The Washington Post’s book editor Ron Charles published an insightful post about the latest shenanigans regarding the book publishers litigation against the Internet Archive. Mr. Charles included the startling revelation that an author speaking up in support of the publishers received death threats (which will, of course, be disavowed by all concerned, I’m so sure). At the heart of this litigation is the anti-copyright activist Brewster Kahle, the owner of the Internet Archive. Let’s take a look at just a smidge of history on Mr. Kahle.
The eponymous Brewster Kahle just may be the Internet’s answer to Marcus Licinius Crassus, who lays claim to owning the first self-declared emergency fire brigade in history. Mr. Kahle owns the Internet Archive and featured largely in the career of one Christopher Sprigman a well-known David Lowery hater who is now overseeing another arsonist’s project to solve a problem we didn’t know we had–the notorious Restatement of Copyright.
Sprigman, Lessig and Kahle’s paths crossed before. In 2006, Professor Sprigman was lead counsel with Lessig on the losing side in Kahle v. Ashcroft (later v. Gonzales) which unsuccessfully challenged the elimination of the renewal requirement under the 1992 Copyright Renewal Act. As Lessig writes back in 2003, “The revival of a registration requirement would move content into a public domain quickly….There are many who have written brilliantly about what is right in this context….But the hard problem is how to make the right real. That is what this movement needs now.”
Ah yes. This movement. It’s a movement, you see. I just thought it was both price fixing by the biggest corporations in commercial history and a data scraping exercise to train corpus machine translation engines, transhuman robots and artificial intelligence algorithms.
Brewster Kahle is not likely a name you recognize. But he is definitely well-known to the digital elites–which we know because his picture shows up in the 2000 version of the Billionaire’s Dinner rubbing elbows with the cognoscenti including fellow diners Nicholas Negroponte of MIT and MIT patron the late Jeffrey Epstein. Somewhere along the line Mr. Kahle seems to have gotten very rich or perhaps richer still.
Now why would I be of the opinion that Mr. Kahle could be seen to be a latter day Crassus? Wasn’t starting a fire brigade a good thing? While it had its merits, Plutarch tells us that the Crassus firemen didn’t start putting out a fire until their boss had a conversation with the owner of the burning property about selling. To Crassus. And selling at a much better price because your house was, after all, on fire. Not to mention the crucial question of how the house came to be on fire in the first place. Rome being Rome and Crassus being the quintessential Roman, let’s not skip over that little query. And of course, once ownership was transferred to Crassus who rebuilt the house, he’d be happy to rent it back to the original owners at a higher price because it was then, after all, brand new. Makes as much sense as Google Books.
Mr. Kahle is, in his own way, an equally quintessential Silicon Valley denizen, albeit one of the minor millionaires. It won’t surprise you to learn he has been on the losing side of killing copyright for quite some time (see the Lessig/Sprigman monumental failure to overcome Congress’s better angels to eliminate traps for the unwary with copyright registration renewals). Yes, the Soy Boys have definitely taken up Kahle’s cause in the latest struggle over his self-declared and lockdown-derived National Emergency Library, the faux triumph of privilege for which the Internet Archive have been sued by Hachette and other publishers. (And also attracted a Tillis-Gram from Senator Tillis.)
Mr. Charles succinctly summarizes the Internet Archive litigation in the Washington Post:
Last week, a group of plaintiffs that includes Hachette, HarperCollins, John Wiley and Penguin Random House, filed a request for summary judgment in the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York. The plaintiffs reiterated their claim that the Internet Archive “freerides on the authors’ literary contributions and aggressively competes with the Publishers’ authorized digital works by republishing its own unlicensed e-books” – tens of thousands of them, representing millions of lost sales. The suit argues that this practice “would be disastrously compounded if IA’s activities became unrestricted and widespread.”
Unfortunately, the Internet Archive has become a rallying cry for certain webby libertarians who imagine that information – other people’s property – wants to be free. And a few zealots are resorting to the most vile methods to support their cause: One best-selling science fiction author has received multiple death threats inspired, apparently, by a comment he made that some IA enthusiasts consider offensive. Although this writer has no connection to the IA lawsuit, he asked that I not use his name here because “any continued vocalization on my part seems to only kick over the wasp nests.”
Obviously the Hachette case is about authors vs. Silicon Valley. But at a slightly higher level of abstraction it is also about free humans vs. machine owners, sentient creators vs. artificial intelligence, epiphany vs. singularity. Which may well be an unforgivable attack by the machine owners on the essence of humanity. And we may well join Mr. Charles in asking of Big Tech and their minions like Mr. Kahle, why are you persecuting us?