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.
[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.
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.
This is an open letter regarding Google’s serious and abiding rejection of the law in Europe requiring payments for Google’s use of news clips. If you’re interested in being a signatory, details are here.
Google once again above the law?
This Thursday, October 24, should have been an important date in the history of the internet. With new European copyright protections entering into legal force in France, the press should for the first time be receiving fair compensation for the news content that it produces and is then spread on Google, Facebook and other major platforms.
As journalists we have fought long for this protection. Because quality news costs money to produce. Because the existing situation, in which Google enjoys most of the advertising revenue generated by the news that it rakes in without any payment, is untenable and has plunged the media into a crisis that is deepening each year.
The European Parliament voted for the copyright directive in March. The French parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of enacting this copyright protection into French law in July, and this move is soon to be followed by parliaments in other EU states.
Yet the law risks being stripped of all meaning before it even comes into force.Slamming the door on any negotiation, Google has cynically offered the media a choice between two bad deals.
On the one hand, the media are asked to sign a blank cheque to Google renouncing any payment for the use of their news. This would mean accepting the slow death that is emptying newsrooms in Europe as it has already done in the United States.
On the other hand, media may refuse to do so, holding out for fair payment. But Google promises them a formidable form of retaliation: reducing the visibility of their news content to a bare minimum. No photos or text would appear when users search for their news. Just a snippet of a headline, no more.
That would be suicide for the press. Because before landing on any news site, most users are guided by the world’s dominant search engine: Google. Other search engines are just not big enough. News editors know this: they simply do not have the financial means to survive the resulting plunge in internet traffic.
Google is making a ridicule of the law. It is exploiting the subtleties of national law so as to thwart its spirit. Just as it has done with national fiscal laws so as to avoid paying its fair share of taxes on a global scale.It is a fresh insult to national and European sovereignty. Google wants to demonstrate the powerlessness of public authorities to regulate platforms, and force the media to bend to its will and accept a principle of receiving no payment for its news content.
Google prefers to paint itself as being magnanimous, boasting of the financing it proposes for innovative media projects, a diversion that amounts to crumbs from the table of a group that enjoys annual revenues of $140 billion.
Now that disinformation campaigns are infecting the internet and social networks, and independent journalism is under attack in several countries within the European Union, surrendering would be a catastrophe.
We call on the public decision-makers to fight back. They must strengthen the copyright laws to prevent Google from hijacking them, and roll out a battery of measures to stop Google from abusing its overwhelming dominance in the global search-engine market.
On our side, we are calling for public support and we will lead this fight because at stake is the survival of a diverse and independent media, and the strength of our democracy.
[Editor Charlie sez: Practically the same lineup that attacked Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood for trying to make Google come clean about violating the Controlled Substances Act in breach of both their NonProsecution Agreement and their shareholder lawsuit settlement.]
“I’ve never seen pushback in such a fashion before,” Terry Schilling, executive director of the American Principles Project, told NBC News.
NBC News reports that:
‘Every one of those think tanks and advocacy groups is backed by Google, Facebook or both:
TechFreedom, a tech-focused Washington nonprofit…the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a tech-focused civil liberties nonprofit…Engine Advocacy, an organization that advocates for policies that help startups…the Computer & Communications Industry Association [the main trade association for Big Tech]…Those concerns were echoed by a litany of conservative and libertarian-leaning think tanks. Libertarian think tank R Street…the Competitive Enterprise Institute, another conservative think tank, the Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and Americans for Prosperity lambasted the proposal too, calling it “the latest potential disaster” that “would blow up the internet.”‘
[Editor Charlie sez: As David Lowery says, democracy dies in botness. Even Spotify apologists are skeptical of the Google-backed Pirate Party tactics.]
Before attention formally returns to the draft European Copyright Directive next month, the Pirate Party’s representative in the European Parliament – Julia Reda – is hoping to get opponents to the more controversial elements of the proposals out onto the streets.
The copyright reforming directive has been in development for years, of course. For the wider music industry, the focus has been article thirteen, which seeks to increase the liabilities of user-upload platforms like YouTube….
Since the vote, the music industry has been very critical of tactics employed by the tech lobby, and especially big bad Google, in the weeks prior to the vote. Their campaigning, it’s argued, misrepresented what article thirteen is really about. Meanwhile opponents presented themselves as mere concerned internet users – when many were in fact funded by billion dollar tech giants – and used technology to artificially amplify their voice.
David Lowery’s The Trichordist website has run a number of articles exploring these tactics, all of which make for very interesting reading. Meanwhile The Times reported earlier this month how “Google is helping to fund a website that encourages people to spam politicians and newspapers with automated messages backing its policy goals”.
The newspaper put the spotlight on an organisation called OpenMedia, which counts Google as a platinum supporter, and which was also analysed by The Trichordist.
The Times wrote: “The campaigning site is intended to amplify the extent of public support for policies that benefit Silicon Valley”, before confirming that “the tools were recently used to bombard MEPs with phone calls opposing EU proposals to introduce tighter online copyright rules”….
While calling on people to join these protests, [Pirate] Reda has also hit out at the claims that automated tools – like those offered by OpenMedia – were used to make it look like opposition to the copyright directive was much more widespread than it really is.
She recently wrote on her blog: “We haven’t won yet. After their initial shock at losing the vote in July, the proponents of upload filters and the ‘link tax’ have come up with a convenient narrative to downplay the massive public opposition they faced. They’re claiming the protest was all fake, generated by bots and orchestrated by big internet companies”.
She went on: “According to them, Europeans don’t actually care about their freedom of expression. We don’t actually care about EU lawmaking enough to make our voices heard. We will just stand idly by as our internet is restricted to serve corporate interests. People across Europe are ready to prove them wrong: they’re taking the protest to the streets”. [Nobody said that, the Times and Trichordist just said that there were campaigning tools paid for by Google to create a false impression.]