@SchneiderMaria Comes for YouTube With Class Action

We are thrilled to report that composer and big band leader Maria Schneider has sued YouTube in the prelude to a class action.  It’s worth pointing out that this is the first time since the Viacom case that the creative community has taken on the Leviathan of Mountain View.  It’s also worth pointing out that Google won’t be able to buy their way out of this one the way they have the others, they can’t give a job to somebody’s child, it’s just not going to go the usual way that Google thrives on corruption.  The complaint is really well-written (as we would expect) and tells the all-too-familiar compelling story of the struggle of artists to deal with YouTube’s “whack-a-mole” business model (or what Chris sometimes calls the “ennui of learned helplessness”:

This case is about copyright piracy. YouTube, the largest video-sharing website in the world, is replete with videos infringing on the rights of copyright holders. YouTube has facilitated and induced this hotbed of copyright infringement through its development and implementation of a copyright enforcement system that protects only the most powerful copyright owners such as major studios and record labels.

Plaintiffs and the Class are the ordinary creators of copyrighted works. They are denied any meaningful opportunity to prevent YouTube’s public display of works that infringe their copyrights—no matter how many times their works have previously been pirated on the platform. They are thus left behind by YouTube’s copyright enforcement system and instead are provided no meaningful ability to police the extensive infringement of their copyrighted work. These limitations are deliberate and designed to maximize YouTube’s (and its parents Google’s and Alphabet’s) focused but reckless drive for user volume and advertising revenue.

Moreover, the Plaintiffs and the Class are not only prevented from using any meaningful enforcement tool, but the system in place actually exacerbates the harms caused to them including in a manner that bars Defendants from the protections of any safe harbors under applicable copyright laws such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”).

Read the complaint here.

@YashaLevine: Shahid Buttar, the cheesy Silicon Valley astroturfer challenging Nancy Pelosi from “the left”

As someone who grew up in San Francisco and wrote the book on the shady history of Silicon Valley — I simply can’t let this go. I mean, check it out: Turns out that the guy running to unseat Nancy Pelosi from “the left” is a corporate Silicon Valley astroturfer from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

His name is Shahid Buttar.

Why is this significant? EFF is America’s oldest and most influential internet business lobby — an organization that has played a pivotal role in shaping the internet as it exists today. That privatized telecommunication system that’s owned by giant monopolies, powered by for-profit surveillance and influence ops, dominated by spies, and lacking any democratic oversight? Yep, that one. EFF is directly responsible for bringing it into being — and for making sure it stays privatized, shitty, and oligarchic.

As I wrote in my massive investigation into EFF’s shady history and it’s pro-Silicon Valley astroturf tricks for The Baffler a few years back, this organization has done an amazing job convincing us that it’s one of the good guys on the Internet — that it’s grassroots and on the side of the people. In reality, EFF has always been on the side of corporations, fighting against democratic control of Silicon Valley — from making sure ISPs could grow into giant monopolies to blowing up the first (and only) attempt to regulate Google’s surveillance business model back in 2004.

Read the post on Yasha Levine’s blog

Superpowers In River City: Anti-Artist Activist Brewster Kahle’s Revealing “National Emergency Library,” the Faux Triumph of Privilege

If you’ve ever seen the classic musical The Music Man, you will remember the stereotypical character of “Marian the Librarian” who was romanced by the grifter Harold Hill.  When it comes to the Internet Archive, we’re way past Marian but we have a whole new character in the role of grifter.

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 Jeffrey Epstein. Somewhere along the line Mr. Kahle seems to have gotten very rich or perhaps richer still.  And he also founded Alexa and the Internet Archive which is our focus in this post because of the Archive’s announced “National Emergency Library.”  We’ll come to that effort presently, but first let’s consider Mr. Kahle’s history in the copyright context.

A Man With A Mission Meets A Dandy on the White Horse

Mr. Kahle was and is a man with a mission in the mold of his fellow pirate utopian and EFF founder, John Perry Barlow.  Less flamboyant to be sure, but cut from the same anti-copyright cloth Mr. Kahle has attracted literally the same crew of Lost Cause dead enders.  These dots will be very familiar.  It’s all very Googlely and Mr. Kahle has shown himself to be as close to Google’s mission as one is to two.  Whether revolutionary leader or useful idiot, Mr. Kahle has proven his value to Google again and again over some two decades.

Copyright students may remember Mr. Kahle from 2006 as the plaintiff in Kahle v. Gonzales, one of the cases where Lessig did a brilliant job of making the predictably losing argument as an extension of yet another losing argument from Lessig’s cherished Eldred case.  (Has Lessig ever won anything that Google didn’t pay for?)

