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HTTP 112 – Emergency. Censorship in action.
June 10, 2012 3:50 AM   Subscribe

Does HTTP need a status code for censorship? Perhaps

In essence, they argue that web servers should never knowingly falsify the reason an HTTP request is denied, citing the W3C specification's statement that "The 4xx class of status code is intended for cases in which the client seems to have erred."

Background : ISPs are being ordered to censor thepiratebay.se in the Netherlands and U.K.  These DNS blocks are easy to circumvent using tools that bypass nation level censorship, like MAFIAAFire, OpenNIC, OpenDNS, VPNReactor, commercial VPNs, Tor, etc.  The blocks have raised awareness of the U.K. and Dutch Pirate Parties, who ran proxies (recently). The Dutch Pirate Party's proxy was shutdown by the Dutch judge, who "[previously ran] a commercial anti-piracy outfit together with the [plaintiff]" (TF).
posted by jeffburdges (99 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
On Slashdot, it was cleverly suggested that error 451 be the error code for censorship.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 4:12 AM on June 10, 2012 [92 favorites]


Right, because downloading whole seasons of "The Big Bang Theory" or "The Mentalist" for free is an issue of free speech, and any judiciary which prevents this is a "repressive regime".
posted by Skeptic at 4:23 AM on June 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


If you live in England and have a tv then you will have paid for Big Bang Theory via the licence fee. Why should you have to pay again?
posted by marienbad at 4:33 AM on June 10, 2012 [12 favorites]


I know I'm certainly OK with the government having arbitrary website-shutdown powers. It's all in the service of protecting Chuck Lorre's intellectual property rights! Besides, it's not like they'd ever use those powers for anything else.
posted by billybunny at 4:37 AM on June 10, 2012 [13 favorites]


Also, Falkvinge and you both seem to be a little quick in accusing the Dutch judge of "running a commercial anti-piracy outfit together with the plaintiff". All that is shown in support for that assertion is that the judge was one of the teachers in a course, directed by the plaintiff's lawyer and offered within the framework of the official continuous learning system of the Dutch Bar Association, on "How to proceed and contract in IP matters". One of several subjects of the course was indeed "anti-piracy", but it is not even shown that the judge broached that matter, nor is it shown that the judge received money for that, nor that this would be in breach of the (quite stringent) Dutch conflict-of-interest regulations.

And does Falkvinge intend to stop an IP judge from giving courses or talks on matters related to IP law? Because that does sound like censorship.
posted by Skeptic at 4:42 AM on June 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Right, because downloading whole seasons of "The Big Bang Theory" or "The Mentalist" for free is an issue of free speech, and any judiciary which prevents this is a "repressive regime".

Calling the suppression of illegal communication "censorship" doesn't imply either of those things. The mods on MetaFilter are paid to censor bad comments, and that is awesome.
posted by LogicalDash at 4:44 AM on June 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you live in England and have a tv then you will have paid for Big Bang Theory via the licence fee. Why should you have to pay again?

Does The Pirate Bay ask you for a copy of your license fee receipt? No? I thought so.

Frankly, there are actual, worrying issues of Internet censorship and freedom of speech in the world, butputting people who just want to watch stuff for free at the same level as, say, a tortured dissident in a Syrian gaol, is, frankly speaking, quite despicable.
posted by Skeptic at 4:46 AM on June 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


If we go down the censorship path, how long will it be until it's illegal to even admit that copying a bitstream is possible?

Right now, you can be jailed for telling people where to get a bitstream, so it's really not that implausible.
posted by Malor at 4:47 AM on June 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


"butputting people who just want to watch stuff for free at the same level as, say, a tortured dissident in a Syrian gaol, is, frankly speaking, quite despicable."
posted by Skeptic

Who did that? Making hyperbolic bullshit comments is despicable.
posted by marienbad at 4:50 AM on June 10, 2012 [24 favorites]


There are several other current censorship topics I noticed around here :
- ACTA protests are continuing as the vote approaches.
- Google has an interesting new approach to censorship of search results in China.
- The RIAA wants extensive censorship powers from Google.

As an aside, there is some good stuff being promoted by ThePirateBay.se's Promo Bay program, check out their recent doodles.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:51 AM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Does The Pirate Bay ask you for a copy of your license fee receipt? No? I thought so.

When I get my Internet connection automatically cut off for "piracy", does anyone bother to check first to see if I have a licence to have what I'm downloading? No. I thought not.
posted by Jimbob at 4:51 AM on June 10, 2012 [23 favorites]


putting people who just want to watch stuff for free at the same level as, say, a tortured dissident in a Syrian gaol, is, frankly speaking, quite despicable.

Interestingly, the technology that enables both is the same. Tor. Distributed networks like Bittorrent. I don't trust the authorities to tell the good from the bad.
posted by Jimbob at 4:52 AM on June 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Frankly, there are actual, worrying issues of Internet censorship and freedom of speech in the world, butputting people who just want to watch stuff for free at the same level as, say, a tortured dissident in a Syrian gaol, is, frankly speaking, quite despicable.

"Using the same word to describe" is not the same as "putting on the same level." Also, in response to your previous comment, you should know that the actions the governments have taken are beyond disallowing the illegal downloading of TV episodes. I cannot even go to Pirate Bay (without VPN) to see what's there, because I live in the Netherlands and have Ziggo as my ISP. So the government is telling me that I cannot even see what's there to form an opinion about it (and what's there is NOT illegal content, but rather links to illegal content; but this doesn't form all the content of Pirate Bay). Everything on Pirate Bay is blocked.

