The Maximalist Future: Be Sure To Pay Off Your Lawsuits Before Heading For The School Bus
from the it's-a-stretch-to-call-this-fiction dept
There's a movement underway to remove all control from your life and turn it over to others. It's not an organized movement. There's no figurehead leading the way, but between the government, the legal system, various rights holders and their offshoots and professional patent thugs, a steady removal of individual rights and personal ownership is taking place.
With rare exception, it's being done on an incremental level. The government has been increasing its control over all aspects of life, whether it's what your children eat or which products and services you can use. Various agencies called into existence by an unprecedented terrorist attack nearly a decade ago have broadened their areas of control, without fear of oversight or reprisal. The legal system is no better, endlessly entertaining frivolous lawsuits and vindictive show trials, when not playing "Home Field" for various industries and special interest groups.
Various industry groups have done the same, aided by this same government and indulged by the legal system. Between the RIAA, MPAA, ASCAP, BMI and others in the royalty-collecting field, an earnest (and dishonest) ongoing effort is being made to extract money from every single interaction with a copyrighted work, whether it's a stream, a download, an upload or simply a backup. Having discovered that suing your way to profitability is nearly impossible, these groups instead hope to bleed every service dry, drip by incremental drip.
Aggressive patent holders are doing the same thing. While there are still a number of high-dollar lawsuits filed (usually in hope of a much smaller settlement), patent litigators like Lodsys are aiming lower in hopes of a small, but perpetual income stream. All of these groups hope that the dollar amount is small enough that only a slim minority will complain or withhold payments. They make it sound so reasonable. "It's only .575%. It's so small and hardly noticeable!"
But "small" becomes a killer when everybody wants a piece of the action. Those increments all add up to real money sooner or later. But even worse, the chilling effect of overreaching legislation and thousands of litigious actions takes an incredible toll.
An amazing/terrifying piece of "speculative fiction" has surfaced over at Ftrain, although after reading this, you'd be hard pressed to agree with either of those two words in quotes. Paul Ford's piece, "Nanolaw with Daughter" (subtitled "Why Privacy Mattered") paints an eerily prescient picture of where we're likely headed. It starts with this gut-punch of a sentence:
"On a Sunday morning before her soccer practice, not long after my daughter's tenth birthday, she and I sat down on the couch with our tablets and I taught her to respond to lawsuits on her own."
Ford's world is filled with lawsuits upon lawsuits. Everyone is on the receiving end of one settlement notice or another, all piling endlessly into their inboxes. Most can easily be settled for under a dime, but like any other small thing, it adds up to real money. Even worse than the dollar amount is living your entire life as a constant target. Or in his daughter's case, even longer:
"My daughter was first sued in the womb. It was all very new then. I'd posted ultrasound scans online for friends and family. I didn't know the scans had steganographic thumbprints. A giant electronics company that made ultrasound machines acquired a speculative law firm for many tens of millions of dollars. The new legal division cut a deal with all five Big Socials to dig out contact information for anyone who'd posted pictures of their babies in-utero. It turns out the ultrasounds had no clear rights story; I didn't actually own mine. It sounds stupid now but we didn't know. The first backsuits named millions of people, and the Big Socials just caved, ripped up their privacy policies in exchange for a cut. So five months after I posted the ultrasounds, one month before my daughter was born, we received a letter (back then a paper letter) naming myself, my wife, and one or more unidentified fetal defendants in a suit. We faced, I learned, unspecified penalties for copyright violation and theft of trade secrets, and risked, it was implied, that my daughter would be born bankrupt.
But for $50.00 and processing fees the ultrasound shots I'd posted (copies attached) were mine forever, as long as I didn't republish without permission."
Ford is dead on. There is nothing about that scenario that sounds far-fetched. The only thing holding some companies back from litigious action this insane is the lack of audacity to follow through on their lawyers' fever dreams. The precedent can always be found. All that's really needed is some sympathetic court to shove the case through. Like say, I don't know, the judicial farce known commonly as "East Texas"?
It gets worse. And by "worse," I mean more and more believable.
“How many are left?” I asked.
She looked at her tablet and said: “Fifty-seven.”
“We can handle that,” I said. I walked her through the rest: Get rid of the ones without flags. Pay those a dime or less by hitting the dime button. How many now? (Only six.) We went through the six: Four copyright claims, all sub-dollar and quickly paid.
She opened the penultimate message and smiled. “Dad,” she said, “look.”
We had gone to a baseball game at the beginning of the season. They had played a song on the public address system, and she sang along without permission. They used to factor that into ticket price—they still do if you pay extra or have a season pass—but now other companies handled the followup. And here was the video from that day, one of many tens of thousands simultaneously recorded from gun scanners on the stadium roof. In the video my daughter wore a cap and a blue T-shirt. I sat beside her, my arm over her shoulder, grinning. Her voice was clear and high; the ambient roar of the audience beyond us filtered down to static."
ASCAP. BMI. RIAA. SESAC. Et al. This is what they really want. Music that is paid for multiple times with individual fees just small enough to be unoffensive.
I won't give away any more of the story but every single chilling word is worth reading, especially if you're on the other side of Techdirt's fence. If you think the laws currently in place don't cover enough ground and aren't doing enough to protect your content/product, just take a look at what can happen if you push hard enough for long enough. Everything in here isn't just easily imaginable, it's also highly possible.
And brace yourself for the last couple of sentences. They sum up the attitude of Big Content maximalists and overreaching government entities perfectly. Everything is actionable. Everything can be taken. Everything can be used against you.