Orrin Hatch, Who Once Wanted To Destroy The Computers Of Anyone Who Infringed On Copyrights, Now Lies About Section 230

from the sit,-fido,-sit dept

Former Senator Orrin Hatch was so anti-technology, and supportive of the anti-technology recording industry, that former music tech startup entrepreneur and sci-fi author Rob Reid referred to him as "Senator Fido" in his comic novel about the music industry, because Senator "Fido" Hatch was such a lapdog of the recording industry that he would be willing to slip whatever anti-tech language they wanted into any new regulation. Even outside of the world of fiction, Hatch was way out there in his anti-technology ideas. In 2003, when he was Chair of the powerful Judiciary Committee, he floated the idea that copyright holders should invest in malware that would literally destroy the computers of anyone who opened an unauthorized file. The suggestion was so crazy that when an exec for an anti-piracy company at the hearing where Hatch raised this idea pushed back saying "no one is interested in destroying anyone's computer," Hatch immediately corrected him and said that, yes, indeed, Hatch himself was very interested in that idea:

"I'm interested," Hatch interrupted. He said damaging someone's computer "may be the only way you can teach somebody about copyrights."

So, I always tend to take it with a grain of salt whenever Hatch, who thankfully retired a few years ago, decides to weigh in on issues regarding technology and the internet. His latest is a piece in Newsweek in which he attacks Section 230 by flat out lying about what it's about. Hatch either knows he's lying or is losing touch with reality. Berin Szoka posted a long thread on Twitter detailing basically all of the court rulings that Hatch -- again, the former head of the Senate Judiciary Committee -- would have had to forget or ignore to make the arguments he makes (and notes that at the time of most of those rulings, they were cheered on by conservatives like Hatch).

The crux of the argument is not the argument of the old Republican Party, but rather the new one. The one that argues that the government can force websites to host speech they don't want to be associated with. Instead, Hatch ignores the long history of state action doctrine, and pretends that we can magically declare internet companies part of the state, bound by the 1st Amendment:

History has proven the First Amendment to be the most effective standard for setting the boundaries of protected speech. The First Amendment fosters robust discussion and a diversity of viewpoints while permitting restrictions on a handful of limited, carefully defined categories of harmful speech, such as fraud, defamation, child pornography and incitement to violence. What it doesn't permit are prohibitions on conservative viewpoints, negative news stories about President Biden's family or opinions that tech oligarchs might not like. And that's exactly why it should be the standard for social media companies providing a forum for public discourse and the companies owning the servers that host such forums.

If these companies want to base their business models on providing digital access to the public square, then they should have to abide by the well-established standards regulating free speech in the public square. Insofar as they conform to First Amendment standards in their terms of service, these companies should continue to enjoy immunity from civil liability under a revised section 230. But if they want to go beyond the First Amendment and prohibit forms of speech protected by the First Amendment, they should be liable just like any publisher who engages in content moderation (which is really content discrimination).

Of course, nearly everything Hatch says here is wrong -- and would actually violate the 1st Amendment rights of those companies by compelling them to host speech they disagree with. As has been stated repeatedly, it's also bullshit that any social media site has "prohibitions on conservative viewpoints". The blocks on the Hunter Biden story were not because they were "conservative viewpoints," but because of very real initial concerns that the reports were from an untrusted source and may have been hacked.

But, really, it strikes me as fairly stunning that a Senator who regularly, vehemently pushed for censorship on the internet for any site that even slightly might have possibly infringed on someone's copyright is now advocating that no website can do any content moderation ever.

Even more insane? Seeing a Republican Senator basically calling for the nationalization of Google and Amazon:

To guard against economic censorship, policymakers might also consider classifying firms like Google or Amazon as "public accommodations." These sorts of enterprises, which include hotels and restaurants, are required by law to provide their services to people of all backgrounds, with limited exceptions. Or the Big Tech companies could be treated as "common carriers" akin to phone companies or railroads, which are required to provide their services to all customers willing to pay a fee. It would be unthinkable today to turn off someone's water or electricity, or deny someone passage on a boat or airplane, because of that person's political beliefs. It should be just as unthinkable to turn off that person's access to basic web services—but sadly, our laws don't yet provide this kind of protection. Congress must put in place such protections now to prevent the establishment of a new digital hierarchy that places conservative viewpoints at the bottom of the social pyramid.

The thing is, you don't get to just declare something a common carrier. And the comparison to water or electricity is inapt. Those are commodities where there is only one service provider in a particular area. That is not true of Google or Amazon or Facebook. They are all differentiated services.

And, of course, this entire piece is based on a flat out myth that conservative voices are somehow being silenced. Unless Hatch is saying that "conservative viewpoints" are the equivalent of Nazi viewpoints, then this argument makes no sense.