I do not, as a rule, download TV episodes I don't purchase. Why should I, as a citizen, not be able to go to Pirate Bay and inform myself? Going to Pirate Bay is not an illegal act.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 4:54 AM on June 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


I guess, in Skeptic's ideal world, you have rights only as long as they're convenient for large corporations.
posted by Malor at 5:13 AM on June 10, 2012 [11 favorites]


In Australia, the Government has been holding secret negotiations between ISPs and copyright-holders to try to work out a "solution" to the problem of file-sharing. The other day they finally agreed to invite someone to represent the interests of consumers, so they found this guy (who just happens to be responsible for pushing the interests of rights-holders as chair of the Copyright Council, after helping to found the Copyright Agency Limited). He did step down after the absurdity of this was pointed out, but it's pretty clear whose side the government is on.

On Slashdot, it was cleverly suggested that error 451 be the error code for censorship.

Ha, perfect! How can this be made to happen?
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 5:21 AM on June 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


There are topics we deem acceptable for censorship, like racist speech in Europe, but the courts should not order deception about their own involvement. In fact, these courts aren't afaik ordering these false 404 results, that's the ISPs simply being lazy or fearful, making this a W3C standards issue.

I suppose the W3C standards already vaguely address this issue by saying "The 4xx class of status code is intended for cases in which the client seems to have erred". An ISP could comply with both the court blocking orders and the W3C standard though.

Google has traditionally linked chillingeffects.org when courts censor their search results. A DNS block requires a virtual host configuration entry though, not simply a URL.

Anyone know if any ISPs redirect thepiratebay.se to a subdomain of pirateparty.org.uk or piratenpartij.nl, presumably they'd happily create virtual hosts entry that explain the blocking.

I believe that a "451 censorship" error message would ultimately mean that chillingeffects.org or ISPs might need to provide this virtual hosts configuration, but that's long term. For now, we need a campaign to convince ISPs to redirect censored thepiratebay.de traffic to the appropriate pirate party.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:29 AM on June 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


There is one good reason to associate the blocking of filesharing sites in wealthy countries to the abuse and suppression of dissent in politically unstable countries: when confronted, oppressive regimes can point to the hypocritical stance of their accusers, muddying the waters. I'd love to see evidence that this has explicitly happened, but I couldn't find any.

That said, I can't say I feel indignant when I hear of filesharing sites being blocked.

To those who want to watch the latest blockbuster, TV series or grab that must-read novel, I suggest finding more obscure media to consume. You'll feel proud and excited that you're enjoying something that not many other people see (or 'get'), you may well pay less (due to lower demand, or more progressive distributors that don't price gouge) and you're supporting the huge pool of talent that wasn't in quite the right place to be picked up to waddle around Westeros uttering banal witticisms.
posted by Talkie Toaster at 5:36 AM on June 10, 2012


Yeah, there's tons of stuff to consume that was published before 1923.
posted by Edogy at 5:59 AM on June 10, 2012


Aren't these domain blocks happening at the DNS level? If so, then the answer is no, HTTP doesn't need an error code. It's a DNS error and the ISP shouldn't be returning anything.
posted by rh at 6:19 AM on June 10, 2012


I guess, in Skeptic's ideal world, you have rights only as long as they're convenient for large corporations.

And it would seem that in Malor's ideal world corporations and content creators have rights only if enforcing them isn't inconvenient for consumers.
posted by yoink at 6:22 AM on June 10, 2012


If you live in England and have a tv then you will have paid for Big Bang Theory via the licence fee.

"Big Bang Theory" airs on Channel 4 in the UK. Channel 4 supports its activities with advertising and is not funded (like the BBC) via the licence fee. I'm sure that, knowing this, you will now cease to download pirated copies of "The Big Bang Theory" or any other Channel 4 programming which you mistakenly understood yourself to have prepurchased.
posted by yoink at 6:29 AM on June 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


Anyone who wants to watch "Big Bang Theory" bad enough to pirate it ought to be put in jail.
posted by crunchland at 6:36 AM on June 10, 2012 [10 favorites]


only if enforcing them isn't inconvenient for consumers.

Citizens. We're called citizens.
posted by Jimbob at 6:39 AM on June 10, 2012 [43 favorites]


I have a lot of sympathy for this, and it's interesting that people are concentrating on the social aspect without considering how returning a 40x error can break the internet.

I use a website monitoring facility that text messages me if my websites stop working. These websites are monitored from locations in the UK and the US.

If a website I owned was ever blocked in one of these two locations, the website monitoring facility would essentially be worthless to me. The website would flag automatically as down.

At least with a specific code (451 is OK for this, but I'd prefer a code beginning with a different number), the people who run this service would be able to differentiate between "Your website is no longer working" and "Your government has blocked access to this site."

I'd even prefer a 30x code to a 40x code.

FWIW, calling it a censorship return code is politically stupid. If anyone is going to have a say in which code should be reported, then it's going to be the people who insist that the site not be shown. Call it "601 - Site censored", and they're going to continue to use 40x codes. Call it "601 - Website Blocked", and at least there's a chance it'll get implemented.
posted by zoo at 6:45 AM on June 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Allowing technology to be tampered with to prevent piracy will never work and will be a game of whack-a-mole at best. It's a waste of resources and adds an undo burden to legitimate usage. In addition, once the technology is controlled by someone, they will always use that control to promote any other agenda they have. For example, being forced to watch previews before the movie on a DVD.
posted by Bort at 6:49 AM on June 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


What I can't fathom is why these activists-if they are truly concerned about government censorship and actual liberty-insist on being known as 'pirate' parties.

Although I tend to agree with Skeptic and yoink's viewpoint on all of this, I can concede that there are some legitimate arguments to be made on the other side.

But when the battleground is file sharing and the martyrs people like Kim Dotcom, it's hard to think of this as anything other than people wanting something for nothing. And then becoming indignant when the owners of property try to prevent theft.

Do other people have more positive impressions of the word 'pirate'? All I can think of is semi-organized bands of thieves. And when the battleground is file sharing, that really is not a positive mental primer.
posted by graphnerd at 6:52 AM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well I definitely like parties.
posted by XMLicious at 6:58 AM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Citizens. We're called citizens.

