Well, this is interesting. Given the general condemnation of Wikileaks by governments, all the ongoing controversy and reputation problems faced by the organization, you wouldn't expect them to be approached with any official requests for leaked information. But it seems just that has happened in the UK, where the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics has requested and received a dossier from Wikileaks on corruption in the British press.
On the surface this is pretty hypocritical, and more than a little ironic: in the past, the UK government asked media outlets to brief them on government secrets they received from Wikileaks before publishing them. Now, a government-run inquiry is asking Wikileaks to hand over information on UK media outlets. Apparently they don't hate leaks as long as they flow in the right direction.
Hopefully this represents another step towards governments recognizing that Wikileaks isn't pure evil, even if there are questionable things about the operation. Though there are risks, bringing sensitive information to light is often in the public's best interest—indeed, that's the whole spirit behind public inquiries. The Leveson Inquiry was convened when the News of the World phone-hacking scandal pointed to a secret culture of corruption in the press, and now Wikileaks is helping to expose it further. If governments attempt to maintain secret cultures of their own, they too will be exposed.
Peter Sunde, a very thoughtful and insightful guy, who's been completely demonized by the entertainment industry for his role with The Pirate Bay, has written up an interesting piece for Wired UK where he not only goes over highly questionable issues related to his conviction, but raises a larger question about why we, as a society, allow one obsolete industry to have so much power in government and policy issues. The connections between those involved in his prosecution and the entertainment industry are simply too numerous to be fair:
The Swedish prosecutor sent out a memo in 2006 saying
wasn't guilty of "main" crimes -- at best it aids and
abets (he also mentioned that the people running TPB were very
clever). But Hollywood was not happy with this and forced the
Swedish Minister of Justice to visit the White House and talk about
it. The United States told Sweden that if they didn't get rid of
the site, they would not be allowed to trade with the US!
The minister (illegally) told the prosecutor what had happened
which forced him to raid
TPB -- only a few weeks after sending out that memo about
how legal it was.
Evidently, Warner Brothers felt that the investigation was
taking too long. The studio contacted the police officer in charge
of the investigation (one person that worked mostly by himself) and
before I had even been questioned by him, he interviewed for a job
with Warner Brothers.
When we found out
he'd been hired (by him changing his employer from
"Polisen" to "Warner Bros" on Facebook) the reply we got was that
it was proof that Swedish IT police are of such high caliber that
even the big US companies would hire them.
I got promoted from "witness" to "suspect" a week after the job
It's stories like this that raise significant questions about the prosecution. Even if you believe that Sunde was guilty of what he was charged with, I would think you should be able to admit that the list of things above should not have happened under any circumstance. When you read that... and then realize that the guy leading the prosecution against Megaupload for the US DOJ used to work for the industry as an "anti-piracy" exec -- you see the same pattern happening again and again. People who have too close connections to industry are making decisions on these issues designed to protect their industries, rather than looking at the actual impact on society and the economy. That's a pretty big problem, and shows how "regulatory capture" can sometimes become "judicial capture" as well.
Despite significant questions raised on some of the specifics of the lower court's ruling against the folks behind The Pirate Bay, the Swedish Supreme Court announced today that it would not hear the appeal in the case. In theory, this means that the four individuals may face jail time pretty soon -- though, as Torrentfreak notes, it's pretty standard in Sweden for cases that have gone on this long to take 12 months off of the sentences, which might mean no actual jail time. One of those still facing jail time, Peter Sunde, who has since gone on to create Flattr (a service that has helped many, many content creators -- including us at Techdirt -- make lots of money), has written up a post highlighting just how questionable the entire process has been:
We’re not surprised by this. The previous court cases has been filled of corruption. From having the minister of justice pressured by the US to illegally make a case of TPB, through the police officer responsible for the investigation (Jim Keyzer) “just happened” to get a job at Warner Brothers the weeks before I myself got promoted from a witness to a suspect, to the judges in the court cases being either board members, or in one case the actual chairman of the board, for the swedish pro-copyright society, it was clear to us that the supreme court – where many of the judges make a lot of money on their own copyrights – would be hard to persuade to take the case. Even though most of the public would want the case tested there. Even though it’s one of the most important cases for all of the EU.
