Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Reasonable Doubt

This holiday season the Center for Democracy and Technology has been taking advantage of slow news days and consumer anxiety to get publicity for their latest report, which includes a Music Download Warning List that promises to alert users to companies who might be offering music and entertainment that they are not licensed to distribute. Their online press reads:

Unfortunately, some sites may be happy to take your money, and may leave you with the impression that they are legal sources of a full range of music – including the top performers and music labels – but they are not licensed distributors of at least a substantial quantity of mainstream music. In particular, the sites on our list promote themselves in ways that suggest their music catalog is relatively comprehensive, when in fact they appear to have done nothing to license or otherwise ensure the legality of any downloads from the major music labels. Even where these sites include “legal information” cautioning users against illegal downloading, that information is not sufficiently clear, or prominent, or specific to prevent users from mistakenly perceiving the sites as sources of lawful copies of most mainstream music.

In short, if you are an Internet user in the United States and you pay money to one of these services with the intention of being a lawful online music user, you may get less than you bargained for.

I find myself with a lot of questions about this group and exactly what and more importantly whom they represent. I certainly like words like "democracy" and "technology" as much as the next person, but I don't know quite what to make of their repetition of the word "reasonable" with regard to the merging of hardware and software in certain kinds of architectures of control.
The Center poses as a "consumer" group, and yet it also posts documents like this one that suggest that there should be analog rights management as well.

When I looked at their funding information, I wonder why their most recent information is from a relatively outdated 2004 pie chart and why such a large portion of their funding comes from technology firms who benefit commercially from protections for proprietary systems. The group also seems to have a strong anti-regulatory bent, which can sound good from a free speech advocacy perspective on decency legislation like COPA but not very helpful if the market is left to decide about network neutrality issues in a time of increased media and telecommunications consolidation.

Since Virgil Griffith's Wikiscanner indicates that they are doing a lot of anonymous edits of their own page, they certainly make no secret of the fact that their director parted ways in 1994 from the more clearly civil libertarian Electronic Freedom Foundation.

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Anonymous Brock N. Meeks said...

Hi Liz,

This is Brock Meeks, I'm CDT's Director of Communications.

I'm glad you've posted about our Music Download Warning list; however, I'm confused when you write:... I don't know quite what to make of their repetition of the word "reasonable" with regard to the merging of hardware and software in certain kinds of architectures of control.

Where are you reading the word "reasonable"? I can't find it in connection with this announcement.

We are, indeed, a consumer group. Located in Washington, DC, we are in the middle of most issues were government and technology intersect.

We push for "user empowerment" when it comes to issues such as online privacy, meaning users should be given the means and notice to make informed decisions about what happens to their personal information.

We are defenders of free and open speech when it comes to online content.

We have one of the best known anti-spyware projects around.

As for our funding, you are quite right to question why we only have an outdated 2004 pie chart (actually, our non-profit income tax returns, known as "990s" are online, but those aren't up to date, either). As the new Director of Communications (I started Nov. 1st) this is something I want to get corrected.

And yes, we get the majority of our funding from technology companies and foundations, like the Ford Foundation, the Markle Foundation, etc.

But we aren't lapdogs for industry. Tech companies fund us because they (the technology industry as a whole, both users and corporations) need a strong presence in Washington. Too many laws are pushed by too few lawmakers that have a clue as to what's going on in cyberspace or with technology.

So corporations fund us to have someone in the fight.

We are very much on the side of network neutrality as anyone that reads our website can tell.

Google is one of our funders; however, Google wasn't exactly pleased when we raised our voices to the Federal Trade Commission, warning about the dangers of online behavioral tracking.

As for the "anonymous" editing of the Wiki... oh, please... like that's some big covert propaganda operation?

We've had interns modify our page who haven't registered with Wiki; I modified the page myself, taking out my predecessor's name and inserting my own under the staff listing; and no, I'm not registered either, so my edits show up as "anonymous." Nothing scary there.

11:36 PM  
Anonymous Brock N. Meeks said...

Hi Liz,

I just wanted to add one more thing. As a former investigative journalist with 20-plus years experience (the last 10 with MSNBC as chief Washington correspondent), I'd like to tip my hat to you with regard to questions you raised and the poking around you did. It was (is) as smart thing to do; you asked on-point questions based on solid research (reporting) techniques.

Well done.

I wish more bloggers, whom I believe play a critical part in the whole universe of media, did as good a job as you've done here. It provides your readers with better information and it keeps those of us on the "other side" of the questions, on our toes.

10:06 AM  

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