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But Do Their Eyes Glow?: The Children of the Lessig God and the Viking Pirate Kings

August 18, 2006 2 comments

Ah, the Kingdom of Sweden. I have always heard how wonderful it is to spend the summer in Sweden, but apparently things have changed. It is now the “fantastically cool freculture country of Sweden” according to Professor Lessig, with what the professor describes as the “very interesting” “Piracy Party”. And of course, the Pirate Party people returned the favor by posting one of Professor Lessig’s diatribes on the creative community on the Pirate Party’s Pirate Bay Bit Torrent site (available at this link, you’ll find it to the right of the handy “meet girls from your area” advertising bar and below the “attract women by smell” banner ad. Yes, that’s really what it said. Who knew?).

Since Professor Lessig is a fan, it should come as no surprise that the Professor’s benefactors at Wired Magazine are, too. With its usual fawning over anyone who hurts the creative community (see “Shawn Hogan, Hero“), Wired are doe-eyed over the Swedish Pirate Party in their latest amoral puff piece on Rickard Falkvinge, the leader of the Pirate Party which–of course–has no connection to the Pirate Bay. None. Nada. Zilch. Immaculate conception. Note: Not only does the Pirate Party have nothing to do with the Pirate Bay, it is also not to be confused with the Pirate Party sponsored by Professor Lessig’s Free Culture group that mocks the creative community and provides a convivial atmosphere where the elites meet amid stolen goods at Ivy League colleges.

The Children of the Lessig God

The latest bump on the road provided courtesy of Professor Lessig’s entourage is a group of thirtysomething Swedes who share the Professor’s lust for negative attention. Wired provides this slice of life:

“Falkvinge is interrupted by a passing teenager. She’s a young punk, with green dreads and a jacket covered in an indistinguishable combination of angry quips and band names — in short, exactly the type who once would have spent her disposable income on music.”

Note that last bully sneer from Wired. Charming, eh? Once would have…except for…what? The Pirate Party? The Pirate Bay? No wait–there’s no conneciton between the two.

The pirate press continues: “She takes out a piece of notebook paper and asks Falkvinge for an autograph.”

That little tableau says it all, it really tells the entire story of Professor Lessig and his followers. Steal from rock stars and you will become one. And Wired–like all star driven mainstream media–always needs conflict, always needs a star, preferably a geek to make into a star.

In the infamous error-ridden passage from Free Culture in which Professor Lessig laughably tries to pass off The Simpsons as an “orphan work”, we get a snapshot of what motivates the Lessig mind:

“Jon Else is a filmmaker….He is also a teacher, and as a teacher myself, I envy the loyalty and admiration that his students feel for him. (I met, by accident, two of his students at a dinner party. He was their god.)”

Sorry, professor, a little too much information. (A “god”? A “god”? Feeling just a tad inadequate are we?) Parents of students at the Stanford madrasah, take note. But I digress.

It does appear that the Children of the Lessig God have gotten some political traction in Sweden. This is curious given Sweden’s pro-labor political parties and strong trade unions but the blatently anti-labor direction of the Pirate Party (given their problems with artists–oh, sorry, note to self–no connection to the Pirate Bay). However, this strange congruence should actually come as no surprise if you understand the political philosophy underpinning Creative Commons, Free Culture and their supergroup, Friends of the Commons.

When a Lessig-ist refers to “commons” what they are describing is property that the Friends of the Commons believes belongs to all the people. For purposes of the creative community, that means copyrights that fall (or are pushed) into the public domain. Friends of the Commons also has ties to the environmental movement, but it is environmentalism with a decidedly anti-private property bent.

It should not be surprising, then, that the Children of the Lessig God should arise in countries with large numbers of supporters of the Green Party, which is arguably far more radical outside the United States than Americans are used to seeing at home. Sweden’s Green Party has 17 seats in the Swedish unicameral Parliament. (Note that other Lessig political successes have occurred in Brazil and France, countries with parliamentary socialist or Green parties.)