Another view worth reading comes from my friend Martin Thornkvist, who is from Sweden, and ran a record label in Sweden and has worked with a bunch of Swedish artists. You might think he'd be against The Pirate Bay, but he's quite upset about this ruling, noting that it makes him both sad and angry. He points out that it makes him sad, because the entertainment industry is still fighting their fans. He notes that when they stop fighting their fans -- as the record labels finally realized with Spotify -- piracy almost disappears. Though he also points out that without The Pirate Bay, Spotify almost certainly would not have existed. And that's the part that makes him angry. Despite helping to push the world forward, the thanks they get is jail time:
I’m angry because the founders of The Pirate Bay don't get the recognition they deserve. For pushing the development of new services further and forcing the media industries to distribute their content in a manner that people want, (ie not plastic discs and windows policies).
Meanwhile, the site itself has moved to a .se domain, assuming that the US government is likely to seize their .org before too long. Because, you know, that'll really stop file sharing...
Late last week, we wrote about the ridiculous situation in which MPAA boss Chris Dodd publicly threatened elected officials who take Hollywood money, but who don't pass the laws that the MPAA wants. Of course, most people assume that everyone expects a quid pro quo, but actually stating it out loud and on television is really remarkable, and has resulted in calls for an investigation into Dodd. I'd argue that the focus should really be on the politicians. In fact, the folks over at Free Press are now calling on those in Congress to return campaign donations from Hollywood to show that Congress is not for sale:
"The MPAA is so brazen in its efforts to buy legislation with campaign cash that its leader, himself a former senator, sees nothing wrong with threatening legislators on national TV. We think it's time that Congress showed that its votes are no longer for sale. The first thing Congress must do is give back the MPAA's tainted campaign cash or give it to charity. Congress must make it clear to the world that it won’t be bullied into supporting censorship."
Of course, it's unlikely that anyone in Congress will actually do this, but it certainly would make a pretty loud and clear statement.
"Those who count on quote 'Hollywood' for support need to understand that this industry is watching very carefully who's going to stand up for them when their job is at stake. Don't ask me to write a check for you when you think your job is at risk and then don't pay any attention to me when my job is at stake,"
This certainly follows what many people assumed was happening, and fits with the anonymous comments from studio execs that they will stop contributing to Obama, but to be so blatant about this kind of corruption and money-for-laws politics in the face of an extremely angry public is a really, really, really tone deaf response from Dodd.
It shows, yet again, that he just doesn't get it. People were protesting not just because of the content of these bills, but because of the corrupt process of big industries like Dodd's "buying" politicians and "buying" laws. To then come out and make that threat explicit isn't a way to fix things or win back the public. It's just going to get them more upset, and to recognize just how corrupt this process is. If Dodd, as he said in yesterday's NY Times, really wanted to turn things around and come to a more reasonable result, this is exactly how not to do it. It shows, yet again, a DC-insider's mindset. He used Fox News to try to "send a message" to politicians. But the internet already sent a much louder message... and, even worse for Dodd, he bizarrely sent his message in a way that everyone who's already fed up with this kind of corruption can see it too. It really makes you wonder what he's thinking and how someone so incompetent at this could keep his job.
The MPAA doesn't need a DC insider explicitly demanding the right to buy laws and buy politicians. The MPAA needs a reformer, one who helps guide Hollywood into the opportunities of a new market place. The MPAA needs someone who actually understands the internet, and helps lead the studios forward. That's apparently not Chris Dodd.
Public Knowledge issued a fantastic statement that not only highlights the ridiculousness of Dodd's threats, but also the hypocrisy of the Hollywood studios on this issue:
Public Knowledge welcomes constructive dialog with people from all affected sectors about issues surrounding copyright, the state of the movie industry and related concerns. Cybersecurity experts, Internet engineers, venture capitalists, artists, entrepreneurs, human rights advocates, law professors, consumers and public-interest organizations, among others should be included. They were shut out of the process for these bills.
We suggest that in the meantime, if the MPAA is truly concerned about the jobs of truck drivers and others in the industry, then it can bring its overseas filming back to the U.S. and create more jobs. It could stop holding states hostage for millions of dollars in subsidies that strained state budgets can’t afford while pushing special-interest bills through state legislatures. While that happens, discussions could take place.
I just came across this, which actually happened a month ago: Larry Lessig, who is focused entirely on figuring out ways to stop systematic corruption in Washington DC, interviewing disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, widely considered the perfect example of corruption in DC. The 1.5 hour discussion is an attempt to not just go over Abramoff's history, but to educate how the Congressional system works. It's worth watching in its entirety:
There's certainly a lot of talk about how much of a role money plays in Congress, and how direct some elected officials are in "soliciting bribes" (in Abramoff's words). He actually says that it has become "more subtle" these days than in the past, and that this might be the way that some elected officials "feel better about themselves" in asking people for money in exchange for influence.
