I, Hacker
Hacking and music and activism, oh my!
2010-11-27

Please, redistribute this far and wide. Share it, repost it, print it out and hand it to people you see on the street.
Further Freedom Attacks by Cody Brocious is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Today I've been vindicated; everything I've said for the last 5 years has come true. If you think I'm happy, you couldn't be further from the truth. As of this writing, the US government -- specifically Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a division of the Department of Homeland Security -- has seized 70 domain names from private citizens and corporations, not as part of legal proceedings, but on the basis of suspected illegality. The content of the sites, mostly owned by companies suspected of selling knockoff items, is inconsequential; even if their actions are illegal (which hasn't been proven in court, as they're not in court), they have the same right to publish their thoughts and feelings on the subject as anyone else does, due to the freedom of speech enabled by the first amendment.

Background

In 1998, President Bill Clinton signed into law a bill called the DMCA, or the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. The DMCA, among other things, was intended to: make it easier to deal with content infringing content; make the distribution of tools for circumventing copy protection illegal; make it illegal to link to sites that distribute infringing content. Now, this may seem innocuous, but there are a few very scary things here.

First and foremost, let's look at the last bit of that: due to the DMCA, it is illegal to tell someone where to get content that's thought to infringe copyright law. Note: this has nothing to do with actually giving someone illegal content, but just telling them where they can get it.

More relevant to myself is this: the anti-circumvention provisions of the DMCA make it illegal to tell someone how to use a piece of music in a way that the distributor doesn't want you to. If you purchased a song on iTunes in the past, you could only listen to it using iTunes or an iPod. People who made it possible to listen to your own purchased music on other devices were attacked on the grounds of the DMCA. This hits home for me, as one of my previous companies was shut down by Apple in this way, despite simply helping legitimate users.

Freedom of speech

There are two sides to the freedom of speech issue here: the DMCA's anti-circumvention provisions and their relation to source code freedom, and the direct freedom of written speech.

Source code

Source code, used to write programs, is a mechanism for communicating knowledge, much like normal speech is. For this reason, many people have made the suggestion that source code ought to be a protected form of speech. Courts in the US have been having this battle for ages, and they tend to lean heavily towards the argument that source code is more utility than artistic form, and thus does not get the same protection that speech does.

However, think about this from a slightly higher level: it's legally protected speech for me to tell you how to do X in steps the exact same way that the source code for doing X would. However, as soon as you translate that into something the computer can directly understand -- regardless of its ability to be understood by people as well -- it's no longer constitutionally protected.

If you take the stance that source code is -- or ought to be -- protected speech, then the use of the DMCA to stifle the distribution of code is a clear violation of the first amendment.

Written speech

The other big side to this is that, in seizing these domains, they have not just taken down the potentially illegal content, but the owners' own words. That is, they didn't just take down what they felt might be illegal, but everything written on these sites. This is such a ham-fisted, unconstitutional approach to the problem, I can't even begin to express my sadness. Whether or not you agree with what any one of these sites were doing, everyone has the right to speak their mind. With this action today, we've seen another in a long, sad trend towards restrictions on "bad" speech. This absolutely cannot be allowed to stand.

What can we do?

First and foremost, donate to the EFF. The EFF, or Electronic Frontier Foundation, is the foremost organization working to defend our digital rights. They've done more for the cause than anyone else out there, and they need our help.

Secondly, write to your elected officials, at the Local, State, and Federal levels. While only the Federal level is directly involved here, the more people who understand the issues and concerns, the better. This is absolutely crucial.

Lastly, spread the word. Share this article, news articles on the subject (a list of references are below), and any other relevant materials with people around you. Make sure that everyone you know knows about these issues.

We cannot take this sitting down. This must not be allowed to stand.

Stay free,
- Cody Brocious (Daeken)

References