According to Chris Anderson’s Wired Magazine, Falkvinge says “[The Pirate Party] have a lot in common with the environmental movement. Where environmentalists see destruction of natural resources, the pirates see culture at risk. (We) saw a lot of hidden costs to society in the way companies maximize their copyright.”

Ah, I see. When you spot hidden costs to society in business structures, stealing the goods makes it efficient. Wow. That’s heavy, dude. Genius.

“Given their public bravado, The Pirate Bay’s proprietors may be incapable of bending to even the sternest pressure from copyright holders.

Peter describes the last few days as exhausting, but expresses confidence that The Pirate Bay will outlast efforts to shut it down. Eventually, he’d even like to bring it back home to Sweden. ‘We have people willing to help out with the work, so it’s no problem if they start chasing us around. The internet is bigger than the MPAA.’”

Do you really feel that lucky? Although I suppose you would find a home in Absurdistan quite comfortable. Not quite as incredibly cool as the freculture country of Sweden, but homey.

This is the essential arrogance of not only the Pirate Party, but the Lessig movement as a whole. They take advantage of the freedoms of society–speech, assembly, privacy–to work against other foundations of society–private property. Sounds like another certain person who is no friend to New York and Washington.

And if that is not true, if I have unfairly characterized Professor Lessig as a supporter of thievery of the most common sort, then let him come forward and publicly condemn stealing of intellectual property, prove me wrong and I will happily apologize. I have never once heard or read, or heard of, him doing anything even close.

Everyone A Pirate King, Yet No One Wears A Crown

For further justification in condemning Sweden as a bad trading partner of at least the United States and the European Union, the Pirate Party has endorsed what Wired described as “a low-cost, encrypted anonymizing service offered by a Swedish communications company called Relakks. For 5 euros a month, a portion of which goes to the party, anyone can share files or communicate from a Relakks IP address in Sweden, potentially complicating efforts to track downloaders.” But there is no connection between the Pirate Bay and the Pirate Party. Ah yes, the great Kingfish himself would be proud.

By the way: You will find “anonymizing” in your Wired Magazine/Chris Anderson lexicon right next to “law-hardening” (another word coined by the Lessig press). In this context is the intentional act of covering Internet traces to make it difficult for law enforcement to track criminal acts. This once was known as driving the getaway car. “Anonymizing” is what Lessig defends as “privacy” concerns, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation defends as “privacy advocates”. Spare me the moral indignation, please. I suppose Al Capone had a privacy interest in his tax returns, too.

I think it goes without saying that this ISP is clearly inducing piracy and is seeking to drive legitimate online services out of Sweden, not to mention offline services. And if the Pirate Party manages to get itself elected to the Swedish Parliament, don’t think it stops there. That’s just the beginning. Note that there is already a “Pirate Party US”, and if you doubt that there is a Lessig connection, read the first 100 words of the manifesto on their home page and you will see a regurgitation of the Lessig anti-copyright (and specifically anti-Disney) rhetoric that would make a godlike professor proud (or a wanna-be godlike professor I guess).

Wired reporter Quinn Norton apparently was acquainted with the founders of the Pirate Bureau (that I think is more aptly translated as the Ministry of Piracy,) whom Norton identified as one Rasmus Fleischer and one Marcus Kaarto, founders of what Wired describes (without justification) as “an ad hoc pro-piracy think tank.” Isn’t that special? Another sneer from the pro-pirate press. And Al Capone was just a businessman.

According to Wired, Mr. Kaarto describes the Ministry of Piracy as being “‘like a gas,’ Kaarto says, laughing. ‘You can’t get a hold on us.’” It may be true that the Ministry of Piracy have mastered the art of deception and don’t plan on doing much traveling, but where have we heard that sentiment before?

Oh, better far to live and die
Under the brave black flag I fly,
Than play a sanctimonious part,
With a pirate head and a pirate heart.
Away to the cheating world go you,
Where pirates all are well-to-do;
But I’ll be true to the song I sing,
And live and die a Pirate King.

