Join 3,550 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Is the EFF harmful to online rights?
December 6, 2005 10:07 AM   Subscribe

In a sardonic new editorial, the Register asks whether the EFF is harming the very causes that it's supposedly fighting for. This isn't coming out of left field. The EFF has lost numerous cases that could have been won, and in doing so is helping to creating precedents that make fights for civil liberties harder to wage.
posted by bshort (35 comments total)

 
Wasn't this just posted on BoingBoing?
posted by docgonzo at 10:17 AM on December 6, 2005


And slashdot, yes. The EFF has won a few as well, it should be mentioned.
posted by TonyRobots at 10:19 AM on December 6, 2005


(Actually, I was being facetious. Poorly, I guess.)
posted by docgonzo at 10:21 AM on December 6, 2005


And that's why I personally never ever try at anything. It tends to make things worse.
posted by ba at 10:22 AM on December 6, 2005


The editorial was so-so, but the author's biog was a work of genius:

Bonhomie Snoutintroff is a plain-spoken strong leader in cyberspace. He did poorly in school but his family is rich and well connected, so he's served as CEO of numerous, well-known Internet ventures that for various reasons unrelated to his forward-looking guidance no longer exist. He developed a cocaine and alcohol problem, although he refuses to dwell on the past: his mission is to bring honor and dignity to the IT profession. His keen insight as a global techno-visionary is matched only by his Christian humility.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:23 AM on December 6, 2005


God, EFF and Cory Doctorow can go off and screw themselves. They seem to be doing a good enough job of screwing over their cause already.

My problem with them is that there never seems to be any sense of compromise when discussing issues. Never any middle ground. All breaches of privacy are equal, no matter how large or small.

Plus, I don't know about EFF, but Cory himself seems to have a massive ego problem, and he always comes off as being an arrogant prick.
posted by QuarterlyProphet at 10:25 AM on December 6, 2005


the bio was great
posted by yonation at 10:44 AM on December 6, 2005


Plus, I don't know about EFF, but Cory himself seems to have a massive ego problem, and he always comes off as being an arrogant prick.

Thing is, it's worked for him. He's a mediocre writer and a nerd to boot. Without his unshakeable self-esteem, he would have been a zero, a nothing, a never-was. I respect him for his perseverance, his skill as a communicator (if not as a writer) and his fighting spirit.

I don't always agree with him, think that there is room for compromise in the philosophies that he espouses, and find his fiction juvenile at best, but he's never been anything less than pleasant in the few times we've exchanged e-mail.

I think he's one of the good guys.
posted by solid-one-love at 11:09 AM on December 6, 2005


The EFF is a civil liberties union type of thing. They think of things in terms of the precedent they'll set. What might be a minor court case now that only affects a couple of people could become something big and nasty later, if allowed to become precedent. One could argue that these things wouldn't become precident if the EFF didn't challenge them, but the alternative is to just let it continue to happen, allow more money be put behind them, let them become ever more and more ingrained in our culture, until it essentially becomes unoverturnable THAT way.

I think it should be remembered that the EFF takes on tough issues and has a lot -- a LOT -- of money arrayed against it. What should be done in these cases, take on the "pigopolists" in the venue reserved by our society for the addressing of greviences, or let them have their way without even a challenge?

Maybe the EFF could do a better job with more money. Who's ready to contribute? Maybe someone else could do a better job than the EFF. Who's first in line to try?
posted by JHarris at 11:18 AM on December 6, 2005


I've always that when Larry Lessig argued his case in front of the Supreme Court for the appealing the Sono Bono Copyright Extension Act, he failed miserably. I remember reading his arguement and thinking that he left out the single most critical argument (I forgot what the argument was, this was over 3 or 4 years ago). Sometimes I really wonder if the EFF gets in its own way sometimes. However, I still think the organization is a net gain - surely better than just being steamrolled over.
posted by SirOmega at 11:23 AM on December 6, 2005


Yow, the Slashdot discussion has some nice discussion on this for a change.
posted by JHarris at 11:30 AM on December 6, 2005


Yeah I remember similar criticism of the EFF going years back, here's an intersting wired article from '96 called How Good People Helped Make a Bad Law. Actually back then the specific criticism was that the EFF was being too compromising, while the Register article suggests the EFF has become too uncompromising.
posted by bobo123 at 11:31 AM on December 6, 2005


Cory is a master of hyperbole, and gets really wrapped up in his "copyfight." But he seems a decent guy.