One key point that Abramoff makes, is that government is a "tool to wage war." He talks about how Congressional hearings are kangaroo courts designed to just cause problems for people or companies that someone doesn't like. He notes that "even if it goes well," you have to spend a million dollars just to get ready for the hearing. So, setting up a hearing is a way to cause problems for "enemies." Indeed, we've talked about how legacy industries regularly use government as a weapon against competitors and upstarts -- and how troubling it can be when new comers get sucked into the system.
There's a long discussion about the power of staffers on the Hill, rather than the actual elected officials (who "never read the actual bills"). They note that staffers are the real power. Abramoff talks about how he never wanted to hire the actual Congressional Reps, but always focused on hiring staffers. And then he makes a key admission that won't surprise many people. He says that, early on, he focused on hiring people when he had job openings. But, later, he would talk to staffers -- especially chiefs of staff -- and just let them know he had a job opening for them whenever they wanted it. And he would ask them: "When do you want to start?" If they said "two years," he knew that the guy was already working for him, but on the inside. As he says "I really hired him that day," even though he went on for two more years working as a chief-of-staff to someone in Congress.
Abramoff notes that most lobbyists, staffers and elected officials aren't taking it to the criminal level -- like he did. And that the real problems are in what's already legal. He notes that, for himself, he didn't care about what was legal or what wasn't -- he just wanted to "win" at any cost. But he says most others are at least more conscious of staying on the legal side of the line, even if it's "legally" corrupt.
From there, they go into a discussion of Abramoff's own suggestions for reforming the system. That part of the discussion is really interesting, but feels a bit more down in the weeds, as Lessig and Abramoff more or less debate their own personal plans (and their own books) for reforming Congress, campaign finance and lobbying. And, finally, there are audience questions, which are interesting, but don't really delve that deeply into the overall discussion. Either way, definitely worth watching.
We've talked a lot about the political process and how things work in DC to get things like SOPA pretty far along, even as the public seems to be almost universally against it. As you hopefully know by now, Larry Lessig has been focusing his attention on the issue of the deep-seeded corruption in the way our government works today, and his recent book, Republic, Lost focuses deeply on the issue. A few weeks back, Lessig did a fantastic interview on the subject with the Boston Review. In it, he describes how Congress picks up on unpopular legislation for the sake of scaring people (on all sides) into donating to their campaigns:
In the first quarter of this year, what was the number one issue that Congress addressed? In the middle of two wars, a huge unemployment problem, huge budget deficit problem, still issues about health care, still no addressing global warming—what’s the number one issue they addressed? The banks’ swipe-fee controversy. Why do you address the banks’ swipe-fee controversy? There is not one congressman who decided to run for Congress because he thought, "I'm going to deal with the problem of the banks' swipe fees." It's only because if you can dance as a congressman with a little bit of uncertainty of which side you're going to come down on in this controversy, millions of dollars gets showered down upon you because there's $19 billion on the table depending on how this issue is resolved. So there Congress is driving the agenda in part because of the fundraising opportunities the agenda produces.
Indeed, this is part of the reason that some have been suggesting that the supporters of SOPA in Congress really aren't that upset that it's been delayed. Because this just gives them another month to fundraise on the issue.
The really telling line, however, in Lessig's interview, is about how we've turned Congress into 535 "independent contractors," using legislation as a way to arbitrage fundraising, and how there aren't any debates in Congress itself anymore. It's just elected officials making veiled pleas to donors via C-SPAN:
Switch to C-SPAN covering the U.S. Congress and it's a completely different picture. You can't see it, because they don't allow the camera to pan around, but the hall is empty, people coming to speak just to C-SPAN--they're not speaking to each other--all of the activity of negotiation and deliberation is done outside the chamber; there's no deliberation, so you just have to ask, "Why did we create a Congress?" The framers didn't sit down and set up a Congress so they could imagine these 535 independent contractors all arbitraging fundraising opportunities. If that's what the institution is, then let's just shut it down.
And, of course, tied into all of this is the lobbying process. It turns out that the most famous name in lobbying, Jack Abramoff, is out of jail these days and happy to talk to the press. The folks at Planet Money recently talked to him about the ROI on lobbying efforts, and you begin to get a sense of the scale of things. A company has no problem dumping $100,000/month into a lobbying operation if the end result is changing a law that will save them $4 billion. The report talks about a study of a particular lobbying effort that had an ROI of 22,000%. Yeah. That's a big number. But Abramoff's first response when asked about that study was that he was "surprised it's so little." Obviously, that only happens if you win the lobbying fight. If you lose, it's purely a negative ROI. But that also explains why the fights over these bills can get to be so fierce.