Mr. Kahle challenged the Copyright Renewal Act of 1992 that eliminated once and for all the renewal requirement from the U.S. 1909 Copyright Act that was held over in the 1976 Copyright Act for certain registrations.  (Lessig was joined as co-counsel in the Kahle case by his protege Professor Christopher SprigmanSprigman is a leading anti-artist zealot.  He currently represents Spotify in the Nashville cases and is leading the American Law Institute’s embarrassing and scandalous “Restatement of Copyright” trojan horse campaign that has been thoroughly discredited.)

Kahle, Lessig and Sprigman essentially argued then and now for a renewal requirement to make copyright renewals an opt-in system rather than an opt-out system.  That meant that authors would have to take an affirmative act to renew their copyrights after an initial term.  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.

You get the idea.  The Lost Cause is born.  And Kahle was apparently only too happy to finance “the movement” with a younger Lessig imagining himself on a white horse leading the mob.  Younger but just as much the tiresomely self-righteous Google fan boy and thin-skinned ideological dandy.  Because the Lost Cause was “right”.  Beware men on white horses waiving the privilege of “what is right” backed by the superpower billionaire boys club.

It must be said that a creator’s failure to comply with Mr. Kahle’s new formalities of registration and renewal (unique to America, by the way) would allow the Big Tech superpower benefactors of Lessig, Sprigman and Kahle.  Like superpower privilege that induced a mass taking by the National Emergency Library, Big Tech superpowers could exploit those unrenewed copyrights without a license or payment to the authors, also known as the public domain, public knowledge, or any of the other shibboleths that mask the very traps for the unwary that Congress wanted to prevent in the 1992 legislation.  (In another proof of the Lost Cause, Kahle’s lawyer Professor Sprigman was  later a member of Pamela Samuelson’s “Copyright Principles” project and co-authored its paper that also advocated for the very registration requirement that they resoundingly lost in the Kahle case (see Sec. IIIA of paper, “Reinvigorating Copyright Registration”.)

For those reading along at home, procedurally the odd and rather desperate signpost of the Kahle case was that Lessig largely based Kahle on Eldred which he lost in the Supreme Court.  When Kahle got to the 9th Circuit, this oddity was not lost on the judges who held–in possibly the least suspenseful ruling of the decade–that “[Lessig, Sprigman and Kahle] make essentially the same argument [in Kahle], in different form, that the Supreme Court rejected in Eldred. It fails here as well.”

Kaboom.

So Kahle got into trouble at 9th Circuit.  As Harold Hill might warble, that’s trouble with a T that rhymes with P and that stands for “phool.”

Kahle’s Lost Cause and the National Emergency Library’s Fair Use Superpower Privilege

Yet despite continued losses, re-imposing a copyright registration requirement has become the Lost Cause of the anti-artist crowd.  Not only has Lessig pushed this hustle, but its proponents include Pamela Samuelson and Christopher Sprigman, so we can only assume that the controversial “Restatement of Copyright” promoted by Samuelson and written by Sprigman will no doubt devote some ink to this topic.  Indeed, we saw Samuelson raise registration in her most recent testimony in a bizarre hearing before the Senate IP Subcommittee.

And we also see a version of it in the Internet Archive’s absurdly transparent lawlessness masquerading as fair use with its “National Emergency Library” which takes post-disaster profiteering to a whole new level.

In a nutshell, the Internet Archive is seizing upon the COVID19 global crisis to make digital copies of books of dubious provenance available for free.  They managed to get a bunch of libraries to sign a letter saying how groovy the Internet Archive is for graciously aiding the world–if this sounds familiar, it is very reminiscent of the Google Books messaging as the “digital library of Alexandria” and other drivel.  (See the timeless Google and the Myth of Universal Knowledge:  A view from Europe by Jean-Noël Jeanneney, then president of France’s Bibliothèque Nationale.)

As someone who grew up with both hurricanes and earthquakes, I have a viscerally embedded disgust for those grifters who exploit human misery for their own private agenda, be it profiting in cash or distorting the fair use defense beyond recognition to confer a cash equivalent benefit.  Both are equally loathsome forms of looting and under the circumstances may well be a form of price gouging.  If proven, that’s a crime in most states.  Indeed, if imposed by state authority, such as a state library, it may well be found to be an impermissible form of eminent domain, or a taking.  There’s that word again.

The National Emergency Library:  Leap of Faith or Superpower Privilege?