It's a fundamental right of all citizens to watch "The Big Bang Theory" whenever the hell and however the hell we want to--without paying for it? Seriously? You know, back when I was a kid and occasionally shoplifted sweets and such because--hey--it sure as hell was inconvenient that I wanted some sweets and I didn't have the money to pay for them--I wish I'd had this wonderful guilt-erasing argument to marshal in my defense. If I want something then it ought to be provided to me for free, anything else is tyranny!

If you live in England and have a tv then you will have paid for Big Bang Theory via the licence fee. Why should you have to pay again?

Another point about this comment: even if it were true that the licence fee paid for the airing of "The Big Bang Theory" in the UK, that would not be a justification for UK citizens pirating copies of the show. What would have been paid for with your licence fee is the right to air the program at the agreed upon occasions on the BBC. To argue that paying for a limited-use right automatically grants you unlimited access is like refusing to return a rental car to the agency because you "already paid for it."
posted by yoink at 7:06 AM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Anyone else depressed that most of this conversation has been about pirate bay and unauthorized content download while apparently UK ISPs are arbitrarily returning 404 for *Wikipedia* pages?
posted by R343L at 7:10 AM on June 10, 2012 [26 favorites]


Who did that? Making hyperbolic bullshit comments is despicable.

I suggest you check the links in the FPP, with their talk of "repressive regimes", or the first comment about a "451 error code". That suggestion is particularly classy, on the week of Ray Bradbury's death, and considering his rather robust views on copyright and the Internet.

Anyway, my point was just that hyperbolic bullshit isn't very helpful, and these protests are rather full of it.

"Big Bang Theory" airs on Channel 4 in the UK. Channel 4 supports its activities with advertising and is not funded (like the BBC) via the licence fee.

Also, if he wants to download any BBC content, I'd suggest using the BBC's own iPlayer rather than the Pirate Bay...
posted by Skeptic at 7:13 AM on June 10, 2012


To the .onions!

(People interested in TBBT, pirated or otherwise, are not welcome.)
posted by kengraham at 7:13 AM on June 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yes, R343L, this thread was hijacked. It's sort of a microcosmic version of the approach taken in a lot of proposed legislation -- pretend it's about copyright in order to establish a legal environment in which censorship and mass surveillance are possible later.

I don't think it is good to pirate stuff (a lot of the stuff that gets pirated is not even good to cosume). I also think "content creators" should think more carefully about what copy rights they assert and by what means and under what licenses they distribute stuff.
posted by kengraham at 7:21 AM on June 10, 2012 [9 favorites]


You know, back when I was a kid and occasionally shoplifted sweets and such because--hey--it sure as hell was inconvenient that I wanted some sweets and I didn't have the money to pay for them--I wish I'd had this wonderful guilt-erasing argument to marshal in my defense.

Discussion about the false analogy between stealing a physical object and copying and consuming digital media without authorization is very common. You're either willfully ignoring those arguments, or are uninformed.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 7:22 AM on June 10, 2012 [17 favorites]


The mods on MetaFilter are paid to censor bad comments, and that is awesome.

Yes, but who mods the mods huh? Think about it.
posted by the noob at 7:22 AM on June 10, 2012


What I can't fathom is why these activists-if they are truly concerned about government censorship and actual liberty-insist on being known as 'pirate' parties.

That's a good question. I checked wiki. The first "Pirate Party" was founded by a group called Piratbyrån that was a Swedish organization (or think tank) established to support people opposed to current ideas about intellectual property. The same group founded The Pirate Bay.

Also from wiki:
Piratbyrån is the Swedish version of the Danish organization PiratGruppen, so named because it was founded to oppose the lobbyism of the Danish anti-piracy group AntiPiratGruppen. The "pirate" label, which had been used by the media and film industries in campaigns against copyright infringement, is therefore a reappropriation of the word.

I wouldn't join the Pirate Party (I don't think), but I tend to see them like I do the various militia groups. I think they're extreme, but I share some of the core beliefs and am glad they are there to keep the powers that be in check (the extend of which is surely debatable).
posted by Bort at 7:26 AM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do other people have more positive impressions of the word 'pirate'? All I can think of is semi-organized bands of thieves. And when the battleground is file sharing, that really is not a positive mental primer.

Well "piracy" to mean any kind of unauthorized or improper copying is nearly as old as the printing press, which predates Blackbeard and a lot of the kinds of pirates you are imagining. And anyway, I think part of the reason the term is losing a lot of its stigma is that it's being used in more and more broad contexts. As recently as 20 years ago or so, "pirates" were generally organized black market producers of physical copies of things who did it for profit. The average person did not really identify themselves as being lumped in with the sorts of people who sold illegal VHS copies on the street or ran pirate radio stations. These days it's increasingly being used to describe the consumers of illegal copies, rather than the profit-making producers, and the number of consumers of illegal copies is massive. For people under 30 who have Internet access I would say probably 90%+ have done something that would be considered piracy these days at some point, especially if you count things like watching a video on YouTube that isn't authorized by the copyright holder.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:28 AM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


yoink:

Legally, you may be correct in the license fee *only* licensing the BBC-allotted viewing scenario. However, the whole point of this and any other copyright law is to aid the financial needs of artists of various kinds.

If the artist is getting paid sufficiently, I really can't see a moral reason *not* to allow any and all filesharing of their content.
posted by leviathan3k at 7:36 AM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well "piracy" to mean any kind of unauthorized or improper copying is nearly as old as the printing press, which predates Blackbeard and a lot of the kinds of pirates you are imagining.

That is not what the Online Etymological Dictionary says.
posted by XMLicious at 7:36 AM on June 10, 2012


Is the U.K. currently wikipedia?
posted by jeffburdges at 7:42 AM on June 10, 2012


i don't see how this could work on a practical level because i'd think that anyone who'd want to censor a webpage could mimic some other kind of error, and isn't part of the point of censorship that you don't want people to know that they're being censored? so while i'd love to be able to see which pages were censored or not, i don't think this is the solution.
posted by cupcake1337 at 7:44 AM on June 10, 2012


Here's a nice article on the origin of the word pirate.
posted by Bort at 7:49 AM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


If anyone is going to have a say in which code should be reported, then it's going to be the people who insist that the site not be shown.

