More Crow, Please

Well, now I feel silly. Earlier this evening, I wrote a blog post about the boycott against the pro-SOPA crowd; SOPA is the bill to stop piracy on the Internet. I said that the boycott was a form of censorship when in fact a boycott is an exercise in free speech. I was 100% wrong, moreso because I’ve argued in favor of mass movements before.

The commenters on my post, namely Mary Hinge, Chris Dixon and Sasha Aickin, are 100% right.

Why did I say something wrong? Well the whole boycott just reminded me of my days in college, when I saw very strident people make it very difficult for someone to express an opposing view. Even though I was sort of a wanna-be hippie myself, I always empathized with the guy being shouted down by the other hippies.

The issue back then was political correctness. Yes, I am one of those people who believe that the words we use to describe people of different races and sexual orientation matter, but still I’ve never been comfy with the idea of political correctness. The pressure back then somehow felt to me like a violation of free speech, when really the pressure itself was a part of free speech.

And now it sometimes feels to me that we are using far more powerful levers, on Facebook and Twitter, to shout down the pro-SOPA people. It is totally legit, especially since they have pretty big levers too. I still think we’ll regret that we didn’t engage in a more civil way. Something should be done about piracy. No one who built the Internet seems to have serious intentions of doing it. Any action the government takes will be despised.

But businesses and financiers have the right to organize together to crush a bill, just as today’s Internet companies and venture firms are now doing, alongside the studios and producers on the other side.

I apologize for being stupid, but I wasn’t trying to be provocative. I was sincere in my stupidity, if that makes any sense. I have posted many, many times about Internet piracy because it bothers me more than most people, and posted even more often arguing for moderation generally, because I’ve lately been feeling like the whole world has gone mad.

But I was still wrong about whether the boycott was a violation or a shining example of free speech. It’s a shining example. If you have ever gotten into an argument in which you hoped your unassailable logic would slay the will to live of the other side, please print this blog post out. My will to live has been slain for the moment, and I can’t delete it so I just have to eat it.

Discussion

  • xander76

    See, now this? This is why I love reading you, because you'll engage, you'll fight, and you'll own up to it when things go south.

    >> My will to live has been slain for the moment

    Apologies for my part in that; my intent was never to slay or to embarrass, merely to have it out in our happy little corner of the Internet where words, ideas, and how you make the argument matter. 

    Happy Holidays, Glenn, and Peace.

  • http://www.commoncraft.com leelefever

    Good on ya Glenn. It says a lot about you that you are willing to change your position when confronted with alternative views. I wish we were all more willing to do the same. Enjoy the holidays!

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  • http://theharmonyguy.com/ theharmonyguy

    By the way, your last post also included this statement: “No one in software seems interested in that conversation: more than a month ago, we asked everyone opposed to the bill to suggest a better way to prevent piracy, and still no one has.” Since no one seemed to address it in the comments, I thought I'd note that an alternative bill has been proposed: http://keepthewebopen.com/

  • http://twitter.com/netik John Adams

    Apology or not, You've lost any chance of me ever doing business with Redfin.

    • http://blog.redfin.com GlennKelman

      That's your right John. Best of luck finding a home.

  • Pingback: Redfin CEO, Glenn Kelman shows us all how its done. | Vendor Alley

  • http://www.feld.com bfeld

    Glenn – I was going to comment on your previous post but I'm glad you've corrected your view in this post. Kudos for owning the mistake.

    The comment I was going to make challenged your paragraph:

    “I just don’t like bullies. Especially hypocritical bullies. If you actually believe in free speech, and not simply the free distribution of other people’s intellectual property, you should let journalists, law firms and investors exercise their rights to it alongside your own. And yes, working on a bill in an open, democratic process is a valid expression of speech.”

    If you've followed SOPA and the SOPA hearings, it's painfully clear that the SOPA supporters are playing the role of bully here. The bill was written without any serious engagement of the tech community. When they tech community responded openly and constructively (including me) we were ignored. The first house judiciary hearing was a sham – four out of five pro-SOPA testimonies and zero representation from anyone having anything to do with the Internet. Subsequently a number of technical people, including folks like Vint Cerf, came out with clear, thoughtful technical responses that were ignored.

    In last week's judiciary hearing, there were 60 or so amendments proposed, many addressing technical issues in the bill. The chair of the judiciary committee (Smith) is also the sponsor of the bill. Virtually every amendment was rejected and it was clear that they were rejected prior to any discussion from the dynamics and body language. It was actually painful to watch – I spent about three hours watching it on the web and got incredibly frustrated, which rarely happens to me.

    Then, the political maneuvering about trying to get it done this week was sad to see.

