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December 17, 2014

What's It All About, Eli?

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It’s not clear to me what Eli Lehrer is torqued off about sufficiently to sit down and pen a blog entry about the fact that Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood is working with content owners to help fight online piracy.

Eli grants that A.G. Hood has done “meritorious work” in a number of policy areas of which Eli approves, and he grants that Hood hasn’t done anything to violate laws, canons or legal ethics. (I’m a little confused that Eli thinks one of Hood’s meritorious causes include going after drug companies about drug prices—I thought free-market types thought markets should set prices rather than governments. Same with going after insurance companies. Of course, Eli is in favor of carbon taxes, too, so he’s full of surprises.)

Nonetheless, Eli gives us a five paragraph blog entry. His gripe is apparently that content owners are still trying to protect their content even though SOPA didn’t become law, and that A.G. Hood is willing to work with content owners to do so.

[IPI’s history on SOPA, by the way, is complicated. We strongly supported the goal and purpose of SOPA, but the legislation as drafted did in fact pose problems. The bill’s sponsor stubbornly resisted suggestions for improving the legislation, which unfortunately gave credence to the otherwise hyperventilated opposition to the bill. And the problem of websites devoted to criminal activity remains unaddressed.]

SOPA may have been “controversial,” as Eli says, but its goal should not be: Shutting down websites that facilitate massive piracy of copyright materials. Is Eli opposed to shutting down websites engaged in criminal activity?

So what, exactly, is wrong with content owners using the law to protect their content from piracy? And what’s wrong with A.G.’s working with them? Eli doesn’t tell us, which is odd, because the interests of almost all important players in the Internet ecosystem are converging around the importance and value of content. Google’s efforts, for instance, through their Content ID system are becoming better known, and Google testified that it supported the goal of SOPA but favored of a “follow the money” strategy in order to prosecute rogue websites. And there is the major voluntary agreement among ISPs and content owners called the Copyright Alert System, which has recently celebrated it’s one-year anniversary.

So Eli seems to be implying something in his post, but never quite spells it out.

Protecting content owners property rights is a noble undertaking, and those who believe in the primacy of property rights should be champions of finding ways to do so. Yes, of course it’s important to do so in a way that doesn’t do violence to the operation of the Internet, but it’s also important to not exaggerate the impact of antipiracy measures on the operation of the Internet, either.

A couple of final thoughts. First, in fact, Mississippi does have a movie industry, albeit it smaller than some other states. So it’s not somehow inappropriate for A.G. Hood to be involved in antipiracy efforts.

Second, lots of salacious stuff is likely to emerge from the documents obtained through the Sony hack. Let’s remember that this material is private property and has been stolen from its owner. Those who participate in disseminating this material are participating in the violence. How many of us would like to have all of our emails from the last several years stolen and publically released? A little sympathy for Sony and their correspondents is in order, I think, rather than glee at the revelations, whatever they may be.

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