Doesn't compute. The people censoring get to force me to run my business in some specific manner, aside from just telling me what stuff I can't show? And dictate to the W3 people what their error codes should mean? That sounds like a much larger scope of authority.

"Block this site. Also, display this specific message. And don't tell them that we censored it, just make it look like the site is down."

My ISP would redirect the blocked requests to a full informational page with links explaining who ordered the censorship and why, how to contact them, links to how DNS works and how you can change your computer's settings, etc.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:54 AM on June 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Meatbomb! Who is your ISP?
posted by kengraham at 7:58 AM on June 10, 2012


If the artist is getting paid sufficiently, I really can't see a moral reason *not* to allow any and all filesharing of their content.

a) who determines if the artist is getting paid "sufficiently"?
b) why should "somebody" ensure that the artist be paid "sufficiently", and everybody else get a free ride?
c) if you allow " any and all filesharing", who exactly would be paying the artist "sufficiently?
posted by Skeptic at 7:58 AM on June 10, 2012


kengraham - sorry, poor phrasing. I meant, "the ISP that I would theoretically be in charge of would do this..."

And I am in Malaysia, so I am already actively thwarting national firewalls to obtain my pornography and copyrighted media.
posted by Meatbomb at 8:02 AM on June 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ah, I see, Meatbomb. You had me excited that these intriguing people had something up and running, or something.

(I almost always use Tor, on principle, but I haven't "been" to Malaysia yet...)
posted by kengraham at 8:29 AM on June 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


The HTTP return codes seem to assume the network between client and server is transparent. Other than successfully return the server response, the only thing the network should do is lose either the request or response. In which case your request will time-out and fail.

This censorship is a whole new type of beast — the network is fully functional but never delivers the request. It really does deserve a whole new class of codes.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:58 AM on June 10, 2012


Is it appropriate to apologize for RErailing the topic? Surely this isn't about whether stealing copyrighted content is right or not. It's about whether censorship should be open or deceptive.

Currently, when the organization in question censors content, it deceives the person trying to access that content by essentially saying that the website is down. The argument is whether it is better for the censoring organization to be clear that the information is censored a la Meatbomb's idealized example.

It seems obvious to me from the point of view of freedom, democracy etc. that we as citizens should know when content is being blocked. Anything less sends us down a very dark path.
posted by merocet at 9:01 AM on June 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


There is a difference between what plaintiffs seeking to censor might want and what the courts will give them, cupcake1337.

It's completely reasonable that censored sites should be redirected to virtual hosts on chillingeffects.org, eff.org, etc. because censorship should not be presented as a technical fault.

We certainly should not let censors simply steal the domain names either obviously. You'll observe that even FBI takedown banners provide enough information so that a Google search explains the takedown.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:20 AM on June 10, 2012


I like the term The Pirate Party. It's taking back a term that was stolen by large corporations like Disney that squeezed the public domain dry and then paid congress to remove that right from others.

Similar to queer and other terms minority groups are taking back ownership of, The Pirate Party is doing the same for pirate.

And I know there are some who are blowing a gasket at a comparison of the pirate party to older civil rights battles. But the same complaints were leveled (still are actually) against GLBT causes. And the growing influence of TPP shows it's answering a need.

Copyright and IP is a critical, maybe the most critical issues facing us in the future. We need a counterpoint to forces like Monsanto.
posted by formless at 9:45 AM on June 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


[Dear well-meaning folks. I am not sure if it is better to just not have these conversations or to have them be the continual war of the same people arguing the same things. Make an effort or go to MetaTalk if you want to complain about being silenced all your life, but this is a big community and these threads need to go better than they currently do. jeffburdges: I appreciate that this is a pet topic of yours but maybe try to make your posts a little more "here is something interesting" and less "ZOMG CENSORSHIP" regardless of how you personally feel about the matter. Those posts will go better here.]
posted by jessamyn at 10:05 AM on June 10, 2012


Perhaps we should ask the Chinese and the Iranians what the accepted best practice is? They've probably worked out the details by now.
posted by acb at 10:18 AM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


It seems obvious to me from the point of view of freedom, democracy etc. that we as citizens should know when content is being blocked. Anything less sends us down a very dark path

The path of having to watch commercials with "Two and a Half Men."

#firstworldproblems
posted by Ironmouth at 11:16 AM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


What the mods do on metafilter is not censorship - it's a private forum run by private individuals. Right to free speech does not extend to making others broadcast your speech for you.

What *is* censorship is the UK courts deciding that ISPs are responsible for what speech their users are allowed to see - and that the courts can order those same ISPs what is and isn't allowed.

We can argue whether thepiratebay.se or newbinz2 are legal sites or otherwise - and since they're not hosted in the UK, it seems a fairly irrelevent point as to whether or not they break UK laws by hosting links to potentially infringing content - but the courts giving themselves the power to decide what the population is and isn't allowed to read is a worrying development.

Note, alleged child porn websites - such as wikipedia - aren't blocked by court order. A charity, the Internet Watch Foundation, classifies sites as child pornography, and ISPs choose to filter those sites; or not. Some do, some don't.

First they came for child pornography - and blocked part of wikipedia as a result. Then then came for alleged contributors to copyright infringement. Then they came for what next? Political speech by say, the British National Party because it's hate speech? Political speech by the Pirate Party because it opposes excessive copyright infringement action?

Yeah, there's tons of stuff to consume that was published before 1923. And there will be nothing be anything newer than that date that will ever now enter the public domain as it was expected to do so when the work was created. Copyright is a limited term right, to encourage more content in the public domain by granting a limited monopoly. Recognising that copyright abridges free speech - you can hear or see something, but not repeat it - is a price that is paid for a time to get more work in the public domain in the first place.