And while the EFF track record is bad, I wonder who would have done better. Currently, American legislators are, for the most part, bought and paid for by the entertainment industry, when it comes to IP law (and that's true for Ds and Rs). Many judges seem to have a similar view of things.

It seems to be a major uphill battle that the EFF is fighting, and I'm not completely certain that simply different courtroom tactics would have won the day (but maybe).
posted by teece at 11:31 AM on December 6, 2005


and he always comes off as being an arrogant prick.

Unlike you, mr humility.

The EFF is up against a system that doesn't even understand half, if not all, of the issues that are defining digital culture. Add to that a corporate culture that is allowed to purchase legislation, you've got a real david and goliath situation. And like most real david and goliath situations, it's rare that the little guy wins.

As more than one poster has pointed out, anyone who thinks they could do a better job of taking billion dollar coorporations to court is welcome to try.
posted by lumpenprole at 11:34 AM on December 6, 2005


Re: John Gilmore. The article is wrong about the facts. Gilmore's main objection is the ID requirement and that his primary beef is that, because he does not produce his ID, he is subject to a more intrusive search to clear the security checkpoint. There's a difference there. As I understand it, I don't believe Gilmore is against being subjecting to a standard security walkthrough. (And if he is, please cite a source.)

Re: Cory Doctorow: What solid-one-love said.

I don't understand why failing to win certain battles makes the EFF a failure. First off, they are fighting for issues that are, in the judicial eye, picayune by comparison. And they are often fighting against organizations and entities that have greater resources and are more rigorously funded than they are. I think they're doing a hell of a job, given the circumstances.
posted by ed at 11:38 AM on December 6, 2005


This is partly a case of overly-high expectations. The same applies to the ACLU. People tend to worship at their shrine, but the sad fact is that most ACLU actions are cherry-picked by ambulance-chasing "volunteers."

About the only way you can get help from the ACLU is to have a slam-dunk case with huge award amounts in prospect for the shysters to divvy up. For the rest of it, they are the March Of Dimes of candy-ass liberal fundraising: most of the money they raise is consumed by administration, not defending civil liberties.
posted by warbaby at 12:02 PM on December 6, 2005


The uppity Negroes are making it hard for the rest.
posted by dhartung at 12:03 PM on December 6, 2005


Plus, I don't know about EFF, but Cory himself seems to have a massive ego problem, and he always comes off as being an arrogant prick.

I'm not familiar enough with his writing to have an opinion on whether he has an ego problem (although he can't be any worse than ESR). But the best evidence for his exceptional talent as a communicator is the talk on DRM that he gave to Microsoft. I'd been unfamiliar with the issue before reading it, and it really gave me an "aha" moment regarding why people think its so important. It should be standard reading for civil libertarians.

I've always that when Larry Lessig argued his case in front of the Supreme Court for the appealing the Sono Bono Copyright Extension Act, he failed miserably. I remember reading his arguement and thinking that he left out the single most critical argument (I forgot what the argument was, this was over 3 or 4 years ago).


I'm working on a paper about that case right now. The economic arguments for why CREA was idiotic are pretty obvious; were you thinking of those?
posted by gsteff at 12:04 PM on December 6, 2005


Plus, I don't know about EFF, but Cory himself seems to have a massive ego problem, and he always comes off as being an arrogant prick.

You know, as a friend of Cory, I find it rather annoying that people seem compelled to use any thread about the EFF as a referendum on the guy.

In my experience with Cory, which is rather more than I figure most of you have had, Cory's ego has never been a problem and I have yet to see him act like a prick. Rather to the contrary, he's always tremendously supportive of friends and writers, helpful and willing to engage people he doesn't know, and incredibly approachable to people who could be defined as him "fandom" whether through his SF writing or his EFF and online involvement. Would that all "egotistical pricks" acted so.

What is certainly true is that talking with Cory (or even reading him) is like drinking from the firehose -- the man is hyperverbal and has the urge to prostyletize, and he's passionate about what he believes in, and I suppose if you're not on his wavelength that can be a bit much. But that doesn't make him a prick.

