You’ve heard it a thousand times at least: You can’t steal copyright because when you make a copy the work is still there! It’s MAGIC! You still “own” the thing you had before, whatever it is, the punters just made a copy of it.
And then these punters sit there looking like they’ve said something intelligent and you’re not sure if you should call the people in white coats or throw them a fish.
This is, of course, bunk, if for no other reason that the rights that are protected by copyright–wait for it–include the right to make copies (see 17 U.S.C. Sec. 106). Yes, it’s true, it’s true!
But the real slight of hand that was the most insidious part of this campaign is not so much the commoditization of copyrights, it was the undermining of rights to anything online and one set of very important things. The thing without which Google especially cannot function.
Your personal information, and a lot of it. And not just a lot of your information but your information presented and available in a way that can be crawled, indexed, repackaged and resold, not locked up inside of a post-Web iPhone app for example.
How Can You Believe Copyright Isn’t Protectable Property, But Your Personal Information Is
In The Case Against Google, his illuminating article in Gizmodo, Editor Matt Honan makes a number of pivotal points:
The Internet is the world’s greatest collection of knowledge, but increasingly, that wisdom lives in walled off apps [i.e., walled off from Google’s otherwise ubiquitous crawlers]. It lives in services and platforms. Places where we build up relationships, express preferences, and reveal so much about ourselves….We’re interacting in real time, and in ways that don’t lend themselves well to indexing. Google can’t know exactly what’s going on in all those places. How the links between entities work. What and who we like and dislike. There is information there that it can’t index. And if it can’t index it, or understand it, it damn sure can’t serve an ad.
Now they don’t have the RIAA or the MPAA to kick around anymore because the information beast that must be fed is Google and the information it wants to feed on is…you. And after all, as we all know…
Information wants to be free.
Those of us who have been fighting free riders on private property are frankly wondering what all the fuss is about. Surely all these smart people in the tech press saw this coming when they took the King’s shilling. Or maybe not. The fight was never about copyright alone, it was about private property rights in general.
The reason why the Lessig theories seemed only to involve digitized property was because that was the only kind of property that touched the network, not because there ever was a logical reason for the distinction.
And the reason for the theory had nothing to do with “freedom”, but had everything to do with profit.
The Second Act: Theft of Personality
Think about it from inside the Googleplex–by using its various ““organizations that are currently paid by [Google] to lobby for or to consult for the company” as they were described by Judge Ware in the Google Buzz court-ordered payment instructions, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Center for Democracy and Technology and even the sainted ACLU (who got $7 million), as well as groups like Public Knowledge, Creative Commons (who we know got $1.5 million from Google), and the recent cluster involved in the rogue sites issue–Google has been able to manipulate public opinion to hide its complicity in profiting from piracy. That has been a huge distraction from its $500,000,000 settlement with the United States for aiding and abetting the sale of controlled substances (and counterfeit drugs) to Americans.
Google needed to pull off a propaganda stunt (the likes of which are of historic proportions) to hide its complicity in profiting not just from piracy, but other forms of human misery that were even more debased.
But the curtain has now wrung up on Act II of the Google passion play–in which they steal your privacy, and more importantly they steal your personality.
Don’t get confused–you still have your personality, they just make a copy of it.
Because as you know–information wants to be free.
Andrew Orlowski, writing in The Register, has further insight into this scam:
The absence of permissions on our personal data and the absence of permissions on digital copyright objects are two sides of the same coin. Economically and legally they’re an absence of property rights – and an insistence on preserving the internet as a childlike, utopian world, where nobody owns anything, or ever turns a request down. But as we’ve seen, you can build things like libraries with permissions too – and create new markets.“For [long time technology consultant Mark] Bide, privacy and content markets are just a technical challenges that need to be addressed intelligently.
“You can take two views,” he told me. “One is that every piece of information flowing around a network is a good thing, and we should know everything about everybody, and have no constraints on access to it all.” People who believe this, he added, tend to be inflexible – there is no half-way house.
“The alternative view is that we can take the technology to make privacy and intellectual property work on the network. The function of copyright is to allow creators and people who invest in creation to define how it can be used. That’s the purpose of it.
“So which way do we want to do it?” he asks. “Do we want to throw up our hands and do nothing? The workings of a civilised society need both privacy and creator’s rights.”
But this a new way of thinking about things: it will be met with cognitive dissonance. Copyright activists who fight property rights on the internet and have never seen a copyright law they like, generally do like their privacy. They want to preserve it, and will support laws that do. But to succeed, they’ll need to argue for stronger property rights.
They have yet to realise that their opponents in the copyright wars have been arguing for those too, for years. Both sides of the copyright “fight” actually need the same thing.
This is odd, I said to Bide. How can he account for this irony?
“Ah,” says Bide. “Privacy and copyright are two things nobody cares about unless it’s their own privacy, and their own copyright.”
So how far is Google willing to go to steal–sorry, copy–your personality?
Mat Honen points out a few facts:
In the past year—and especially the past six months—Google has unquestionably and to an unprecedented extent violated its users’ trust. And of course the great irony is that the subversion of Google’s power, the ultimate trickery, came not from an external force, but Google itself. Google has spent much of 2011 and 2012 getting called out for all kinds of nasty brutish behavior. Here are a few small but telling examples of that trickery:
- Google subverted mobile Safari’s default protections to track users in ways they did not agree to be tracked. And lied about it, as the Wall Street Journal reported: “The findings appeared to contradict some of Google’s own instructions to Safari users on how to avoid tracking.”
- Google began promoting its own products in search over more obviously relevant ones. It placed Google+ profiles above those that are obviously more relevant on other social networks. Its Places frequently appear above the actual location listings.
- Google has increasingly given prominence to ads over results. If you use an 11″ Macbook Air, for example, and search for a generalized term like “music” your small screen will be full of ads—you will have to scroll to find search results.
- Google falsely claimed it couldn’t effectively index and rank Twitter.
- Google illegally accepted ads for …with the purpose of delivering [drugs] to American users.
- Google seems to have committed overt fraud in Kenya.
If Google Just Takes A Copy of Your Personality, What Are You Complaining About?
What should be increasingly obvious is that Google must make copies of its users personalities in order to continue to rake in supernormal profits. Google and its proxies like Lessig, Geist, EFF, Public Knowledge and even the ACLU for $7 million worth have been preparing the public mind for this eventuality. These proxies in turn have spawned millions of proselatyzers who spout the “Internet freedom”, “Don’t Break the Internet” and “Information Wants to Be Free” slogans that will make the massive theft of personality almost as easy as the massive theft of copyright was.
As Honen concludes:
[T]he case against Google is for the first time starting to outweigh the case for it. Google may have to get us to use Google+ if it wants to remain relevant. But it should be able to go about that in a fundamentally honest fashion.
If it can’t keep its promises, if it can’t avoid resorting to trickery, if it can’t keep itself from subverting the power of its search engine for commercial ends, and on top of all that if it can’t even deliver the highest quality search results at a default setting—the most basic thing people have come to expect from Google, the very thing its name has become synonymous with—why should you trust it with your personal data?”
So stealing copyright and stealing your personality are in many ways the same kind of theft, and the theft of copyright prepared the “useful idiots”, the Dedicated Followers of Lessig to be in the vanguard of the next Big Theft.
But there is one difference between the theft of copyright and the theft of personality.
There’s nobody to sue Google when they steal your personality.