BY CORY DOCTOROW
Gander Sauce for Hollywood
When someone proposes a Draconian
punishment, it’s a sure bet he imagines
that it will apply only to other people — so
an easy way to point out that a punishment goes
over the top is to ask the proposer whether he’d
be willing to be subjected to it. If it’s sauce for the
goose, it ought to be sauce for the gander, too.
The entertainment industry is obsessed with
kicking people off the internet. When the first round All right, so the entertainment industry believes
of internet lawmaking was underway in 1995 and that taking its reruns and singles is the worst crime
1996, none of Hollywood’s “visionaries” imagined in the world. Shouldn’t they at least have to prove
that our personal computers would have direct, that someone has done wrong before that person
always-on internet connections and be able to run loses access to the net? They say no. They say
server software, so the law about copyright infringe- infringement is so widespread that they couldn’t
ment online focuses entirely on what to do about possibly find the time to go to a judge and show
pirated works on web servers. evidence every time someone violates copyright
These rules, called “notice and takedown,” create law. They need — and deserve — to be judge, jury,
a dangerously simple process whereby anyone can and executioner. Trust them, they won’t abuse this
contact any internet service provider (ISP) and power. They promise.
swear that some web page infringes his copyright. Let’s hope that they’re more careful about who
The ISP must remove the material right away, or gets to use the internet than they are about who
face prosecution as a party to the infringement. loses their life savings in copyright lawsuits. Viacom
Not only does this open the way for any petty sent 100,000 takedown notices to You Tube last
censor who wants to take down criticism but it’s year, serving notice on anything that contained the
totally useless against peer-to-peer (P2P) file name of any Viacom property. The RIAA has sued
sharing. With P2P, the ISP has no files to take down dead people and people who don’t own computers.
since the files are all hosted on the users’ computers. If this is all so reasonable, let’s try a little gander
Hence the obsession with kicking users off the sauce: let’s have a three-strikes rule for people who
internet. The idea is that after receiving a couple of send takedown and termination notices. If you send
unsubstantiated accusations of copyright infringe- three takedown notices for material that isn’t yours,
ment, your ISP would have a duty to cut off your all your web pages get taken off the internet. If you
internet connection. send three termination notices to people who aren’t
Now, think for a moment about the proportionality file-sharing infringing material, your entire company
of this response. The internet isn’t just a wire that is removed from the internet forever.
delivers the odd MP3 file. It delivers everything — it That’s right: if Fox News sends three bad take-is a single wire that carries freedom of speech, downs to You Tube, we take the whole Fox News
freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly. It’s website offline, forever. If Warner Music wrongfully
the connection to your family, to your friends, your accuses three internet users of sharing their music
doctor, your government, your employer, and your on P2P, we go to the Warner Music offices in Los
school. It’s the largest library ever assembled. Angeles, London, New York, and all over the world
Even if you stipulate that taking someone’s music with bolt cutters and sever their connection to the
without permission is wrong, is it that wrong? internet, permanently. Sounds fair to me!
Stealing cars is wrong, but we don’t take away car
thieves’ library cards. Even murderers get to go to
correspondence school while they do time.
The entertainment industry is
obsessed with kicking people
off the internet.
Cory Doctorow lives in London, writes science fiction novels,
co-edits Boing Boing, and fights for digital freedom.
14 Make: Volume 15