Copyright is not a property right. It never has been. You create something, you get to control its distribution for a while to make it worth your effort in creating it in the first place, and then, as the terms were when you created it, it goes into the public domain for everyone to use and build new works on.

And yet, now that compact is broken, and copyright law is used to justify censorship - I don't know if you've ever read some of the polemic responses to DMCA notices levelled against what was a swedish hosted website that wasn't subject to US law - but that was speech, political speech, that is now censored in the UK by court ruling. Copyrighted works will never enter the public domain, despite the current law, because that law will be changed every time Steamboat Willy might enter it.

If copyright owners expect the general public to respect their exclusive copyrights, they might bear in mind that they were the ones who broke the deal first by killing off the lifeblood of the public domain, a place they themselves draw inspiration from. Then progressive lobbied for harsher and harsher penalties against private copyright infringement. Then lobbied the courts to enact censorship.

We have the technological capability to give every human being on the planet access to a library of every word every written that still survives, every song ever sung, every play ever performed, every film ever filmed. We could give everyone access to every piece of culture they ever grew up with, access to every thing that anyone thought was worth committing to the record. We could do this cheaply, and simply. We could end the countless destruction of archives, lost materials, locked up works that are lost through neglect because they're not profitable to be kept in print.

Yet making sure that nothing enters the public domain again, in order that large corporations can continue to make the same profit margins acting as gateways to content vaults, and when that fails, censoring those who link to that same content? That's what some will stand up and defend.

I hope you'll be just as happy when Google and every other search engine gets the same treatment because you can just easily find a torrent link there, such as when google has had to remove links to news sites in the netherlands. When Youtube and every other video site is shut down, as viacom wants to. When publishing your own website becomes impossible, because someone might post an anonymous comment in it, ala New York. Where being accused if sharing copyright content gets you shut off from the internet with no judge, jury or evidence, as is happening in France with Hadopi.

When laws like the DMCA make even discussing the existence of a digital lock illegal, let alone how to break it.

Where laws like SOPA mean any website can be disappeared off the internet without oversight, even if it's fully 100% legal - like dejaz1.com. Where citizens of other countries can be raided, their servers shut down, their accounts frozen so they can't even pay for lawyers, and all their personal data shipped overseas without any judicial oversight or restriction as is happening to megaupload despite not a thing having yet been proven against them in court.

Where the great chinese firewall is not something to be condemned, but emulated.

Yes, it's a slippery slope - and we're already sliding down it at ever faster speeds to try making it so that nobody, nowhere, gets to read or see something they haven't paid the appropriate per-person per-view fee for - on the bigest network for sharing information and knowledge humanity has ever built.

What a marvellous use of our time and technology.
posted by ArkhanJG at 11:19 AM on June 10, 2012 [22 favorites]


Much of the furor over child pornography, I'm convinced, is just a tactic to make censoring the internet seem reasonable to more people. It's not that it doesn't exist or that some people don't get off on it, it's that it's wildly overblown as a problem, and as is the case with many things, there is no better way to cause big problems you don't personally care about or secretly want to cause than to make a loud media noise about something a lot of people have a visceral reaction to.
posted by JHarris at 11:21 AM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


What the mods do on metafilter is not censorship - it's a private forum run by private individuals. Right to free speech does not extend to making others broadcast your speech for you.

Well... actually it kind of is censorship, it's just not legal or government censorship.

Actually this is one of those arguments that crops up on Metafilter periodically and causes a spirited derail (which I have, admittedly, participated in sometimes) so, this time, I went and checked a few sources. Most do not make a distinction between government or private sources. Here is Wikipedia's first paragraph on "censorship," which to me seems very good:
Censorship is the suppression of speech or other public communication which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or inconvenient as determined by a government, media outlet, or other controlling body. It can be done by governments and private organizations or by individuals who engage in self-censorship. It occurs in a variety of different contexts including speech, books, music, films and other arts, the press, radio, television, and the Internet for a variety of reasons including national security, to control obscenity, child pornography, and hate speech, to protect children, to promote or restrict political or religious views, to prevent slander and libel, and to protect intellectual property. It may or may not be legal. Many countries provide strong protections against censorship by law, but none of these protections are absolute and it is frequently necessary to balance conflicting rights in order to determine what can and cannot be censored.
posted by JHarris at 11:30 AM on June 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


And just in case you think the UK wouldn't use such technology for actual censorship you don't agree with - such as political speech; It wasn't very long ago that Sinn Fein - a political party with ties to the IRA, now a large part of government in Northern Ireland - was banned from being broadcast. From 1988-1994, Gerry Adams and other members of Sinn Fein could not legally be heard on the BBC or other media. There were related police investigations and searches of journalists.

If the internet had been widespread back then, you can bet the Sinn Fein website would have been ordered onto ISP blacklists.
posted by ArkhanJG at 11:33 AM on June 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


That's debatable - certainly certain Sinn Fein members voices were banned but it was commonplace to hear their words read by actors. It is not at all clear therefore that the written word would be banned.

Regardless, it was clearly ridiculous to ban voices only, one way or the other.
posted by edd at 11:51 AM on June 10, 2012


it's hard to think of this as anything other than people wanting something for nothing.