Unfortunately, for the tech sector, this actually may mean things are going to get worse. While Congress is aware that the internet world woke up and spoke up over SOPA, they're also salivating over the possibility of turning that into campaign contributions. So expect plenty more legislation targeting the tech sector in the coming years. It's going to be too lucrative to not do that...
Via Larry Lessig we get series of Venn diagrams showing the revolving door between big business and government. When people talk about regulatory capture, this is what they mean. When people talk about corruption and crony capitalism, this is what they mean. If you want a quick visual idea of why so few people trust this government to do the right thing for the people, rather than the big companies, this is why:
Larry Lessig was on the Daily Show Tuesday night, talking about his book Republic, Lost, which is an in-depth look at the realities of Congress today: the fact that they spend 30 to 70% of their time raising money for the next campaign, and how they choose which legislation to pay attention to based on how it will drive campaign contributions. The key point is not -- as some assume -- that money buys results, but that money buys access and attention, and Congress knows this. So it chooses legislation to focus on based on how it will bring out those interested in contributing to campaigns -- not based on what's best for the public. I've got the videos of the interview emebedded below (though thanks to silly Viacom limitations, you can only watch them if you're in the US; if you want to watch them from elsewhere, hire a lobbyist in DC, I guess).
Two high level Congressional staffers who have been instrumental in creating or moving forward both PROTECT IP (PIPA) and SOPA have left their jobs on Capitol Hill and taken jobs with two of the biggest entertainment industry lobbyists, who are working very hard to convince Congress to pass the legislation they just helped write. And people wonder why the American public looks on DC as being corrupt.
Allison Halataei, former deputy chief of staff and parliamentarian to House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), and Lauren Pastarnack, a Republican who has served as a senior aide on the Senate Judiciary Committee, worked on online piracy bills that would push Internet companies like Google, Yahoo and Facebook to shut down websites that offer illegal copies of blockbuster films and chart-topping songs.
Pastarnack went to the MPAA where she'll be "director of government relations" and Halataei to the NMPA (music publishers and songwriters) where she'll be "chief liaison to Capitol Hill." The Politico article linked above notes that this kind of "revolving door" is all too common. It may not be directly corrupt, but to the public it sure feels corrupt. It certainly gives off the appearance of "hey, write us the insane bill that we want, and then we'll reward you with a super cushy high paying job." At the very least, it should raise significant questions about whether or not these two bills were written with the public's interest in mind (I know, I know, don't laugh....) or their future employers'. Technically, neither of them can directly lobby the specific committees where they worked, but they can certainly assist in the process.
“They can provide invaluable insight to people on the outside — even in the consultation mode,” one tech industry lobbyist said, noting that Halataei had been Smith’s secondhand person and knows how the Texas Republican thinks and what would be an effective lobbying strategy.
Additionally, the Senate and House panels work closely together, and both Halataei and Pastarnack have ties to staffers in the chambers they didn’t serve in and aren’t banned from lobbying.
Also, as the Politico article notes, a year from now, you can bet there will still be fights about either this or similar legislation. American politics is a disaster.
dennis deems: LOL you should pass in an enum instead of a String. bad Christopher Best: Actually it's C++ so I shouldn't be calling new to begin with. :P Leigh Beadon: plus the MarvelPortrayal constructor doesn't take any arguments, it just randomly polls a public domain fiction api dennis deems: nice!! Christopher Best: lol well played Ah, interesting to see the Steve Jackson Games vs. the FBI case coming up in connection to this Silva story. That case pretty much led to the creation of the EFF I hate to think in terms of anything positive involving police beating someone to death, but one could only hope that these sort of cases lead to a similarly long-lasting legacy as creating an organization that fights against seizure of video evidence Jay: Gah, that bottom ad is annoying on my cellphone! dennis deems: Happily there is some good news too: http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2013/05/patent-troll-that-wants-1000-per-worker-gets-sued-by-vermont-a-g/ this is the scanner troll silverscarcat: Well... http://www.extremetech.com/gaming/156515-kinect-for-xbox-one-an-always-on-works-in-the-dark-camera-and-microphone-what-could-possibly-go-wrong dennis deems: why would anybody want that? silverscarcat: idk So, I just erased my outlook account. I refuse to use that service or allow it to host anything of mine. Already got it on Thunderbird. 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)