Dear Bill Keller,
I wrote this response to your Op-Ed piece in the New York Times this morning, but your comments column rejected it because it was not shorter than 1500 characters. I didn’t want to trim it down to a meaningless response, so I’m posting it here. Please drop by and have a look. After all, someone who thinks himself so net knowledgeable as to write a column like yours, should be able to find this place.
I somehow got the impression in this column that you, Bill Keller, were calling Jimmy Wales naive. At the same time, you were calling those who predicted dire consequences from the SOPA/PIPA bills, which include organizations like Electronic Frontier Foundation and the ACLU, as overwrought and exaggerating.
Either you don’t really understand how the law works for internet service providers and those who provide servers on the internet for publicly available content, which seems hard to believe from a senior editor of the New York Times in 2011, or you are being facetious and purposely missing the point.
Those who provide the conduits and storage space for content have a choice. They can be a “dumb pipe” to such content, in which case they are not liable for what it is, and only need to comply with requests, from law enforcement, or from the content owner, to remove it or supply information about it in certain circumstances, or they can be cognizant of the nature of the material, in which case they become liable for its effects, it’s violations of limitations on free speech, its violations of copyright or other intellectual property rights, even its possible incitement to violence, or more mundanely, can be included in suits for defamation of character, or other such things, for what people post there.
Much of the freedom that exists on the internet as a public space does so because providers choose to operate as dumb pipes. Those two bills were designed to force them to operate cognizant of their content, as censors. The bill you advocated also asks them to operate as censors, and in general, the stance you took in your article is about these people stepping up to the plate to act as monitors of their content, and therefore not as dumb pipes. And because they need not accept that rather huge liability and change in their status, it does indeed change the nature of the internet fundamentally. It’s a completely different business model, and one which will, in fact, cause many to consider not allowing users to post content at all.
So it wasn’t Jimmy Wales that was being naive, it was possibly you. Except that as an editor of a publication with a long history of operating online, I fail to see how you didn’t know that. Sites posting peoples photos and videos know it. Blog sites know it. Just about any site that allows users to post know it. The New York Times undoubtedly knows it. Do we have to believe that nobody there told Bill Keller?
And as for the Founders having created copyright to be “an engine of free expression” — they certainly did, but that was because they intended to give the original creator a limited time to enjoy the financial benefits of their creation, before it passed into the public domain for all to use. They did not intend for it to be in the possession of a non-creative entity called a corporation for 150 years, first. The Founders, Mr. Keller, did not author the Digital Millenium Copyright Act.