Yes wanting to know when something is being censored or not is wanting something for free.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 12:16 PM on June 10, 2012


I believe China has cited the suppression of Occupy Wall St. as an example of American hypocrisy concerning freedom of expression, Talkie Toaster, but presumably China doesn't even worry about justifying their internet censorship.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:07 PM on June 10, 2012


I really like the idea of the "601 - website blocked" HTTP status code. For one thing, as zoo points out, it might actually get implemented, and it serves the same goal: letting the user know that the've been prevented from viewing the content, rather than implying that the content does not exist. In fact, if the government is serious about claiming that it is censoring for the right reasons, they shouldn't really object to this. Thinking about this from an Australian perspective, if the Office of Film and Literature Classification is willing to post a list of its classification decisions, and this list includes "refused classification" content, there's really no reason why they should have a problem with an internet user being informed that the page they were attempting to view is banned. After all, this provides a method by which the government can get community feedback regarding its decisions, which they're supposedly in favour of. If Wikipedia pages start producing 601 errors, people can and should feel entitled to complain. But a 404 error doesn't provide the same cue, and the censorship become invisible to the user. To the extent that the government is allowed to censor internet content in the public interest, it should be required to disclose when it is doing so. I can see the argument in favour of openly stated censorship in some contexts (insert the standard "child abuse argument" here, or some other extreme case if you like). I really can't see any legitimate reason for *silently* censoring content.
posted by mixing at 2:29 PM on June 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


As an aside, there is a Pirate Party shirt that quotes the confusing phrase "Eine Zensur findet nicht statt" from Artikel 5 of the German constitution. I'd expect the word verboten, saying "censorship is forbidden", but instead it says simply "there is no censorship". I never quite figured out if the Pirates were playing some subtle word game though, maybe taking that phrase out of context equated Zensursula with Stalinist linguistics or something, probably not but..

In this vein, I could imagine authorities refusing to acknowledge that their censorship was actually censorship, so maybe the W3C standard and IE could say "website blocked", while FireFox and/or Chrome actually say "Website censored". ;)
posted by jeffburdges at 3:05 PM on June 10, 2012


Well... actually it kind of is censorship, it's just not legal or government censorship.

As far as Metafilter goes, it is censorship if you like the person being censored, and it's not censorship if you don't like the person being censored. As many Metatalk threads have demonstrated, people cannot and will not fairly connect the process and result of corporate and government censorship with what moderators do on this site to shut down factual comments from unpopular commenters.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:16 PM on June 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Chrome would never say "Website censored". It would record the URL, stick you in the "censored-site reader" list, and send it back to Google, who would later serve you some ads for Guy Fawkes masks and Che Guevara T-shirts.
posted by kengraham at 3:46 PM on June 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


IRONMOUTH The path of having to watch Two and a Half Men at all would be pretty dark. I can only imagine that the advert breaks would be blessed relief.
posted by merocet at 4:27 PM on June 10, 2012


Frankly, there are actual, worrying issues of Internet censorship and freedom of speech in the world, butputting people who just want to watch stuff for free at the same level as, say, a tortured dissident in a Syrian gaol, is, frankly speaking, quite despicable.

The technology and solutions are the same. Break one, you break the other. Succeed in blocking one, you succeed in blocking the other. We are going to have to decide whether we want a censored internet, or one with piracy.

Also, I'm tired of all the whinig about creators. Some creators don't care about piracy, the rest, meh. If the want to stop producing entirely its fine with me, ill survive just fine without new episodes of big bang theory (which isn't much of a sacrafice, since I've never seen one)
posted by delmoi at 6:19 PM on June 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Censorship is the suppression of speech or other public communication which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or inconvenient as determined by a government, media outlet, or other controlling body. It can be done by governments and private organizations or by individuals who engage in self-censorship. It occurs in a variety of different contexts including speech, books, music, films and other arts, the press, radio, television, and the Internet for a variety of reasons including national security, to control obscenity, child pornography, and hate speech, to protect children, to promote or restrict political or religious views, to prevent slander and libel, and to protect intellectual property. It may or may not be legal. Many countries provide strong protections against censorship by law, but none of these protections are absolute and it is frequently necessary to balance conflicting rights in order to determine what can and cannot be censored.

I could care less what joe blow thinks the definition is. The word comes from a Roman government office.

People who think they have a right to defy another person's right to set the contractual terms of their artistic output don't understand the idea of rights in the first place. Why doesn't it surprise e that when people want something for free they become suddenly ignorant.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:29 PM on June 10, 2012


The word comes from a Roman government office.

Wow, and do you think that all english words that came from latin have the same meaning that they did in rome?

Or do you belive that we are actually speaking latin at this moment?

Either way, you are obviously incorrect.
posted by delmoi at 6:44 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


the noob: "The mods on MetaFilter are paid to censor bad comments, and that is awesome.

Yes, but who mods the mods huh? Think about it.
"

This guy.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:03 PM on June 10, 2012


Blazecock Pileon: "with what moderators do on this site to shut down factual comments from unpopular commenters."

As someone who has had a not-few comments censored by the mods: that's horseshit. The mods are not in general practice of shuttind down factual statements on the basis of their personal dislikes.

Not to say it hasn't happened, but they're only human. And far more fair that most "unpopular commenters" would be.

And, honestly, seriously: If you feel you are unpopular, and picked upon by the mods, why stick around?
posted by IAmBroom at 7:39 PM on June 10, 2012


Ironmouth: "People who think they have a right to defy another person's right to set the contractual terms of their artistic output don't understand the idea of rights in the first place. Why doesn't it surprise e that when people want something for free they become suddenly ignorant."

You are describing contractual privileges, not rights. Rights are not determined by contracts, nor are they granted by courts and legislatures.

Some laws are injust, and breaking them is not necessarily immoral, whether they are grand mal injustices (slavery, prohibitions on marriages between consenting adults, etc), or smaller (extending copyright to lengths that seem unreasonable to almost anyone who isn't a major stockholder in Walt Disney Corporation, and applying them one-sidedly to suppress content online, without due process).
posted by IAmBroom at 7:54 PM on June 10, 2012


don't understand the idea of rights

So there turns out to be a vast body of literature documenting humanity's (as yet totally unsettled) longstanding and -winded argument with itself about what rights are and what their source is. The claim that rights are based largely on the codified whims of a bunch of entities with an economic stake in those codifications is actually a fairly extraordinary claim; it's sort of on a par with claiming that one has the right to access mediocre-to-shitty "content" free of charge.

On the other hand, more serious rights -- involving things like privacy and speech -- are abridged by existing and proposed legislation (and by illegal or "retroactively legalized" activities), often under the pretext of protecting "intellectual property".