Hatch was one of the worst Senators on these issues when he was in the Senate, and it's no surprise that he's just as bad out of the Senate. But at least Fido has no more power to do any damage.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: 1st amendment, copyright, fido, orrin hatch, section 230


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    Jojo (profile), 11 Feb 2021 @ 9:43am

    Backlash to Section 230 in a Nutshell

    Hatch: “Section 230 poisoned our water, burned our crops, and brought a plague on our houses!”

    Other senators: “He did?”

    Hatch: “No! But are we going to wait for that to happen?!”

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 11 Feb 2021 @ 9:55am

    if they want to go beyond the First Amendment and prohibit forms of speech protected by the First Amendment, they should be liable just like any publisher who engages in content moderation (which is really content discrimination)

    I wonder if he’d say the same thing about a pro-conservative social media service like Gab or Parler — the kinds of services that would “prohibit forms of speech” with which he would disagree.

    Outlets like Newsweek might want to stop giving people space only because they once served in government. Columns like Hatch’s only ever ruin credibility.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    bshock, 11 Feb 2021 @ 10:45am

    I think Senator Hatch was right, insofar as thinking that destroying equipment would be "the only way you can teach somebody about copyrights." It would definitely bring home to the average person just how destructive and self-entitled copyright is. It might even help to bring about a long-surpressed revolution against copyright.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Feb 2021 @ 11:00am

    It would be interesting to see what would happen if the US government created their own social media platform actually bound by the 1st amendment.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      sumgai (profile), 11 Feb 2021 @ 11:50am

      Re:

      Interesting = hideous? repulsive? merely asinine? Hard to tell...

      Oh, wait.... I know! It'd be a colossal waste of tax payer's dollars. That's it, I'm sure.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 11 Feb 2021 @ 12:04pm

      Re:

      Overrun by assholes and content that would make swimming through raw sewage feel downright refreshing in comparison inside a week, max.

      It'll never happen because even the liars attacking 230, whining about how platforms keep 'censoring' the assholes on their side know full well what a first amendment-bound platform would look like and how it would just serve to show how vital moderation is to keep platforms from being turned into cesspits.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Feb 2021 @ 12:12pm

    Did Senator Hatch vote in favor of the Communications Decency Act?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    n00bdragon (profile), 11 Feb 2021 @ 12:31pm

    And, of course, this entire piece is based on a flat out myth that conservative voices are somehow being silenced. Unless Hatch is saying that "conservative viewpoints" are the equivalent of Nazi viewpoints, then this argument makes no sense.

    It really doesn't matter whether conservative viewpoints are equivalent to Nazi viewpoints, Twitter and Facebook would have the same right to silence or promote them as they please. Stormfront is a real website that hosts user submitted content (Wikipedia claims that they even host a dating service for bigots interested in finding other bigots I suppose). No one seems concerned about their ability to curate a stridently hateful discourse. Why should Twitter and Facebook be any different? If Twitter wanted to ban everyone who posted a message beginning with the letter R on a Thursday they'd be within their rights to do so.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 11 Feb 2021 @ 1:36pm

    What every anti-§230 argument is…

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Feb 2021 @ 2:09pm

    Well, dayum... I didn't know then-Senator Hatch was a Science Fiction reader... Where else but in SF do you find concept of Black Ice?

    ... ah, right. Various smartphone and IoT updates bricking the devices. ... And the Halt and Catch Fire opcodes of the MC6800. Right!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Feb 2021 @ 2:11pm

    Almost right...

    What it doesn't permit are prohibitions by the government on conservative viewpoints, negative news stories about President Biden's family or opinions that tech oligarchs might not like.

    FTFY, Orrin.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Roger Corn, 11 Feb 2021 @ 2:22pm

    Wants his seat back

    According to some of the right wingnut sites I gaze through, Orin Hatch is not happy with his Utah replacement senator Mitt Romney especially in regards to Trump. Right now is considering running through a Tea Party group again to replace Romney with him. The Tea Party Mormons are backing Hatch and pushing for him to run against Romney for his old Senate seat. Let’s hope not

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Bobvious, 11 Feb 2021 @ 2:32pm

    HELLO!!!!! The No-Fly List just called

    "It would be unthinkable today to ... deny someone passage on a boat or airplane, because of that person's political beliefs."

    Sometimes a person's political beliefs are tied to where they are travelling from, or their religion.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Feb 2021 @ 2:34pm

    Or the Big Tech companies could be treated as "common carriers" akin to phone companies or railroads, which are required to provide their services to all customers willing to pay a fee.

    So-called "Big Tech" isn't infrastructure. Making the likes of Twitter and Facebook "common carriers" for being large players on the Internet would be akin to calling Walmart a "common carrier" because it's a large user of electricity.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    wereisjessicahyde (profile), 12 Feb 2021 @ 3:02am

    Trump awarded this guy the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Says it all really.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Feb 2021 @ 11:26pm

    Someone would destroy his computer instead lol

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.