“Pirate utopias” have been a decades long fascination with the anti-copyright crowd, spillover from the “information wants to be free” cult. The anarchist Peter Lamborn Wilson writing under the handle “Hakim Bey” wrote what is probably the best known book on “pirate utopias” under the title “The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism” (1991) or, as the book is known in the familiar and affectionately in hacker circles, simply “TAZ.” TAZ is the inspiration for The Pirate Bay, the CHAZ, similar “autonomous zones” around the world and perhaps even the Principality of Sealand. (I for one am not quite sure what makes “poetic terrorism” different from unpoetic terrorism, but I’m sure someone at Harvard’s Berkman Center knows all about it, thank goodness.)
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has the distinction of becoming the first U.S. governor to create a TAZ at the state level when he signed into law Maryland Senate Bill 432 and House Bill 518, i.e., Maryland’s state compulsory copyright license (this time for ebooks under the cover of librarians). This illegal legislation is a prime example of what Susan Crawford called geeking around the nation state.
Governor Hogan must know the law is unenforceable for a host of reasons even though Google’s metashills at the Library Futures lobby shop no doubt told him otherwise. What Governor Hogan has done is create exactly the kind of pirate utopia that Google has lusted after since Larry met Sergei. Hopefully the Annapolis Autonomous Zone (I’ll leave you to decide how to pronounce the acronym) will be very temporary.
Maryland now is in a similar position to France in 2006 when a dedicated group of likeminded people managed to get a version of the “global license” through the lower body of the French legislature. The French global license would have allowed anyone who accessed the Internet in France to be able to rely on the French statute as a safe harbor to download whatever they like from peer to peer networks if they paid a nominal fee (which probably would never have been collected). This “bread and circuses” legislation bears a remarkable similarity to Governor Hogan’s illegal compulsory license and each count the TAZ for inspiration.
Here’s how it works: The tech oligarchs identify an area ruled by politicians they can overwhelm with…ah…let’s call it “encouragement”. These suitably encouraged politicians then violate their oath and pass legislation that creates a fake “right” to infringe copyright theoretically within their borders. However, since there really are no effective borders on the Internet, they just opened up their authors to massive infringement and their users (aka voters) to massive infringement claims. Creators are forced to burn scarce resources to defend claims against oligarchs with money to burn. The pirate utopia, or in this case the Annapolis Autonomous Zone, may be brief in duration but could be generational in its damage to creators.
And then Governor Hogan just goes back to his real estate empire that he has never really left.
But why the librarians and why now? The answer may lie in “Library Futures” the umpteenth lobbying group that suddenly finds lobbying money for pushing copyright exceptions that further Google’s push for distorting all kinds of imagined loopholes in copyright law that get in the way of total domination. More on them, but the organization’s “chair” is one Kyle Courtney who was last seen pushing Brewster Kahle’s own attempt at the Internet Archive TAZ, the National Emergency Library. Doesn’t “National Emergency Library” just sound so much better than “National Land Grab”? (Internet Archive is a member of the self-inflating Library Futures, of course.) Mr. Courtney has some strange ideas about where libraries sit in the world–you’ll find them above the law if you look.
Yes, one of the legal arguments used as encouragement to librarians to sign onto Mr. Kahle’s (pronounced “kale”) legal opinion supporting the National Emergency Land Grab was offered by Kyle Cortney (securely employed by Harvard University) based on the privilege of “superpowers.” Yes, that’s right:
[L]ibraries and archives have “superpowers” under the copyright law that allows us to supply our communities with access to materials for research, scholarship, and study….Before I get to the TEACH Act, Section 108, or any other superpower – first and foremost, we must talk about fair use. While this isn’t a library superpower – fair use is for everyone! – it certainly falls to the libraries and archives, in many circumstances, to be the champions of fair use on campus (and bust any fair use myths!)
See? “Our dream”, “our national emergency”, “our superpowers.” And “our” powers are so “super” that “we” will shove those superpowers where the sun doesn’t shine in the middle of the Harvard Yard. All based on a superpower of blatant distortions of fair use subsidized by the endowment of the richest university in the history of the world that the University of Maryland may well aspire to equal. But if you’re thinking these Big Tech superpowers are on their knees begging to be sued, you very well may be correct.
No surprise then that superpowers and the super rich found each other and made their way to Governor Hogan to birth the Annapolis Autonomous Zone.