From The Pirates of Penzance, by Gilbert & Sullivan

The funny thing about political parties is that you generally know what they’re up to, and they are accountable. Pirate Bay or the Ministry of Piracy may be a gas, but the Pirate Party is not. Fasten your seat belts, boys, it’s going to be a bumpy flight. Be sure to fly your freak flag high. See you at NATO. No law-hardening allowed.

Copyright 2006 Christian L. Castle. All Rights Reserved.

Why You Hate Net Neutrality if You Love Copyright

August 4, 2006 Comments off

When we go to the post office to mail a letter, we can choose how we want the post office to rank our mail compared to other mail in the queue. We can buy a first class mail stamp, but if it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight, we would turn to Federal Express or its competitors. If we want same day service at a distant location, we may put the work on one of the airline shipping services. We would expect to pay a premium in exchange for the carrier ranking our mail above someone who didn’t pay that premium, and we would expect to pay a significant
premium over first class postage if we wanted extra special service.

For example, when we purchase a book from Amazon.com, we are given several options for how we want our book shipped to us. If Amazon were to offer us the option to buy a book at a few percentage points off of the retail price we might pay if we went to a bookstore without the convenience of near immediate delivery, Amazon would be at a competitive disadvantage to, say, Barnes & Noble, Book People, or your local independent bookseller. If all the books had to be shipped at the lowest rate, e.g., the book rate (remember that?) there probably would be no Amazon.com.

The Internet, on the other hand, ranks every piece of traffic at the same priority and that priority is the “going” rate, which often is the slowest rate unless you’re on a virtual private network (one of the several examples of violations of “net neutrality” that demand in the marketplace has already created). This is one of the definitions of “net neutrality”, meaning that ISPs treat each piece of traffic in a “neutral” manner, meaning ISPs do not let anyone jump the queue and wouldn’t let you if you wanted to—even if you were willing to pay more for the benefit. (When comparing ISPs to “backbone” providers, meaning the really fast and high density “pipes” that are essentially ISPs for ISPs, smaller ISPs sometimes complain that they are less equal than bigger ISPs, so the market place is already at work.)

It may come as a surprise that the biggest bandwidth hogs on the Internet are p2p file sharing networks and Bit Torrent servers. Understanding the implications of these “neutral” policies and practices as they apply to illegal file bartering (the euphemism this writer prefers over illegal file “sharing” as it is a more accurate description of the commerce that is occurring) requires digging a little bit beneath the surface of what goes on when a file is transmitted over the Internet, a “packet switched network”.

It’s important to realize that when we view our email program sending an email, for example, what we are viewing is a graphical rendering of what is “really” happening under the hood on the Internet. An email and any file attachment, or the packets being transmitted over a link created by a file bartering network between two users–are broken down in elements called “packets”. A file attachment we “see” may be megabytes in size, but when broken down into a packet, each packet will be between 1,000 and 1,500 bytes regardless of the size of the original file.

Each packet creates a header file and footer file for the packet that is wrapped around the “payload” which is part of the original file that is being transmitted. The header file has information that describes the packet to the network, which includes the length of packet, synchronization data that help the packet match up to the network, a unique packet number (which packet this is in a sequence of packets), the protocol (i.e., the type of packet being transmitted, such as e-mail, a Web page, streaming audio), a destination DNS address (where the packet is going) and the originating DNS address (where the packet came from). Privacy advocates (aka illegal file barterers) will have issues with how accurate the DNS addresses might be and whether anyone can actually tell anything about the payload, but we will leave the complications and consequences of encryption to one side for the moment.

When using peer-to-peer clients and networks, huge numbers of packets are being transmitted around the Internet. Even though BitTorrent (using “swarming” techniques) greatly reduce network load because it permits peers to download files from each other—at the packet level—instead of from a central file server. As peers using BitTorrent begin to receive packets from the “seeder” (or the first client to download a file), they begin to share them among all peers over the peer network until each peer has a copy of the file.