    I think the tech industry is being loud and clear because the politicians who want SOPA to go through are not following a thoughtful, rational, open, democratic process. To me, this became clear several months ago when I started trying to talk to Senators about PIPA and Congressmen about SOPA. At the point, we are using a mechanism of free speech available to us (at least for now <g>) to express our perspective.

    I agree with the basic notion that we should improve the dynamics and laws around piracy. But this is no where close to a rational, technical effective, fair, or balanced approach. 

    I'd be happy to personally go deep on this with you any time if you ever want. Having now spent a lot of time making sure I understand what is going on and what the legal issues are, I feel comfortable discussing the current state of SOPA (and PIPA) in depth. And they are both still very, very bad bills.

    Again, kudos for having the courage / willingness / style to own what you put out there. I make plenty of mistakes publicly and I have tons of respect for you as a result of these two posts.</g>

    • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

      What a bizarre comment: “zero representation from anyone having anything to do with the Internet.”

      So Google has nothing to do with the Internet?

      Learn something every day.

      • http://www.feld.com bfeld

        Wow – we are living in parallel universes. Google has been very clear about their opposition to these bills from the point at which the bills became public. A long list of tech companies have tried to engage in the past few months and much of their direct feedback, including conversations I've been involved in, have been ignored. The response from the house judiciary committee, especially from the chair, has been along the lines of “sorry – too late.”

        Have you listened to any of the public testimony? 

        Also, how do you reconcile your perspective when you hear the statements from Congressional supporters such as “I don't really understand this stuff but …” or “the tech communities response isn't based in fact in any way”, especially against the backdrop of key Internet architects explaining clearly how SOPA will break DNS?

        Finally, I don't understand your “wild claims, false charges, and distortions” rhetoric. There has been a lot written, including by very well respected legal scholars who study privacy and constitutional law, about SOPA discussing the problems in great detail. Several of these papers are extremely clear about what is fact and where the problems are.

        • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

          Google testified at the hearing that you say featured “zero representation from anyone having anything to do with the Internet.” So what is it, does Google have something to do with the Internet or doesn't it?

          The problem with the tech experts who have commented on the law – like the gang of five who believe SOPA breaks DNSSEC – is that they fail to understand what the bill requires. They believe SOPA requires redirection a la ICE, which would violate DNSSEC. But the bill is very clear that no action is required that affects DNSSEC.

          The enforcement steps that are needed can be accomplished by existing mechanisms in DNS RFC 1035 re: RCODE REFUSED. And note that the issue isn't plain DNS, it's only about DNSSEC. Also, some “Internet experts” like Vint Cerf have made idiotic statements about DNS that betray a lack of understanding of the modern Internet on his part. Things have changed a lot since Vint last did any engineering.

          The Administration is certainly reaching out to the tech community for responsible criticism as they form a position on SOPA. As the president has veto power, you're missing the boat if you aren't talking to them about your concerns.

          Regarding the legal criticisms, most of what's floating around by folks like Lemley, Post, Goldman, and Seltzer is their old recycled arguments against DMCA and even arguments Lessig made in the Eldred case. Most of that stuff has been refuted before, and a great deal has been ruled on by the courts, so it's just same-old, same-old. The first amendment doesn't give foreign web sites the right to sell bogus drugs and Hollywood movies without a license.

          The critics of IPR enforcement seem to have only two speeds: Either everything's fine or the end of the Internet is near. That's not really helpful.

          SOPA is a modest bill with very limited scope, with the exception of the search engine provisions, and it's a very good bet that Google has access to all the ears they need to reach to plead their case on that front.

          • http://www.feld.com bfeld

            I stand corrected – Google was the one non-SOPA supporter testifying at the 11/16/11 meeting. One hearing, many issues raised, no additional hearings, a managers markup introduced, and then immense pressure to move it out of committee, in spite of many thoughtful people and many tech companies opposing it.

            http://judiciary.house.gov/hea

            I just re-read Oyama's testimony and I think it's quite clear what is objectionable. And when I reflect on the managers amendment and the amendments at the SOPA hearing last week that I listened to part of, it's clear that very few if any of these issues have been addressed with much substance.

            I also am completely perplexed by your response. You say “The critics of IPR enforcement seem to have only two speeds: Either everything's fine or the end of the Internet is near. That's not really helpful.” and then you go on to basically say the critics of SOPA have nothing useful to say and SOPA is a modest bill with limited scope.” There are many, many people (including me) who don't agree that “SOPA is a modest bill with limited scope”, are very concerned about both the direct and unintended consequences, hence the uproar.

          • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

            I say it's a modest bill with limited scope because it only targets offshore Internet sites that are beyond the reach of DMCA. They operate where they do because they wish to engage in activities aimed at the US market which are illegal under US law. If you're investing in such companies, you deserve to lose every penny you've put into them, and if you aren't, you're going to be fine. Better than fine if you fund content creation.

            Every bill can be improved, tightened up, and focused, and every bill has unintended consequences. Congress meets year after year and the courts are in session all the time, so any errors of consequence will be dealt with in due course.

            At this point, there are still some due process issues to deal with and the whole search engine section needs to be cleaned up, but with the manager's amendment the bill is pretty well aligned with PIPA, a very clean bill.

            Most of the tech industry complaints at this point are coming from the bandwagon jumpers (the net neutrality crowd, Union Square, et al.) and the people who still believe piracy is the Internet's killer app. I think we've actually moved beyond that point and Internet apps can support themselves without Hollywood subsidizing them with free content. But we'll see.

            In any event, this is a thread about boycotts against SOPA supporters, and the very existence of a boycott movement against such a narrow bill tells me the critics have jumped the shark. Piracy is hardly comparable to the civil rights movement, and the very suggestion is deeply offensive to those of us who took part in it.

            If you want to understand the background of PIPA and SOPA, read the report that my colleagues and I wrote about piracy enforcement in Dec. 2009. All the key ideas for PIPA. SOPA, and OPEN are in it.

            http://itif.org/publications/s

  • jimkimmons

    Glenn,

    Nice back-tracking.  But, I would think that the big picture would be more represented in the comments.  Right or wrong, the Occupy movement and the rise of Libertarian, Constitutional, and third party arguments clearly shows that the general populace is getting fed up with the collusion between big business and the government “employees” we placed into office to look after the PEOPLE'S interests, not the big corporations. SOPA is being rammed through by highly profitable big business to increase their profits.  

    Sure, there's plagiarism and copying going on, but yet another poorly formulated law that's rammed through with guaranteed follow-up “unforeseen consequences” isn't the answer.  Bigger government, bigger debt, and our Congress and Senate are still pandering to big business.  With their self-granted immunity to insider trade, I'm sure that there is some big trading going on among our lawmakers related to this bill.  Any way that the small business and individual can fight back is a good thing.

  • Eponymous Coward

    Contrary to some of your commentors, I actually agree with your original instinct on this. Of course a boycott isn't censorship and it is a legitimate exercise of free speech. And of course anyone should be free to do business with or not do business with anyone they choose for whatever reason they choose. But, what really rubs me the wrong way about the boycotts and bans that have been organized over the past few days and why I agree that it's hypocritical is that the boycott is being done IN THE NAME OF PROTECTING FREE SPEECH. Basically, the Internet orthodoxy is currently threatening to pillory, spam, boycott and even ban anyone who disagrees with their view on SOPA, all in the name of protecting free speech. I imagine the politically correct wanna-be hippies from your college days never pretended to be defending free speech when they shouted people down over political correctness… in fact, political correctness is about curtailing free speech in favour of other human rights & values (primarily dignity). But to apply your free speech to coerce another's contradicts the idea of free speech… in other words, I have a problem with a position that says “I may not agree with what you say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it, unless I disagree with it or its contrary to my interests in which I'll organize a boycott against you to compel you to change your views.” 

    The fact that most of your commentors appear to be blind to even the irony or contradiction of this is concerning, and is one of the reasons I agree that the “debate” around SOPA is now being driven by emotional and idealogical considerations. Moreover, most commentators appear to be wildly misinformed as to what is actually in SOPA and what it will or will not do, primarily because they're relying on oversimplified accounts written and promoted by interested parties who are deliberately spinning it in a way that serves their interests. In fact, I'd say the “debate” over SOPA has been one of the worst examples of the kind of mob mentality groupthink that the Internet (and particularly social media) enables I've seen in a while.

  • http://twitter.com/mrgenixus Benjamin West

    I don't think anyone is trying to silence anyone engaged in a civilized discussion of this bill.  I don't think GoDaddy can argue they are interested in open discussion of the bill; they have closed comments on their official position on the bill; they have a right to control their message, but they also have the tech to take comments without publishing them.

    Regarding free speech; nobody has redirected GoDaddy's domain, defaced their website, or changed their message at all, they are free to speak about the bill, as they like.  To suggest that a boycott harms free-speech is a misunderstanding of 'free' and 'speech.'  You postulate that a boycott isn't a rhetorical argument, and that because it is a financial argument, made with the arms of financial power, you fail to acknowledge that GoDaddy has already established that it is making its argument the same way, with the money its customers pay. If you'll pardon a little hyperbole, we're not giving Iranian scientist food stamps; while GoDaddy's speech makes them our opponent in policy, giving them resources seems like a bad idea.