(Also, I'm a "content creator". I don't see a dime from my content (nor do I want to), directly, and the publishers often sell electronic copies at more than $1.00 per page, so fuck [some of] the whinging about "creators". The only copy rights worthy of the term "right" are contained in a license that requires attribution, open source where relevant, and that no rights beyond these be asserted for derivative works. However, I avoid piracy because the creators of the content I want to consume didn't invent the system -- I don't consume a lot of content created by those with the funds to make law -- and, until a less archaic way of feeding these folks is introduced, it makes sense that they get paid.)
posted by kengraham at 8:30 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


extending copyright to lengths that seem unreasonable to almost anyone who isn't a major stockholder in Walt Disney Corporation, and applying them one-sidedly to suppress content online, without due process

Is grand mal a legal term with a specific definition? If not, let's just go ahead and call that shit grand mal.
posted by kengraham at 8:32 PM on June 10, 2012


Some laws are injust, and breaking them is not necessarily immoral, whether they are grand mal injustices (slavery, prohibitions on marriages between consenting adults, etc),

The best part of this thread? The Pirates (Arrr!) have been having a comprehensive discussion about the technical, political, philosophical and practical issues involved with establishing a domestic system of censorship in a democratic country.

On the other hand, The Serious Adults have been cracking jokes about The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men.

It's a great rhetoric tactic really, accuse civil libertarians who have been concerned about encroaching free speech limits and Internet censorship for decades of just wanting to pirate TV, and also insinuate it's only bad TV they watch! Ha ha!

By all means, let's get the ball rolling with (further) blocking of file sharing websites. I'm sure the next Republican administration won't attempt to use it to block access to contraception or abortion information.

Don't forget, these same methods were used to shutdown gambling websites too.

For fucks sake, we still have problems with local libraries getting pressured to ban books, and librarians getting arrested for reading banned books. Do you really think these systems and processes won't be abused?
posted by formless at 8:47 PM on June 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


As someone who has had a not-few comments censored by the mods: that's horseshit. The mods are not in general practice of shuttind down factual statements on the basis of their personal dislikes.
What he said was that people call it censorship if they like the poster, and don't call it censorship if they don't. I don't how accurate that is, but he didn't say anything like that the mods delete comment based on their personal preferences.
So there turns out to be a vast body of literature documenting humanity's (as yet totally unsettled) longstanding and -winded argument with itself about what rights are and what their source is. The claim that rights are based largely on the codified whims of a bunch of entities with an economic stake in those codifications is actually a fairly extraordinary claim; it's sort of on a par with claiming that one has the right to access mediocre-to-shitty "content" free of charge.
Maybe somewhere there is someone smart enough to argue for copyright on solid philosophical grounds, but from what I've seen the arguments proffered are all pretty dumb, as if people are totally unable to understand that simply popping into their head does not make an idea correct.

I mean, how hilarious is it that someone would say if you disagree with them then you "understand the idea of rights in the first place" without bothering to explain the "idea" of what he thinks rights are? It's just a pure assertion, with zero evidence presented at all.

There's no real value in engaging. It's like trying to play chess against someone who can't remember how the pieces move and then accuses you of cheating when you capture their guys. What's the point?
For fucks sake, we still have problems with local libraries getting pressured to ban books, and librarians getting arrested for reading banned books. Do you really think these systems and processes won't be abused?
Uh, you might want to read that article more carefully.

Anyway, yeah like I said, any system setup to block copyright infringing content can be used to block politically sensitive content. In fact, the mechanism proposed in SOPA is actually based on the system used by the Chinese government.
posted by delmoi at 9:06 PM on June 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


There's no real value in engaging

I almost completely agree, but the lulz have value to me...

In fact, the mechanism proposed in SOPA is actually based on the system used by the Chinese government.

I did not know that. My request for a citation follows, not because of any doubt, but because I take sick pleasure in reading about this sort of thing and then ranting to/making TAILS boot discs for my friends. So: cite please?
posted by kengraham at 9:39 PM on June 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I remember reading a comment from, I think it was a Dutch poster awhile ago, talking about this fundamental problem with censorship, which he'd actually seen develop in his own country.

Once the infrastructure is built, it gets repurposed. At first, it's "protecting the children", and then it's "stopping pirates" and eventually morphs into "silencing opinions we don't like". Each new, less popular group can hijack the infrastructure built by the more politically powerful ones, because it requires convincing fewer and fewer people to implement what they want.

If the U.S. had a SOPA-like regime in place, all it would take is convincing one judge that censoring someone's political speech was a good idea.
posted by Malor at 11:19 PM on June 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


I mean, I'm sure it would be appealed, but that person or person(s) would be silenced for possibly years, and all it would take is one 5-4 vote to make a permanent feature of the American Internet.

Censorship, in any form, is dangerous. The antidote to speech you don't like is more speech. The antidote to piracy is giving more money to artists you love. Never, never, is it silencing people. Once silencing SOME people is okay, then it becomes easier and easier to silence more and more.
posted by Malor at 11:22 PM on June 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


Pfft, all the real radicals have moved on to advocating the repeal of the first amendment. The whole free speech thing is just so.... lame, you know? What are you, some kind of basement-dwelling libertarian or something?
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 4:49 AM on June 11, 2012


Or do you belive that we are actually speaking latin at this moment?

do you believe the empire ended
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 5:19 AM on June 11, 2012


A Thousand Baited Hooks: "On Slashdot, it was cleverly suggested that error 451 be the error code for censorship.

Ha, perfect! How can this be made to happen?
"

Write an RFC.
posted by namewithoutwords at 5:50 AM on June 11, 2012


Australia's Pirate Party is launching a campaign in Canberra

Australia is mostly first-past-the-post voting like America and England, but apparently Canberra has a proportional system more like Germany. First-past-the-post centralizes power and creates corruption by obstructing non-regional third parties. A proportional voting system makes reformist parties like the Greens or Pirates viable; hence their success in Germany.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:50 AM on June 11, 2012


delmoi: " As someone who has had a not-few comments censored by the mods: that's horseshit. The mods are not in general practice of shuttind down factual statements on the basis of their personal dislikes.