He and I diverge on a number of issues in terms of the role and uses of intellectual property, and he knows it, and he and I have had intense discussions on the matter, because he's intense and I'm not exactly laid-back either. But at the end of the day I know two things about Cory: One, he's fighting the good fight to keep intellectual property accessible to everyone, and Two, if I needed him to be, he'd be in my corner. Neither of those are the actions of a raging egotistical dickhead.

For what it's worth.
posted by jscalzi at 12:47 PM on December 6, 2005


About the only way you can get help from the ACLU is to have a slam-dunk case with huge award amounts in prospect for the shysters to divvy up.

Warbaby: Care to back that up? The ACLU has argued more cases before the supreme court than anyone else besides the justice department - that's hardly cherry picking for monetary reward. And most of the cases they go for are test cases - arguing for rights to be established rather than damages to be paid. I suspect you're talking out of your posterior - but if you can defend that statement, well, be my guest.
posted by Sparx at 1:02 PM on December 6, 2005


How could the EFF have won the Grokster case, a 9-0 Supreme Court decision? How could it have won Eldred? Both cases had tons of amici submitting briefs on the issues; the EFF wasn't alone.

Anyone can say these cases "could have been won." Let's hear someone prove it.
posted by brain_drain at 1:09 PM on December 6, 2005


I know Cory, and he's never come off as particularly elitist or arrogant to me on a personal level, and he's generally pretty responsive to email, even though he is deluged.

That said, he is a slave to his computer and to internet connectivity. (This coming from me, a guy who probably spends 10+ hours a day online.) Really, it makes you wonder how he lived before WiFi. I wouldn't want his life.

That said, I don't know what this has to do with Cory Doctorow anyway. Cory is merely a spokesperson for the EFF. He's not a lawyer, and he's not responsible for the success or failure of the organization. That which he does for the EFF, he generally does a pretty good job of, especially considering that he spends so much of the rest of his time writing.

And you're right. As a writer, he needs to work a lot more on his characters -- especially his female characters -- rather than just on the technological underpinnings of his stories. Then again, that's something a lot of science fiction writers are guilty of.

So, 'nuff of the "We don't like the EFF because they're too geeky, they dress funny, they talk funny..." arguments. The bottom line really is whether they win or not. Admittedly, their record on this is mixed, but they also tend to argue a particular types which traditionally have been a lost cause... hence, the need for the organization in the first place.

The basic truth: they could use better legal representation. The kind that puts the fear of God into the opposing side.

What is needed, essentially, is to seek the help of legal experts -- ideally not experts currently working for the EFF -- to define a "dream team" for the EFF to have working on their side. The next step, of course, is to figure out how to afford said dream team.
posted by insomnia_lj at 1:12 PM on December 6, 2005


It seems to be a major uphill battle that the EFF is fighting, and I'm not completely certain that simply different courtroom tactics would have won the day (but maybe).

Can anyone dig up a reasonable argument for where the EFF may have failed? I side with those who believe that perhaps "could have been won" is overstated but can't seem to find anything one way or another. The links support case history, but not the argument that the EFF played their hand badly.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 1:25 PM on December 6, 2005


And yes, I also agree with everything that jscalzi said about Cory.

That said, I still don't see how it's particularly relevant to EFF's track record.
posted by insomnia_lj at 1:27 PM on December 6, 2005


And yes, I also agree with everything that jscalzi said about Cory.

That said, I still don't see how it's particularly relevant to EFF's track record.


Exactly. Let's let a thread on the EFF be about the EFF.
posted by jscalzi at 1:48 PM on December 6, 2005


Sparx, I'm speaking from experience with the activities of the Washington State ACLU for the last ten years. Among other things, they sabotaged the "truth in advertising" aspect of our elections disclosure laws because they were 1st Amendment fundamentalists.

The current instances showing their cherrypicking involve this here case. I have the letters from the ACLU in which they basically say piss off.

In October, I was involved in an open meeting act violation that no local attorney wanted to touch because it involved WWU. The ACLU were less than no help. I was forced to go pro se and it was no fun. I'm now pursuing the matter with a decent attorney and am forever cured of ACLU disease.

I should point out that they do good things, but people have just as unrealistic expectations of them as the EFF -- which was my original point. The many, many cases of the ACLU just blowing off people in need are not news and it is common as dirt. Test cases are showboating. The daily grind is where they fall down.

