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Monday, November 22, 2010

$335,906 is the Price of the Constitution

When Senators give speeches, they will say that you can't put a price on freedom. But as it turns out you can. You can actually put an exact dollar amount on the Constitution. And that amount is $335,906.

That's the amount that Hollywood gave Senator Patrick Leahy. And in return, Leahy gave them COICA. That's not the name of some new disease, it's the abbreviation for Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, the biggest and more comprehensive internet censorship proposal in the history of this country. It would give Attorney General Eric Holder the power to create a blacklist of websites and force all companies that do business in the United States to comply with that blacklist.

Ever since the Clinton Administration's Communications Decency Act, Democrats have been obsessed with censoring the internet. And that drive has kicked into high gear again. COICA is the most ambitious plan to enact government control over freedom of expression on the internet since the days of the CDA.

While this bill was crafted on behalf of the entertainment industry, the applications go far beyond that. Websites that feature collections of articles, such as FreeRepublic or DemocraticUnderground could easily be targeted under the terms of COICA. And so could many blogs, which list entire articles or cite extensively from them. Any site or blog that embeds videos or images which are not authorized by the copyright holder could be similarly targeted. And with the Attorney General of a highly politicized administration wielding the power to preemptively shutter and blacklist entire websites, it would be all too easy for COICA to be used as a club for suppressing dissent.

While on paper COICA is only supposed to apply to 0.01 percent of the internet, in its broadest interpretation it could apply to anywhere between 30/40 percent of the internet. And the damage can go even beyond that. COICA gives the AG's office a billy club that can destroy any company's business overnight. And will that billy club be used strictly for copyright oversight alone? When the Attorney General's office has the power to shut down any webhost, costing its owners millions in revenues, what will the owners do when they're asked to shut down a site that does not actually fall under COICA? Will they call the AG's bluff and prepare for a legal battle to restore the site and hope their business survives, or will they do the practical thing and comply?

We already know the answer to that. Some larger companies with deep pockets will put up a fight. Maybe. Smaller companies will just go along. And this is not what free speech was supposed to look like in America.

COICA is just the beginning. It's the first step in transforming the internet into an environment completely controlled by the government. If the Senate can move along a law that creates a copyright blacklist, the next step is to create a blacklist for political extremism. Once we've established the principle that you can just pull a switch and blacklist sites that the government doesn't like, where does it end?

Liberals screeched for years about the Patriot Act, but very little attention is being paid to COICA, which is primarily co-sponsored by Democratic senators. The endless Hollywood movies bemoaning the oppression of the Patriot Act, won't give way to movies bemoaning COICA. But that's because COICA was written for Hollywood's benefit. And the forms of oppression that are practiced by the people who make movies about oppression, naturally don't make it into movies.

Some conservatives are defending COICA as a means of protecting private property, but it's not. It creates a privileged status for specific industries through government action, which those specific industries paid for. This is classic 'Rent Seeking Behavior' which uses government force to protect a bad business model. Hollywood is suffering from the plague of piracy because of its own convoluted structure and its need to negotiate every iota of every action with its own unions. Rather than adapt and evolve, it uses lawyers and lobbyists to protect its defective business practices. And having a 'red phone' to the AG's office in order to protect defective business practices does the entertainment industry no favors in the long term.

COICA is a unconstitutional bailout of our freedoms and internet civil rights for a specific industry that has troubling implications for everyone. And it's a demonstration of just how dangerous the intersection of corporate lobbyists and politicians can be. Some conservatives believe that supporting capitalism means blindly endorsing any corporate action. It does not. When corporations subvert public representation and harness government force for their own benefit, then they act like a part of the government.

Leahy is a perfect example, a Senator from Vermont, not exactly a major hub of the entertainment industry, with deep ties on the other coast. Leahy's ties to big Hollywood studios like Time Warner go so ridiculously deep that he actually got a part in the last Batman movie and had the movie premiere at his own fundraising event back in Vermont. Carrying water for Hollywood has nothing to do with the needs of Vermont's citizens. But this is what happens when corporations can buy themselves their own senators.

