Department of State

Keep the Pitchforks Sharp

Tuesday, January 24, 2012 

While David Pogue’s opinion piece “Put Down the Pitchforks” makes a valid point about the alliance of varied views on the utility and validity of copyright that have come together to oppose SOPA/PIPA, the differences are more subtle than his language indicates.

Everyone, even those characterized (somewhat fairly) as the “we want our illegal movies” crowd, is horrified that the United States would contemplate outright censorship of the web à la North Korea or Iran, something we actively fight quite vigorously, and with USAID and State Department support, to ensure that dissidents can circumvent similar blocking schemes.

There is no way to fix the language of the bills to rule out those abuses. Universal filling a flagrantly illegal DMCA takedown request with YouTube to censor the MegaUploads advertisement video, the pernicious use of malicious prosecution by the RIAA, and the recent MPAA/Chris Dodd bribery flap all demonstrate incontrovertibly how the entertainment industry has been utterly shameless to date and there is no basis for the belief that they would voluntarily refrain from an aggressive and likely illegal extension of whatever new powers they are offered. If anything, we need stronger legislation to discourage the current abuse of litigation and take-down powers.

Thus everyone, including those that believe that copyright needs to be extended (again, further), recognizes that the premise of SOPA/PIPA—that parts of the international internet have to be blocked in the US—are fundamentally flawed and cannot be repaired.

The differentiation between the “ignorant mechanism” and “ignorant goal” camps is, however, unfairly characterized by Pogue when he draws an analogy to shoplifting. Copyright is not a property right—it is a privilege that is granted by we the people, an exchange where we the people voluntarily relinquish our right to copy, and we gift the inventor with a temporary monopoly as an incentive to promote the progress of science and the useful arts.

It is not “stealing” to copy a movie; it may be illegal, but it is not stealing. There is no legal basis to consider such an act theft—not in natural law, not in “denial of utility.”

“If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it.”

– Thomas Jefferson, 1813

(A letter that should be read in its entirety by anyone electing to weigh in on copyright.)

The basis and purpose of copyright is codified in the constitution: it is an agreement between we the people and inventors to promote the progress of science and the useful arts, it is neither a property right nor a human right. If any copyright legislation fails to advance the cause of promoting the progress of science and the useful arts it is simply prima facia unconstitutional. And not a single extension of copyright law, back to and including the Sony Bono Copyright Extension Act, has even bothered to pay lip service to the obligation to promote the progress of science and the useful arts.

The problem is that these bills retard progress by hampering important and economically relevant industries for economically irrelevant ones (regardless of how nostalgic they might be). It is fair, still, to frame copyright protections and copyright modifications with respect to the expected actual net contribution to the progress of science and the useful arts, as the constitution requires. It is unlikely that such an analysis would favor complete abolition of copyright but it is clear that only a mechanism closer to the patent model makes sense: a very limited and carefully regulated temporary monopoly granted to inventors and creators in return for fully contributing their efforts to the public domain promptly thereafter.

(Edited and enhanced by Carolyn Anhalt)

Posted at 14:42:48 UTC

Category: politicstechnology

DS-5513

Tuesday, June 28, 2011 

The Department of State is proposing a new questionnaire as a precondition of getting a US passport. If the applicant is a newborn it might not be too much of a burden, but for an adult it reads like it was written by George Orwell.

If you’re a grown up and considering getting a passport, you should check in at the comment site or just email GarciaAA@state.gov and let DoS know that their estimate of 45 minutes to gather the required information is probably off by a couple of years.

A few of the questions, which I swear I am not making up:

5. List your mother's residence one year before your birth:

6. List your mother's residence at the time of your birth:

7. List your mother's residence one year after your birth:

8. Mother's place of employment at the time of your birth:

- Dates of employment:

- Name of employer:

- Address of employer:

9. Did your mother receive pre-natal or post-natal medical care?

- Name of Doctor:

- Dates of appointments:

10. What type of document, if any, did your mother use to enter into the United States before your birth?

11. Please describe the circumstances of your birth including the names (as well as address and phone number, if available) of persons present or in attendance at your birth:

Section D

Please list all of your residences inside and outside of the United States starting with your birth until the present.

Section E

Please list all of your current and former places of employment in the United States and abroad.

Section G

I declare under penalty of perjury that all responses contained in this document are true and correct, to the best of my knowledge.

False statements made knowingly and willfully in passport applications or in affidavits or other supporting documents submitted therewith are
punishable by fine and/or imprisonment under the provisions of 18 U.S.C. 1001 and/or 18 U.S.C. 1542.

This is so far beyond idiotic, so completely utterly absurd, that I’m tempted to believe that someone is pulling a hoax in releasing the document to get people riled up, like claiming there will be death panels or some stupid fabricated outrage like that. I suppose filling in “I’m sorry, but my memory of the circumstances three months before I was a zygote is a little hazy these days” would at least be true and correct, but might not lead to quick issuance of a passport. It is not just the flabbergasting stupidity of asking questions that no adult could possibly answer, but questions that utterly irrelevant to providing a passport that is galling.  Dear DoS: derp?

Posted at 15:59:26 UTC

Category: Negativepoliticsreviewstravel