What makes a casual interest into a full-blown negationist Lost Cause ideology is the leap of faith that the dead ender’s ill conceived campaign was actually “right” all along.  (A healthy rasher of narcissism is also a nice-to-have.)  You know, defending consumer rights against the aggression of copyright maximalists.  You see, it was only the privileged Bad People conspiring against them that gypped the Good People of the victory to which they were entitled.  In fact, Mr. Kahle says as much in the Internet Archive blog announcing the “National Emergency Library”:

“The library system, because of our national emergency, is coming to aid those that are forced to learn at home, ” said Brewster Kahle, Digital Librarian of the Internet Archive. “This was our dream for the original Internet coming to life: the Library at everyone’s fingertips.”

And there it is, the Lost Cause defined.  The indefinite “our”.  Who exactly is “our” or “us”?  The Good People.  The Right People.  The movement people.  Whose superpowers you oppose at  your peril you others.  You authors.  Because “our” national emergency justifies “our” fulfillment of “our dream.”

The Good People share that “dream” of “ours” as we are told in the Archive’s blog post cum press release:

“Ubiquitous access to open digital content has long been an important goal for MIT and MIT Libraries. Learning and research depend on it,” said Chris Bourg, Director of MIT Libraries.

Ah yes, MIT’s goal must be extra groovy, right?  I’m sure Joi Ito (of Creative Commons fame among other rewards) thought so when he was taking Jeffrey Epstein’s money with MIT’s blessings.

What bunk.

The Googley Expansion of the Fair Use Superpower as Eminent Domain Taking

And of course the central rationale for why the Archive could rip off over a million books is…wait for it…fair use.  But a very super duper version of fair use that you may not have encountered before.  This is a super duper opinion shared by 300 or so librarians, many of whom appear to be employed by state-owned libraries.  They signed a letter promoted by the Internet Archive that puts their taxpayer subsidized employment right on the line.

You have to take a step back and look at the National Emergency Library in the larger context of the continued distortion of fair use by Google and its cronies as we recently argued in an amicus brief supporting Oracle in Google v. Oracle, the long-running copyright case now pending before the Supreme Court that is straight out of Bleak House.

Unfortunately, like the DMCA, Section 230 and so many other grotesquely unfair benefits that Big Tech superpowers grasp for themselves, the only way to fight back in the chaos of the current pandemic is to literally fight back.  Big Tech’s superpower billionaires are doing just fine as authors struggle even more than before the time of the virus.  But these people are more than willing to capitalize on the current crisis to distort copyright exceptions like fair use, just like Google is forcing users of its Verily coronavirus test to open a Google account and give up their health data.

I for one find it very odd that 300 or so librarians could all agree in a matter of hours on a complex legal opinion regarding expanding the contours of fair use–unless that opinion were written for them by someone they already knew.  Such as their lobbyist, for example.   Maybe not, but it does seem it’s something that state Attorneys General should look into as it applies to their librarians.  Assuming that signing up for the scheme is not simply aspirational and they are all actually participating in the cabal, these librarians are incurring liabilities for their employers and quite possibly the taxpayer.  If state libraries are indemnifying the Internet Archive, that indemnity may well be impermissible under their respective state laws–and that’s something that ought to interest attorneys general, as would the converse failure to obtain indemnity.

On the other hand, one of the legal arguments used as encouragement to librarians to sign onto the legal opinion was offered by one 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.  But understand this, you will win this argument about the same time that Harvard refunds tuition in the time of the virus.  Unless you are willing to go to the mattresses.  And if you’re thinking these superpowers are on their knees begging to be sued, you very well may be correct.

That “superpower” privilege may be how they roll at Harvard, but what I’d like to know is how many state AGs have signed up for the superpower theory?  Such as the Attorneys General of Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, California, Washington, New York, Indiana, Massachusetts, Florida, Minnesota, Texas, and Idaho.

Maybe the next sound they hear will be sad trombones, all 76 of them.

We’re All in it Together: @USSupreme_Court Friend of Court Brief in Google v. Oracle by @helienne, @davidclowery, @theblakemorgan and @SGAWrites

[Editor Charlie sez:  The Oracle v. Google case is going to be the most important copyright case in a very, very long time.  Oracle won the case on appeal twice and Google got the Supreme Court to review.  The case is about two issues being copyright in software and whether Google’s taking of Oracle’s code is fair use and permissionless innovation.    Because of the fair use argument, this is not just some battle of tech companies because no one knows better than us that Google will take any win on fair use and push it even farther.

