We were a bit surprised late last year to see that Senator Al Franken was supporting censoring the internet via COICA (which, yes, is about censoring the internet). After all, Franken has positioned himself as the “internet freedom” politician, and has spoken out repeatedly against attempts to limit speech on the internet. Ars Technica has an interview with Franken, where he delves into his support for COICA, noting that he’s heard from those who worry about censoring the internet, but in the end, he thinks it’s okay, because he’s from the movie/entertainment world, and he doesn’t seem to think they should have to adapt to the changing internet:
The other side of this, of course, is that this is about, essentially, stealing copyrighted material and selling counterfeit goods. This goes to tens of billions of dollars in theft. Some of the supporters of this were after the American Federation of TV and Radio Artists, the Screen Actors Guild, the Directors Guild… I happen to belong to all three of those unions. This doesn’t just affect the jobs of writers and directors and producers; when they’re free to steal all this intellectual material, it changes the business model of a movie. So it really costs the jobs of the technicians and the crew and the craft services people. It changes the entire business model for the industry. It’s not just movies and TV, it’s everything.
This is pretty disappointing, on any number of levels. First of all, his repeated use of the technically and legally incorrect words “stealing” and “theft” are troubling. Second, his repeating the totally debunked claims that this is somehow costing “tens of billions of dollars.” The GAO has already debunked those numbers as having little to no basis, and it’s disappointing that Franken would repeat them. But the key point is that yes, of course it changes the entire business model for the industry. But that’s what new technologies do. They change the business models for legacy companies and it’s not our government’s job to protect those legacy companies and their business models, even if our elected officials used to work for those companies.
That said, Franken does suggest that he’s heard many of the concerns about COICA and is focused on narrowing its focus significantly, saying that he has “tried to tighten the definition of who could be targeted under the bill” and in the recent hearing on COICA asked a series of questions to make sure that the bill “is narrowly tailored and will not unwittingly lead to the blocking of legitimate speech that is protected by the First Amendment.” The problem is that I’m not really sure there’s a way to do that effectively — especially when, prior to COICA passing, Homeland Security already seems to think it can seize domains without any First Amendment considerations, leading to plenty of perfectly legal speech being suppressed. Franken should know better than to think that a bill allowing internet censorship can be crafted to only take down speech of one kind.
- MasterCard’s Support for COICA Threatens A Free And Open Internet (censorshipinamerica.com)
- Can Senator Patrick Leahy Actually Provide The Proof That The COICA Censorship Law Is Needed? (censorshipinamerica.com)