Make Free — 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 of internet lawmaking was underway in 1995 and 1996, none of Hollywood’s “visionaries” imagined that our personal computers would have direct, always-on internet connections and be able to run server software, so the law about copyright infringement online focuses entirely on what to do about pirated works on web servers.

These rules, called “notice and takedown,” create a dangerously simple process whereby anyone can contact any internet service provider (ISP) and swear that some web page infringes his copyright. The ISP must remove the material right away, or face prosecution as a party to the infringement.

Not only does this open the way for any petty censor who wants to take down criticism but it’s totally useless against peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing. With P2P, the ISP has no files to take down since the files are all hosted on the users’ computers.

Hence the obsession with kicking users off the internet. The idea is that after receiving a couple of unsubstantiated accusations of copyright infringement, your ISP would have a duty to cut off your internet connection.

Now, think for a moment about the proportionality of this response. The internet isn’t just a wire that delivers the odd MP3 file. It delivers everything — it is a single wire that carries freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly. It’s the connection to your family, to your friends, your doctor, your government, your employer, and your school. It’s the largest library ever assembled. Even if you stipulate that taking someone’s music without permission is wrong, is it that wrong? 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.

All right, so the entertainment industry believes that taking its reruns and singles is the worst crime in the world. Shouldn’t they at least have to prove that someone has done wrong before that person loses access to the net? They say no. They say infringement is so widespread that they couldn’t possibly find the time to go to a judge and show evidence every time someone violates copyright law. They need — and deserve — to be judge, jury, and executioner. Trust them, they won’t abuse this power. They promise.

Let’s hope that they’re more careful about who gets to use the internet than they are about who loses their life savings in copyright lawsuits. Viacom sent 100,000 takedown notices to YouTube last year, serving notice on anything that contained the name of any Viacom property. The RIAA has sued dead people and people who don’t own computers.

If this is all so reasonable, let’s try a little gander sauce: let’s have a three-strikes rule for people who send takedown and termination notices. If you send three takedown notices for material that isn’t yours, all your web pages get taken off the internet. If you send three termination notices to people who aren’t file-sharing infringing material, your entire company is removed from the internet forever.

That’s right: if Fox News sends three bad takedowns to YouTube, we take the whole Fox News website offline, forever. If Warner Music wrongfully accuses three internet users of sharing their music on P2P, we go to the Warner Music offices in Los Angeles, London, New York, and all over the world with bolt cutters and sever their connection to the internet, permanently. Sounds fair to me!

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Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow ( is a science fiction author, activist, and journalist.

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