    To be clear, it is one thing, to stop resourcing someone you disagree with; it is another thing, entirely, to prevent them from speaking.  I support the right of my opponent to speak, absolutely: I will not support my opponent financially or resource his efforts where my resources can be used by him to avoid real debate.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    I'm sorry to see you buckle to the idiot wind, Glenn. The reason the YC “boycott” is wrong is that it prevents the startups from pitching to investors that it would be in their interest to speak with. It's not really a boycott.

    Choosing who to do business with is fine, but choosing who someone else can do business with is not at all fine. You were right the first time.

    • http://blog.redfin.com GlennKelman

      If I'd made that argument, I'd have been correct. But I made a free-speech argument.

      • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

        There are lots of free speech arguments on both sides, and it's kinda hard to sort them all out.

  • http://www.wac6.typepad.com William Carleton

    Glenn, somewhere between your two posts, perhaps, is the possibility that ire against Go Daddy and others was misdirected. That's not something you said, I know, but when you raise the phrase “political correctness” I think of ritualistic subscription to orthodoxy that's more about hierarchy in a caste than actually effecting change in the world. We should all be royally pissed about how broken democracy is at the federal level of our government. We should be talking about taking money out of politics, of throwing all the bums out, of reconstituting Congress in Cleveland or somewhere new and appointing representatives by lottery from among those nominated online – anything other than perpetuating a “fight fire with fire” trope.

    Anybody know what Christoper Dodd is doing for a living these days?

  • dplynx

    I don't think anything needs to be done about piracy, aka humans enaging freely in sharing culture. That you see it as a truism is already a sign that you haven't really thought through the difference between content and distribution. The internet has solved the problem of distribution in a new and better way; we don't need distribution companies anymore. When you are worried about stealing, you are really worried about the distribution companies' “right” to charge for sharing culture. And it is not a right they have at all.

    Try to look forward to a world without them. Once they are gone, how will we make culture and share it? If you only ask “how can we stop online piracy” your question presupposes a lot. You don't need to have a better idea to *fight piracy*, as if it's universally assumed that it's hurting creators and artists, or participants in culture, everywhere. It has not, and won't. We will not have a cultural collapse once all the record companies and movie studios are out of business. We will be logging onto the web sites a artists, entertainers, and troupes, and supporting them directly as we always have before they got in the way. And it will be a better, richer world than today.

    Giving the government Big Brother authority is not going to hold it back, by the way. But it would be a shameful, needless relic of a transitional era sure to be misused going forward, long after the original “problem” is gone.

    • valerick

      Agreed. I've yet to see a compelling fact-based argument against piracy. All data suggests it's good for everyone but the middlemen, artists and creators included. If the author believes something should be done, I think he ought to defend that statement.

    • http://blog.redfin.com GlennKelman

      How do we let people who create content sell it for money?

      • Robert Drummer

        The Kindle, Nook, Android and iTunes, et al stores do a fairly good job of providing content creators with the ability to sell for money.  Some have DRM and some don't.  

        In all cases, the content can be pirated easily but the ratio of time-to-low price-point allows many people to simply buy it rather than spend time trying to pirate.  Why take the time to record and torrent Glee if it's on Hulu 4 hours later?

        The growing use of in-app purchase of additional content is one way to make it even harder for pirates and easier for the honest consumer.  But the app middle-men, Amazon, Apple, Google fear losing their share of the revenue.

        Looking back on the tight control held by book publishers, record companies and movie producers it seems there has only been a shift from one distributor to another.  

        Providing useful devices and building an app economy around them are great for Apple, Amazon and Barnes and Noble and many smaller authors/artists are finding that to be a successful option.

        Robert Nay is the poster child of selling content for money. At 14 years old he wrote Bubble Ball and distributed 10 million copies then offered a pro version for $0.99.  Electronic Arts would never consider a game like that and if by some miracle they did, they'd offer a $10,000 up front payment with a contract that pushed all of the sales, marketing and distribution to the  author so he'd net $0.00000001 per sale.

        Now the content creator can self-publish/deliver and eliminate the need for a 30% cut (which is significantly better than “in the old days”).  The Louis CK story makes an excellent point:  http://www.readwriteweb.com/ar

        Jonathan Coulton and Pomplamoose have similar options with successful results.   

        Lessons:  Good content, fair pricing (or free with ads), open licensing.  

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    It is looking like the whole SOPA mess is heating up. People are digging into it even deeper, and with the rage and the time on their hands, expect more to come.

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