Late on Friday (the time when people try to break bad news to avoid a big news cycle) the IRS admitted that the office that scrutinizes non-profit/tax exempt status of organizations had acted politically in targeting groups that had "tea party" or "patriot" in their names. Over the weekend, more details have been revealed showing that they further targeted groups that criticized how the government is being run including so-called "social welfare" groups. In other words: if you want to improve our government, the IRS might target you for a burdensome audit. As someone who regularly criticizes our government because I want it to act better, this is absolutely horrifying. I know that this issue has already descended for some into a "left" vs. "right" political battle, but this is an issue that everyone should be aghast about. While the full report hasn't been released yet (and, in fact, there are already accusations that the IRS has leaked parts to try to contain the fallout), some of the details are astounding:
The documents, obtained by The Washington Post from a congressional aide with knowledge of the findings, show that the IRS field office in charge of evaluating applications for tax-exempt status decided to focus on groups making statements that “criticize how the country is being run” and those that were involved in educating Americans “on the Constitution and Bill of Rights.”
Educating people about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights gets extra scrutiny by the IRS? Isn't that the kind of thing that we should be encouraging?
Are there groups that abuse the non-profit status? Probably. But targeting them based on their viewpoints goes way beyond what's allowed or should be seen as even remotely reasonable. As some have pointed out, politicizing the IRS was part of the impeachment articles against Nixon.
Is it so much to ask for a government that actually respects the Constitution? Or does simply asking for that make you a target?
Updated: At 5pm ET, the USPTO called Jamie to say that a contractor had set this up, and after reviewing their policies, they had stopped blocking such sites...
Well this is bizarre. Jamie Love from KEI was over at the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for a meeting about "global negotiations on intellectual property and access to medicine." The meeting itself was held in a room that it uses for the USPTO's Global Intellectual Property Academy (GIPA), and there is free WiFi for people to use. Love tried to log onto his own website... and found that it was being blocked as a "political/activist group."
Access Denied (content_filter_denied)
Your request was denied because this URL contains content that is categorized as: "Political/Activist Groups" which is blocked by USPTO policy. If you believe the categorization is inaccurate, please contact the USPTO Service Desk and request a manual review of the URL.
For assistance, contact USPTO OCIO IT Service Desk. (io-proxy4)
Love then checked a bunch of other sites... and noticed a rather distressing pattern. For public interest groups who advocate that the existing copyright/patent system is broken, the websites were all blocked. ACLU, EFF, Public Knowledge, Public Citizen, CDT... all blocked. However, if you're a lobbyist for maximalism? No problem! MPAA, RIAA, IIPA, IPI, PHRMA, BSA... come on through. They do allow Creative Commons. Thankfully (for us, at least), they don't seem to block blogs that talk about this stuff. Techdirt is allowed, as are things like BoingBoing, Groklaw and Larry Lessig and Michael Geist's blogs. Though, oddly, a bunch of political sites (DailyKos, TPM, RedState, Rush Limgaugh's site) are blocked.
It may be an "over active" filter -- but it does seem particularly disturbing that all those groups who fight for the public's rights on the very issues the USPTO is dealing with on a regular basis have their sites completely blocked.
Two quick announcements. First, this is the latest in our "case study" series, of content creators doing interesting things online, and seeing what we can learn from them. The case studies now have their own tab if you want to check out previous case studies. Second, this profile is about Dan Bull, but stay tuned, because tomorrow, he'll be coming out with a new song, commenting on ACTA and the Gallo Report. We'll post it here, but trust me, you don't want to miss it.
You may recall, about a year ago, there was a bit of a kerfuffle involving singer Lily Allen -- who had built her (major label) career, in part off of releasing a bunch of clearly infringing mixtapes of other artists, mixed with some of her own music on her MySpace page and her official website (controlled by EMI). And yet... she suddenly posted a rant against file sharing, talking about how it was destroying the industry. She even started a blog about how evil copying was, but amusingly plagiarized an entire Techdirt post. We were fine with it (our material is free to use however you'd like), but thought it was an interesting teaching moment about the value of copying, and how even those who claim they're against it implicitly seem to recognize that copying is "natural." While Lily apologized to me, as we noted there was no need to apologize -- the content was free for using. We were hoping that she would understand how her actions went against her own words. Instead, she blamed everyone else, claimed she was "attacked" and shut down her blog.
However, soon after all of this, a musician in the UK, named Dan Bull, wrote and recorded a musical "open letter" to Ms. Allen, for which he created a video, and posted the whole thing to YouTube, generating a ton of attention. If you haven't seen it (or even if you have...), check it out:
Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I'm name checked in the song, which actually caused me to go out and buy Dan's album, even though he makes it available for free as well, uploaded to various file sharing systems that are regularly decried for "destroying" the industry. With the Dear Lily song getting so much attention, Dan has continued to write new songs along these lines, starting with an open letter to Peter Mandelson, the UK politician who was the main driving force behind the Digital Economy Act, which brought three strikes to the UK:
Earlier this year, as the debate heated up over kicking people offline via the Digital Economy Act, UK ISP TalkTalk had Dan Bull create a new song, reminding us how familiar the recording industry's complaints sound to their complaints from years back about how home taping was killing music:
Tomorrow he's coming out with his latest track related to copyright issues, specifically commenting on ACTA and the Gallo report. I've heard it already, and you don't want to miss it. We'll post it as soon as it's ready to go tomorrow. However, as we gear up for that, I spoke to Dan about his experience creating music that has championed the idea that copyright is a much bigger problem than a solution to the music industry, and what lessons he's learned.