BitTorrent is, however, an extraordinary bandwidth hog because the “overhead” required to keep it running is exponential to the number of connections and the speed of those connections on the peer-to-peer network. If you want to delve into this deeper, I have included some links below, but for our purposes of discussing packet pricing, accept the premise that file bartering takes up a huge amount of ISP bandwidth resources. Some have estimated it is as high as 90%, and one would have to assume that nearly all of this traffic is illegal. As one ISP operator notes “…One student, [using Bit Torrent or p2p networks] without bandwidth restrictions, could easily soak up 10 Mbps of continuous backbone bandwidth, which in our location can cost as much as $6,000 per month wholesale…. That’s why we were among the first ISPs to implement P2P mitigation. Had we not done so, those users — perhaps unwittingly, because many of them did not realize that they were transmitting as well as receiving illegal copies of music — would have choked off those engaged in legitimate activities and we would have lost theirbusiness. Many P2P applications, upon discovering an unfettered fast “pipe,” quickly make the computers on which they’re running major hubs in the P2P network, consuming all the bandwidth they can.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Knowledge, Creative Commons and other front groups that make up the global web of Professors Lawrence Lessig’s and Terry Fisher’s global anti-copyright campaign have fought to protect illegal file bartering around the world, and will probably contest such a figure with a variety of arguments based on dubious theories of “fair use” and the like. Even so, if you use the 90/10 rule that closely approximates the arguments of the EFF in the Grokster case, 90% of the activity is illegal, so it is probably safe to say that approximately 70% of the bandwidth on the Internet is used for illegal activities.

A reasonable person might inquire as to why so much illegal activity can go on over the infrastructure owned and operated by legitimate companies. Is there nothing that can be done about it? Some would say nothing can be done to identify these illegal packets because they can be encrypted. More about this later.

The fundamental reason that massive file bartering can continue is that it doesn’t cost users anything more to use their high speed Internet accounts to send an email to their granddaughter as it does their granddaughter to illegally download 5 gigabytes a day of copyrighted materials.

One can easily understand why the Lessig/Fisher cabal supports “net neutrality” given their continued support of massive copyright infringement through “nodding and winking” litigation. However, it is easy to see how Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand could be used to make free riders pay for their use of the Internet for illegal purposes.

Many BitTorrent and p2p connections are excruciatingly slow as it is. Imagine if end users of these products found themselves dumped to the end of the line unless they wanted to pay for higher speed connections. And for users who wish to encrypt the files they barter out of “privacy” concerns, they would be free to do that, but they would go even further back in the queue. The very, very end, in fact.

Therefore—price ranking alone might cause many illegal users to find ways to illicitly barter copyrighted materials somewhere other than out in the open on the ISP’s networks.

Of course, in the Skippy Dot Com world of price competition in a “gas war” style race to the bottom, the cost of excessive use of fast bandwidth would have to be great enough that ISPs would have no choice but to pass it along to end users. The idea is not to gouge consumers—the idea is to make free riders pay the freight, and to curtail excessive bandwidth usage that can best be attributed to illegal activity.

Can users (and their defenders in the EFF) come up with alternativereasons in speculating why someone might want to be using high levels of bandwidth for lawful purposes, or would “need” to encrypt packets for “privacy” concerns? Sure. Maybe the dog really did eat the homework. But if you ask ISPs privately, they will tell you they have a pretty good idea of where these packets are coming from and where they’re going.

So if you are an artist or someone who benefits from the creative community, understand that when the Lessig cabal try to get you to support “net neutrality” there’s nothing neutral about it all, and it is all of a piece in their campaign to crush our rights and our business. As the Nutty Professor put it succinctly in one of his anti-copyright diatribes: “We’re bigger than them [so if you contribute to EFF we will win].” Meaning they’re bigger than us, so they should get to have their way. He said it, I didn’t.

Description of p2p mitigation by ISP: http://www.interesting-people.org/archives/interesting-people/200504/msg00131.html

P2P Fuels Global Bandwidth Binge (Wired Magazine): http://www.wired.com/news/business/0,1367,67202,00.html

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