Scary Speech from Edgar Bronfman Jr. of Seagrams

from the scary-stuff... dept

If you haven't seen the text of Edgar Bronfman Jr.'s speech about the internet, you should definitely read it. It's getting passed around like crazy, and people (reasonably so) are up in arms about it. It reads like a paranoid madman grasping at straws, and trying to convince people it is their patriotic duty to make sure that only the big corporations have control over the internet. It's mindsets like these that cause problems. While he might not say it directly, what he's basically saying is that people, in general, are dangerous idiots, and only a select few (such as himself) should be allowed to tell people what they can and cannot look at on the internet (and how much they have to pay him for that right). I'm tempted to send an economics text book to Mr. Bronfman, because I think he needs a refresher course.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Fool, 1 Jun 2000 @ 9:01pm

    A paranoid madman calls the kettle black

    Mike's article, responding to the text from Mr. Bronfman's speech, is the sort that truly hurts those of us who want to be rational advocates for issues such as privacy, anonymity, and intellectual property rights. Frankly, calling someone a 'paranoid madman' strikes me as the pot calling the kettle black. Mr. Bronfman had some good points to make, along side some very wrong-headed thinking. But nowhere did I glean from his speech that he was advocating '[making] sure that only the big corporations have control over the Internet'.

    What follows is what I hope is a more reasoned look at the good and the bad in Mr. Bronfman's speech. I'll attempt to address points made by Mr. Bronfman in the order in which he made them. In that light, I start with the biggest positive point made by him, that is that intellectual property is still property. To me this is obvious, and yet in a comment above we have 'Ein Sneedle' clearly thinking that this is not the case. Ein Sneedle's argument appears to be that since you have not removed the original when you copy a song, then that makes it OK. Using that logic, the following are also OK Copying a music CD onto a CD-R so your friend does not have buy a copy posting the complete text of a best seller on your web site selling a company's trade secrets to a competitor. In each of these cases the original intellectual property was not removed or destroyed. Yet, would anyone argue that these practices are acceptable?

    If I write a song (admittedly not likely), it may take hours, days, or months to do so. That gives the song a value. I have a right, both in my opinion and in the law, to decide how that song is distributed. If you don't like how I choose to distribute it, don't buy it. Then I will go broke. This is capitalism at work success can only come with consumer acceptance. However, your disagreement of my distribution method does not give you the right to steal my song. Period.

    While Mr. Bronfman tended (strongly) to hyperbole, I believe that his basic premise that intellectual property is property is sound.

    Now, Mr. Bronfman goes on to say that intellectual property is the cornerstone of the Internet. Remember, I did use the word 'hyperbole' above! I believe that lowering the barriers to communications among people is the cornerstone of the Internet. Mr. Bronfman might have said, somewhat more accurately, that intellectual property is the cornerstone of the Web (which is only part of the Internet). And even this really only applies to the large commercial content sites such as CNN and ESPN. Without the concept of intellectual property, these sites indeed would not exist. However, the millions of non-commercial sites put up by people whose only interest is in a particular subject would still exist. So, all in all, Mr. Bronfman is making a big stretch here.

    Next, Mr. Bronfman talks about "[moving] a Roman legion or two of Wall Street lawyers to litigate in Bellevue" and flatly states that this is for the benefit of the Internet. OK, OK, it *is* starting to get a bit deep in here ;-) But the fact is, Mr. Bronfman is doing his job. He is the CEO of a company that produces commercial intellectual property (in the form of movies). Seagram stockholders would, and should, boot him out if he _didn't_ defend his company's intellectual property with every tool available to him. In fact, since I believe that intellectual property is indeed property, I have no problem prosecuting its theft. But, let's tell it like it is, and not try to pass it off as some altruistic defense of the Internet.

    Next, Mr. Bronfman moves on to specific areas which Universal is pursuing. First, we hear (again) about a secure music scheme. Although I don't think it will work, I've no real problem with this. Failure comes when companies put their own interests ahead of their customers'. Remember DIVX? If Mr. Bronfman's scheme prevents _Fair Use_ (as in the legally accepted notion of Fair Use of intellectual property), then that scheme deserves to fail, and will fail due to lack of consumer acceptance (remember the capitalism I mentioned before?) Unfortunately, the entertainment industries are doing their very best to prohibit Fair Use and I believe that this is at the center of a great deal of the present day controversy.

    Mr. Bronfman's (and Universal's) second area of interest is in defining thievery. As noted above, I agree. Stealing is stealing, no matter what Ein Sneedle thinks.

    Now on to Mr. Bronfman's third area of interest. (_Warning Will Robinson, danger ahead!_) Mr. Bronfman intends to use technology to "trace every Internet download and tag every file". This is one of the two extremely wrong-headed things that Mr. Bronfman has to say. Here, privacy (*not* anonymity) is lost to commercial interests. Even if Mr. Bronfman would never use this technology to, say, keep a database of who listens to what kinds to music, if the technology exists, someone will. Can you say 'DoubleClick' or 'Real Networks'? I find this completely unacceptable.

    Mr. Bronfman moves onto his fourth point, which is to gloat about existing court decision in favor of commercial interests. I think that this is just bad judgement on Mr. Bronfman's part. _None_ of these cases has reached a final settlement, and the motion picture industry is so clearly wrong in the DeCSS case that they do themselves a disservice by even trying to pass it off as a good thing. But my thoughts today are not about DeCSS, so I won't go there.

    The other very scary area of interest for Mr. Bronfman is his final one, where he attempts to make a case for the destruction of anonymity. This is actually (IMHO) one of the fundamental issues facing our society today with the growth of the Internet. I have always believed (and still believe with reservation) that anonymity is necessary for free speech; i.e., that free speech is best protected when it is possible to speak out without fear of reprisal. My reservation (and the point that Mr. Bronfman latches onto while ignoring free speech) is the ease with which the Internet allows one to abuse anonymity. The important mistake that Mr. Bronfman makes (perhaps on purpose, to avoid the free speech issue) is to equate anonymity with privacy instead of free speech. Mr. Bronfman, don't take on anonymity without an intelligent plan to protect free speech.

    In his next statements, Mr. Bronfman does strike a responsive chord with me. There are, in fact, lots of people on the Internet who do believe that "Everything on the Internet should be free". Perhaps it's these people who are calling Mr. Bronfman a 'paranoid madman'. I am not sure why these people think they were born deserving free stuff. Something is free if, and only if, its creator/owner says that it's free. Anything else is theft. I sure am getting tired of the "I can copy it if I want to" whiners.

    In closing, I would like to discuss briefly Mr. Bronfman's analogy dealing with the US and the former Soviet Union. An interesting analogy, to be sure, however, the Soviet Union didn't fall because all of its citizens and all of its member states obeyed the law. So while Mr. Bronfman is telling us to obey the law, he is comparing that to the good that came from the actions of law-breaking dissidents in USSR. I think that paradox is resolved by drawing a more accurate analogy. Let's make the big record companies the Soviet Union, basically raping both consumers and artists for their own gain, without regard for fairness. Now let's remember again what happened to the Soviet Union.

    If you have had the patience to read this far, I thank you :-)

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