What he said was that people call it censorship if they like the poster, and don't call it censorship if they don't. I don't how accurate that is, but he didn't say anything like that the mods delete comment based on their personal preferences.
"

Read it again. He makes two claims:

people cannot and will not fairly connect ... corporate and government censorship with what moderators do on this site... [the word "fairly" implying that they should connect the two ideas]

and

moderators ...on this site ... shut down factual comments from unpopular commenters.

posted by IAmBroom at 7:01 AM on June 11, 2012


formless: "For fucks sake, we still have problems with local libraries getting pressured to ban books, and librarians getting arrested for reading banned books. "

While it's not well written, the article describes a mock arrest performed for the purpose of educating children on the dangers of censorship - not a real arrest of a librarian for reading a book. [You've been punked.]
posted by IAmBroom at 7:06 AM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


[Hey, guys, maybe we can move the discussion of mod censorship to Metatalk, if you want to have a conversation about that?]
posted by taz at 7:35 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm uncomfortable with both these stories :

LibraryPirate.me has a openly paid piracy services, like hire-a-pirate and sells tracker ratio credits.

An economics professor is pushing anti-piracy measures that lower the grades of students who pirate his course's textbooks.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:44 AM on June 11, 2012


Yeah, this whole censorship conversation aside, setting up a proper HTTP error code does seem like the right move. While suggestions like "305: Use a Proxy", and "911: Internet Emergency" are clever the proper error code needs to be factually accurate and politically neutral. "600: Website Blocked" seems right to me.

Can censored servers still return custom error messages? I'm guessing not, but if they can that would be the right place to put the take political action/use tor/censorship blows messages.
posted by cirrostratus at 11:17 AM on June 11, 2012


Can censored servers still return custom error messages?

No, that's what's new here. The server never gets the request. It's the network that generates the response.
posted by benito.strauss at 1:07 PM on June 11, 2012


jeffburdges, I am likewise uncomfortable with both of these stories. There seems to be a strong trend toward monetizing many activities that are not fundamentally economic. I'm not sure if this is unusually strong a tendency in academia, or if it's merely that that's where it is most noticeable to me.

It's somewhat surprising that a class of "content creators" who do not depend for [all of their] income directly on the sale of their work (namely, academics) are in some cases supportive of efforts like Vogel's, though. (And many aren't; my favourite example is this wonderful book.)

(I see from your profile* that you are a mathematician. What's your opinion of the Elsevier boycott? That situation seems to highlight some of these issues nicely.)

*Unrelatedly, sorry to have "pirated" the put-one's-public-key-in-one's-MeFi-profile idea, but it's a good one.
posted by kengraham at 4:43 PM on June 11, 2012


I'd avoid conflating the publishers exploitation of research academia and teaching academia, related yes, but quite distinct. I wrote the Elsevier boycott post, btw.

There were never too many academics who wished to actively collaborate with the publishers rent extraction from students, like Vogel or say James Stewart do, but apathy results in using their books anyway.

There isn't any shortage of free alternatives anymore though. We're even discrediting the lower tier universities by providing more meaningful free courses and semi-complete course materials, like MIT's Open Courseware, Kahn academy. Stanford has demonstrated significant progress in A.I. grading this year. etc.

posted by jeffburdges at 5:39 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


jeffburdges: "
Australia is mostly first-past-the-post voting like America and England, but apparently Canberra has a proportional system more like Germany.
"

Australia most certainly is not first-past-the-post. Australia uses Instant Runoff Voting, which is a form of preferential voting.

It is true that the Lower Houses of most States and the Federal Lower House are elected to represent geographical areas, but the Canberra and Tasmanian Lower Houses and the Federal State Upper Houses being elected through slight variations on Proportional Representation (With varying levels of geographical influence). In none of these elections is first-past-the-post voting used.
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 12:34 AM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's amusing I'd never realized Australia uses IRV since it appears intertwined with Australia's bizarre mandatory voting law and I'm certainly familiar with the mathematical site.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:33 AM on June 12, 2012


Mandatory voting is no more bizarre than mandatory jury service. Anyway, it's only sort of mandatory because we have a secret ballot, there is absolutely no penalty for submitting a blank ballot, or one you've written "PENIS" on or whatever. About 95% of voters submit a valid vote in most elections. The mandatory part is you get a moderate fine if you don't either attend a polling station on election day, vote at an early voting station, or submit a ballot paper by post (which again can be blank).
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 3:56 AM on June 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yes, I'd agree that requiring citizens visit a polling station sound perfectly reasonable, infinitely better than the U.S.'s ongoing history of vote suppression anyways.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:32 AM on June 12, 2012


Write an RFC.

Tim Bray did it.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:35 PM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


INTA committee votes on ACTA on June 21
posted by jeffburdges at 7:50 AM on June 15, 2012


Canadian IP Lobby Calls For ACTA, SOPA & Warrantless Search

The MPAA's Secret Lobby Campaign on Bill C-11 and a Canadian SOPA
(more Bill C-11 articles by Michael Geist)
posted by jeffburdges at 9:42 AM on June 16, 2012


Kim Dotcom Theory on Corporate Cyberlocker Use Supported By Survey

In fact, the U.S. case against Megaupload has been falling apart across the board, extradition looks unlikely, the U.S. doesn't appear to posses the evidence they claimed now that the NZ judge has started asking for evidence, the U.S. courts are dubious about the case as well, substantial assets were unfrozen, people are suing the FBI for their data, etc.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:33 AM on June 17, 2012


June 15th : How Long Before VPNs Become Illegal?
June 22nd : PayPal Bans BitTorrent Friendly VPN Provider
You gotta stop giving them ideas guys!
posted by jeffburdges at 5:26 AM on June 25, 2012


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