So all artists, songwriters, photographers, film makers, authors–all of us–are in the same boat with Oracle on this point.  Sure Oracle is a big company, but Google is an even bigger company with a trillion dollar market cap and Google is trying to roll over Oracle the same way they roll over us.

In a must read “friend of the court” brief, Helienne Lindvall, David Lowery, Blake Morgan and the Songwriters Guild of America make this case as independent artists, songwriters and labels all harmed by Google’s policies that are out of touch with the market starting with YouTube.

SCOTUS Brief Cover Page

As Beggars Group Chairman Martin Mills put it, “[P]olicing the YouTubes of this world for infringing content is a herculean task, one beyond all but the largest of companies. For my community, the independents, it’s a game of whack-a-mole they can only lose.”

Helienne, David, Blake and the SGA put that case squarely before the U.S. Supreme Court in this must-read friend of the court brief.]

Independent creators rely on copyright protection to safeguard their works. This is true not just of songwriters and composers, but of countless creators, including recording artists, photographers, filmmakers, visual artists, and software developers. Copyright is, in fact, of existential importance to such creators, who would be utterly lacking in market power and the ability to earn their livings without it.

Google’s business model is a prime example of the need for strong copyright protection. Since Google’s founding, Amici have experienced, observed and believe that Google has used its unprecedented online footprint to dictate the terms of the market for creative works. By tying together a set of limited exceptions and exclusions within the U.S. Copyright Act and analogous laws in other countries, and then advocating for the radical expansion of those exceptions, Google has amplified its own market power to the great detriment of copyright owners. Thus, where fair use is meant to be a limited defense to infringement founded on the cultural and economic good for both creators and the public, Google has throttled it into a business model.

Read the brief on the Supreme Court of the United States.

 

Press Release: @FTC Unanimously Votes to Examine Past Acquisitions by Large Technology Companies

PRESS RELEASE

The Federal Trade Commission issued Special Orders to five large technology firms, requiring them to provide information about prior acquisitions not reported to the antitrust agencies under the Hart-Scott-Rodino (HSR) Act. The orders require Alphabet Inc. (including Google), Amazon.com, Inc., Apple Inc., Facebook, Inc., and Microsoft Corp. to provide information and documents on the terms, scope, structure, and purpose of transactions that each company consummated between Jan. 1, 2010 and Dec. 31, 2019.

The Commission issued these orders under Section 6(b) of the FTC Act, which authorizes the Commission to conduct wide-ranging studies that do not have a specific law enforcement purpose. The orders will help the FTC deepen its understanding of large technology firms’ acquisition activity, including how these firms report their transactions to the federal antitrust agencies, and whether large tech companies are making potentially anticompetitive acquisitions of nascent or potential competitors that fall below HSR filing thresholds and therefore do not need to be reported to the antitrust agencies.

“Digital technology companies are a big part of the economy and our daily lives,” said FTC Chairman Joe Simons. “This initiative will enable the Commission to take a closer look at acquisitions in this important sector, and also to evaluate whether the federal agencies are getting adequate notice of transactions that might harm competition. This will help us continue to keep tech markets open and competitive, for the benefit of consumers.”

The Special Orders require each recipient to identify acquisitions that were not reported to the FTC and the U.S. Department of Justice under the HSR Act, and to provide information similar to that requested on the HSR notification and report form. The orders also require companies to provide information and documents on their corporate acquisition strategies, voting and board appointment agreements, agreements to hire key personnel from other companies, and post-employment covenants not to compete. Last, the orders ask for information related to post-acquisition product development and pricing, including whether and how acquired assets were integrated and how acquired data has been treated.

The Commission plans to use the information obtained in this study to examine trends in acquisitions and the structure of deals, including whether acquisitions not subject to HSR notification might have raised competitive concerns, and the nature and extent of other agreements that may restrict competition. The Commission also seeks to learn more about how small firms perform after they are acquired by large technology firms. These and related issues were discussed during several sessions of the FTC’s 2018 Hearings on Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century, and this study is part of the follow-up from those Hearings.

The FTC has a statutory right under the HSR Act to review acquisitions and mergers over a certain size before they are consummated, and the study will help the Commission consider whether additional transactions should be subject to premerger notification requirements. The orders will also contribute broadly to the FTC’s understanding of technology markets, and thereby support the FTC’s program of vigorous and effective enforcement to promote competition and protect consumers in digital markets.

The Commission vote to approve issuing the Special Orders was 5-0. Commissioners Christine S. Wilson and Rohit Chopra issued a joint statement.

The Federal Trade Commission develops policy initiatives on issues that affect competition, consumers, and the U.S. economy. Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, read our blogs, and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.