The first thing, of course, is that his music career was completely transformed by the original Dear Lily video. Even though he'd already released an album, this one song, changed things. As Dan told me:
I've been putting my songs on YouTube for years without anyone really noticing, so I didn't expect anything different with Dear Lily. I uploaded the video, e-mailed the link to the P2P blog TorrentFreak, and went to bed. The next morning I woke up to find my inbox was broken due to responses arriving every couple of seconds. The video seemed to have struck the right chord at the right time, and I was summarising what was on everybody's mind. Except Lily Allen's.
He pointed out that the video got 80,000 views that first night, and the MP3 (made freely available, of course) was downloaded over 20,000 times. And, despite all the claims that folks who support file sharing or think that copyright has problems are just a bunch of freeloaders who want stuff for free, this song made Dan money:
I made more money from music that week than I had in my entire musical career previously. I'd say it was split 50/50 between sales of my album, and donations from people who just wanted to show their appreciation. It goes to show that filesharers aren't cheapskates; they're happy to hand over a bit of cash if they know who it's going to.
He also pointed out that, if all of the interest in his songs had been monitored by the folks who create the charts, the song actually would have ended up on the UK singles charts.
But, of course, was this just a flash in the pan, one-hit-wonder sort of thing? Not according to Dan. He notes that he had a decent group of supporters before:
But this was when I first started to feel like I had a real fanbase, and that there are lots of other people out there who feel the way I do. Plenty of the people who saw the video have stuck around to check out my new stuff too. It's also made it easier to get my other songs noticed, and I've been on television and radio a few times as a result.
And, in talking about attention from elsewhere, it's not just limited to music about copyright. He's becoming a go-to guy for music about all sorts of political issues, including a successful (and brilliant) UK Election Debate Rap Battle. The tech/copyright songs are still the songs that get the most people excited, but all of his new works are getting more and more attention. As Dan notes, the way you build a career is to continue to keep building, rather than relying on old works and copyright complaints:
I enjoyed the wave of publicity I had from the novelty of the Dear Lily video, but instead of trying to milk it I decided to carry on and write more songs. Each one I do gets a little more attention and it's very satisfying when new fans get in touch with me. It's good to discuss the issues with people who disagree as well - it makes me think hard about whether my beliefs are right.
Oh, and finally, I did wonder if he ever heard from either Lily Allen or Peter Mandelson in response to his open letters. No such luck, apparently, but he's heard from a reliable source that Allen has at least seen the video, and he got to perform Dear Mandy right outside the houses of Parliament in front of a bunch of TV cameras, so he's hoping that maybe, just maybe, Mandelson got to hear it "drifting through his window..."
Once again, this is another case of an artist really finding a way to connect with fans in a fun way, encouraging the free sharing of his music, but recognizing that fans are more than willing to pay, if given a reason to buy. And, of course, I do wonder how folks who insist that no "real" musician would ever speak out against copyright respond to folks like Dan Bull.
Anyway, thanks to Dan for taking the time to answer my questions, and stay tuned for his latest song and video...
silverscarcat: Tis sad, over a decade worth of memories, and Outlook comes along and screws everything up. dennis deems: http://t.co/CqGZaCofFb The Lonely Island - SEMICOLON (feat. Solange) for you @ssc (NSFW) Rikuo: about the Xbox One reveal - there were quite a few people watching the reveal live on their Xbox 360's, with their Kinect 1.0's attached...and everytime the Microsoft exec demonstrated a feature by saying "Xbox, TV" or whatever the viewer's Kinect 1.0 would pick up the voice command and respond accordingly...by pausing or stopping the stream and going to the TV mode. I find that hilarious I also find the concept of Kinect 2.0 hilarious. So if you've got a bunch of people on the couch watching a movie...don't move a muscle. Stare blankly. Don't move your arms at all or say anything, or the Kinect 2.0 will think you're giving it a command. If you move your arm back to point to the liquor cabinet to tell the wife to pour you a shot of whiskey, the Xbox One will think you're swiping silverscarcat: *Spies something interesting in the Crystal Ball* Well, that's interesting. I'm not sure what to think. Honestly, I'm not a big fan of the guy, but considering what the gov't did, I support him in that endeavor, but this... Seems to go too far. dennis deems: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/05/22/1210687/-Obama-s-leak-freakout Best political cartoon ever? Top 10, surely Hey the green bars are back! Jay: Hmmm... Gonna have to hack my PSP... silverscarcat: I need a new battery for my PSP. :( It keeps shutting off if it's unplugged for more than 2-3 minutes, even on a full charge. Mike Masnick: green bars are back, and hopefully functioning better than before. :) silverscarcat: Oh look, AJ's having a cow and the internet tough guy is trying to be a stereotypical high school bully. *Rolls eyes* Hey, Mike, I know it's not in your nature to ban someone, but, damn, something needs to be done about this sometimes I think. Rikuo: unfortunately, nothing can be done. IP address block? Useless since either AJ is on a dynamic IP or he's on a static but using someone else's equipment. Username block? That would only add fuel to the "CENSORSHP" fire silverscarcat: Well, I think I'm going to leave for the day. That troll that plays the internet tough guy really should get laid, I think. It might help him think straight. Rikuo: holy fucking shit...I want to be this man http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2013/05/fios-customer-discovers-the-limits-of-unlimited-data-77-tb-in-month/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+arstechnica%2Findex+%28Ars+Technica+-+All+content%29 Warning - Home Server pornz on that link BentFranklin: in that article, where it describes his rack, what does 1u, 2u, 4u etc mean?