       

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      •  
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        johnjac (profile), Jan 25th, 2011 @ 2:35pm

        Re: Re: First they came

        I swear (well he means) At this moment you mean everything,
        With you in that dress my thoughts I confess verge on dirty
        Ah come on Eileen.

        And I didn't speak up because my overalls were at the cleaners and my accordion was in the shop.

         

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    average_joe (profile), Jan 26th, 2011 @ 8:18am

    How is that not censorship? Censorship is suppression of communication for particular reasons.

    Hi Bas, Thanks for a great article.

    If you're going to define "censorship" that broadly, then of course it would include the laws against piracy. Censorship is typically used more narrowly to mean blocking content because of the view or message being expressed. The fight against piracy is not censorship for the simple reason that the expression being blocked is not protected expression. Free speech means the right to express your own views, not the right to repeat the expression of others verbatim. You can, of course, repeat the ideas of others--nothing is stopping anyone from doing that--but to label copyright laws as "censorship" does a disservice to those who are actually being censored.

     

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 26th, 2011 @ 9:00am

    Censorship is typically used more narrowly to mean blocking content because of the view or message being expressed.

    Like preventing the use of a domain name, because it's a stand-in for the encouragement of alleged infringement.

    If you tried to argue that a DNS record directly infringed someone's copyright, you'd run straight into Feist.

     

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      average_joe (profile), Jan 26th, 2011 @ 9:14am

      Re:

      Like preventing the use of a domain name, because it's a stand-in for the encouragement of alleged infringement.

      If you tried to argue that a DNS record directly infringed someone's copyright, you'd run straight into Feist.


      Feist has nothing to do with the domain name seizures. The domain names were purportedly instrumentalities of crime, and that's why they were seized. Any effect the seizures had on protected speech was incidental--the protected speech was not the target of the seizures. The domain names were not seized because of the content of any views being expressed, hence it's not censorship.

       

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 26th, 2011 @ 9:24am

    Tunisia should remind us of the WSIS process.

    During that process, the American side made two essential representations to our friends.

    1) The US had a proven track record of respect for free speech and free press, enforced in a well-respected court system.

    2) If our governmeent did try to impose censorship on the world, then as a purely technical matter —when push came to shove— the world has the ability to quit listening to the U.S.-controlled servers.

    Feist deals with copyright in phone books. It stands for the proposition that copyright cannot be had over unoriginal facts. Such as the link between a name and a number.

    DNS is the internet's phone book. If you try to use it as a handle to impose censorship, it will break off in your hand. I will help to break it myself.

     

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      average_joe (profile), Jan 26th, 2011 @ 10:03am

      Re:

      [If you hit the "reply to this" button before posting, it's easier for everyone to follow the discussion.]

      I'm very familiar with Feist, but I don't see how it's applicable here. Who is saying that DNS is copyrighted?

       

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 26th, 2011 @ 10:13am

    Who is saying that DNS is copyrighted?

    The government seized a DNS record on the basis of a copyright claim.

     

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      average_joe (profile), Jan 26th, 2011 @ 10:20am

      Re:

      The government seized a DNS record on the basis of a copyright claim.

      But the copyright claim did not appertain to the DNS itself. You're not making any sense to me, sorry.

       

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 26th, 2011 @ 10:33am

    But the copyright claim did not appertain to the DNS itself.

    Even worse. The government leveraged the statutorily-granted, limited monopoly of copyright to seize innocent materials without even a colorable claim that those materials infringed.

    But that's been said before. Here, the main reason I brought up Feist was to emphasize that phone books and DNS records cannot be analyzed strictly as property.

     

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    •  
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      average_joe (profile), Jan 26th, 2011 @ 10:52am

      Re:

      Even worse. The government leveraged the statutorily-granted, limited monopoly of copyright to seize innocent materials without even a colorable claim that those materials infringed.

      But that's been said before. Here, the main reason I brought up Feist was to emphasize that phone books and DNS records cannot be analyzed strictly as property.


      If any "innocent materials" were affected in the seizure, that effect was incidental. The judge who signed off on the warrants obviously thought there was a "colorable claim." You can no more claim that absolutely none of the domain names seized pointed to sites where infringement was occurring than I could claim the opposite.

       

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 26th, 2011 @ 11:08am

    If any "innocent materials" were affected in the seizure, that effect was incidental.

    You may consider the DNS records inconsequential. I don't. Neither did the WSIS participants.

    Anyhow, I can no longer assure my friends around the world that U.S. courts can be trusted to provide due process on internet free press and free speech issues.

     

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