Leahy picked up that infamous 335,906 from TV and movie industry donors and PAC's. He was the third largest recipient of entertainment industry money in the Senate. The top recipient, Senator Schumer is a COICA cosponsor. So is the 5th top recipient, Senator Gillibrand, Schumer's own trojan horse. And there's plenty of overlap between top donors and cosponsors on the rest of this list. This isn't unusual. This is how Washington D.C. does business all the time. And that's the scary part.

This isn't just about the entertainment industry. It's about how the intersection of money and power, routed through a centralized federal government can and does lead to tyranny. When politicians are given a legislative framework that allows them to exercise virtually unlimited powers, without regard to the United States Constitution or individual freedoms or the public will, and then allowed to put that power at the service of their biggest donors, the end result is not democracy, but oligarchy. And COICA is another product of that oligarchy.

Senator Leahy appearing in his fave company's movie
When you can ante up $335,906 to a Senator in exchange for a bill that lets the government play croquet with freedom of expression on the internet, then freedom is dead.

Giving the Federal government unlimited legislative scope is why we will now be forced to buy health insurance from HMO's (an entity created by the Nixon Administration) whether we want to or not. Call it a tax, call it a fine, the bottom line is that the current position of the Obama Administration is that they have the right to force people to purchase services from their corporate donors. And most liberal judicial experts appear to agree with them, and see no civil rights violations or unconstitutionally in empowering politicians to force the public to buy a service from their own donors, for the crime of 'breathing' in the United States.

There's no rhyme or reason to it. It's justified by agenda politics and corporate profits. A combination that has torn the Constitution asunder, over and over again. The only answer is to take away that power, to tear it out of the hands of politicians that willfully, fanatically and greedily abuse it, and restore it back to its original owners. The American people.

3 comments:

mindRider said...

Under the guise of "Anti terrorism", freedom of the individual has been gradually but ever increasingly reduced by alledged Democratic governements all over the globe with strange enough "The land of the free", America, in the forefront. 1984 and Brave New World are already upon us with material abundance as a soothing "soma" sauce to keep the masses from rising. It shall get evermore and extremely difficult to shed thise vice like grip of the state and restore personal liberty due to the intensity of control and surveilance on every move and communication.

Eris said...

You've convinced me. No one currently reigning in Washington D.C. in an elected or appointed capacity respects the Constituion or recognizes any limits on their authority. No important academic, intellectual, politician, or statesman has supported freedom or limited government in over a century.

This is the Age of Facism. Our choices are stark: we operate Committees of Public Safety to cleanse the nation of corrupt politicians and fawning academics, or we profit from their corruption.

Paul said...

COICA. Well, I heard it here first from the Sultan. I'm glad I tuned in.

If the entertainment industry is having a hard time protecting its property rights, then this deserves our attention. Does it deserve legislation? It sounds like the entertainment industry has too easy a hand in government and should be working a little harder to protect its property interests through existing laws, which are extensive. I think the solution is in confronting the media involved and by "media" I mean the medium of communication. It could be confronted the same way software piracy is confronted, software producers and publishers have the same problems with protecting their property. The damage done to the software industry from piracy and the economic consequences are far more extensive than that done to the entertainment industry and the medium involved is exactly the same.

When I copy and paste an entire news article, link included, at some bulletin board, am I doing some damage to somebody's right to profit from their own work? No. Am I infringing on their property rights as a matter of law? Definitely. Would preventing me from doing this be a violation of my free speech? It very well could be. Publishing precedent and law, if I recall correctly, allows a certain amount of any published work to be quoted. Intellectual honesty and maybe the law too require a source for the quote.

The COICA sounds like a lazy way out and looks far too much like something laying around waiting to be picked up and used against our freedoms. There is bound to be a better way.

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