Oh, and Sparx? Keep a civil tongue in your head.
posted by warbaby at 2:14 PM on December 6, 2005


Well, jscalzi and insomnia_lj, his job title is spokesperson. Spokespeople take a lot of shit, that's part of their job being out front and the face of something (just ask Scott McClellan and Ari Fleischer). And enough about Cory.

Now, Electronic Frontier Foundation and the above editorial. That is certainly one way to peg the facts (facts they are), but the thrust against the editorial is that the precedent will likely be decided without anyone fighting against it if the Electronic Frontier Foundation doesn't step up. Who would our fictitious author prefer to be the ones fighting, anyway?

It's totally fair to point out the failures. I'm not completely in their corner, but I hope they learn from this and win one big, because while I don't buy any death of culture rhetoric, I do buy wanting it to be legal to use my things the way I wish without fear of legal issues or companies like Sony making my computer an open mark. I also don't see anyone else stepping up to the plate (though competition and coöperation in this regard would be fantastic). It's too bad there's no Bill Kunstler for the digital era.

The inclusion of Gillmore's personal crusade, for that it is, is completely specious and did not deserve inclusion there. Totally deserving of its own editorial, really, because it's as out of place mentioning it as knee-jerk Doctorow despising vomitous effulgences are.
posted by Captaintripps at 2:22 PM on December 6, 2005


Is there some public perception that entities like the EFF, ACLU, or any other civil/personal rights organization is the embodiment of the forces of good and they're supposed to take every case that might fall under their mission statement and win the majority of the time, since they're inherently good? None of them are the equivalent of a public defender or legal aid, nor should they be expected to be. Of course they cherry-pick cases and issues, and they're not omniscient. Attempting to claim either is ridiculous.
posted by mikeh at 2:56 PM on December 6, 2005


Warbaby: It's hardly disingenuous for a non-profit organisation to pick its battles - basic economics alone should be sufficient to demonstrate that they can't fight every case that comes along. I'm sorry your (anecdotal) experiences with a single branch of it didn't work out as you hoped, but, for future reference, I should point out that test cases establish precedent - and if you can't see the value in that...well, then (and I guess I'll have to use my uncivil tongue) you're a git with a chip on his shoulder talking out of his arse and I shall ignore you. We're probably both happier that way. Cheery bye.
posted by Sparx at 3:37 PM on December 6, 2005


Does anyone else find it creepy that this opinion piece is published under a pseudonym?
posted by Nelson at 3:41 PM on December 6, 2005


Previously on The Register:

EFF honors EFF founder with EFF award

We're not so inEFFectual

Quote from above linked letter:

" I question of wisdom of putting someone on the advisory board of the EFF who has said of the recording industry, "I've found their representatives to be outstanding in every way" and who has a documented (by his own admission) consultancy relationship with the RIAA "

El Reg certainly doesn't think much of the EFF. Anyone know of any rebuttal of above linked accusations and snark?
posted by MetaMonkey at 3:58 PM on December 6, 2005


Cory gave me free unofficial legal advice when a movie studio was trying to force me to remove content from my site. And who am I? A nobody, that's who.

Now would an elitist prick do that? Nay, I say.
posted by mediamelt at 9:36 PM on December 6, 2005


The problem with the EFF is that it occupies the space(*) that could be taken by an efficient, effective organisation with the same brief.


(*) Mental space, headline space, fundraising space... that kind of space.
posted by Hogshead at 10:33 AM on December 7, 2005


You know, if [liberals, progressives, left-wingers, etc.] didn't spend so much time criticizing each other, they might be more effective in furthering their agendas.

Not that infighting is unknown on the right, but they've done a much better job of agreeing to agree on the things they agree on, and presenting a united front despite disagreements.

When people on the left find that their side is losing they frequently blame the folks out in front fighting. The right has this rather different policy of "support the troops."

Food for thought.
posted by nickp at 6:02 PM on December 7, 2005


Gilmore's court case is, indeed, irrelevant to the EFF issue. But the most important part of his case, for many, is that the law the TSA is citing -- that requires ID -- is *secret*. That's right, USA'ers -- you live in a country where lawmakers operate in star chambers. No exaggeration.

Incidentally, oral arguments in Gilmore's appeal begin tomorrow, Dec 8. I'll be going.
posted by nickp at 6:27 PM on December 7, 2005


« Older The Life of Larry...  |  For most of human history, inf... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments