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An Open Letter From Internet Engineers to the Senate Judiciary Committee (eff.org)
137 points by auxbuss on Sept 28, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 14 comments

Hey HN, please send an email to your senator regarding COICA:


Our government is looking to put its foot in the door while the Internet is young. If we sleep on these things, worse infringements will surely follow:

    ¶ Communications services that encrypt messages 
      must have a way to unscramble them.

    ¶ Foreign-based providers that do business inside the 
      United States must install a domestic office capable
      of performing intercepts.

    ¶ Developers of software that enables peer-to-peer 
      communication must redesign their service to allow 

I used the first link there to send an email. My Senator (or at least someone in his office) actually sent a non-form reply, so I replied with my own followup (the rest of this comment):

Thank you for the quick reply. I wanted to comment on one issue.

On Wed, Sep 29, 2010 at 5:59 PM, Sherrod Brown <do_not_reply@brown.senate.gov> wrote:

> Dear Mr. Mintern:

> Illegal file sharing and unauthorized copying of digital material prevents musicians, producers, filmmakers, software designers, and many others from reaping the fruits of their labor. Such activity has the potential to stifle artistic creativity and compromise electronic innovation. Ultimately, intellectual property theft costs our economy billions of dollars and can result in hundreds of thousands of lost jobs.

I acknowledge that this is a problem (more later), but law enforcement is not even doing all it can now to stop illegal file sharing. This overbroad legislature provides new tools, but at the expense of everyone's privacy. It does not make sense to encumber the US Internet for _everyone_ because of the actions of a relatively small percentage of infringers. Moreover, infringers will find a way around these measures; they always do. This is an unwinnable arms race where the main losers are those of us who are going about our daily lives without infringing at all.

Furthermore, I have not seen unbiased research showing that online piracy _actually_ hurts content producers. There are many valid arguments that infringement is often somewhat legitimate:

  1. To try a product out before buying it
  2. Because of poor DRM (digital rights management), some
     legitimate buyers have trouble using the product and
     are forced to use the pirated version anyways
     (something as minor as having the wrong display
     connector can prevent someone from watching a DVD)
  3. To replace a lost or stolen product
  4. To extract a portion to be used under Fair Use (e.g.,
     providing commentary)
Many argue further that those who actually are pirating would not have bought the product anyway (presumably they don't have the means at the time of pirating), and that by pirating they actually increase future sales through referring friends and buying similar content in the future. In other words, even if this legislature is effective at limiting piracy, it's not clear how big the benefit is.

One further point: even if we assume that eliminating piracy hurts the entertainment industry, we should look at who it's actually hurting. Content _producers_ (those who are actually making the content, as opposed to the record companies who treat content producers as sharecroppers) may not actually be hurt much at all. Musicians, for example, are more likely to have larger concert attendance the more people that have heard their music, whereas they only receive a few cents on the dollar for album sales.

In the end, my conclusion is that if there are any benefits buried in this legislature, they are mainly in propping up the current (arguably unfair) model in which music is produced. It is time for record companies to evolve with the times and find new business models, and to start treating their artists better. Pirates do far less harm to the average band than modern record companies do with their unfair deals. For more information, see Courtney Love's Letter to Recording Artists: http://www.gerryhemingway.com/piracy2.html

Now let's focus on issues that actually benefit the American people instead of wasting our time kowtowing to the record company lobbyists who are grasping at anything they can to prop up their old-fashioned unfair business models. The American people deserve better than that.

Thank you, Brandon Mintern

There will be more about this issue in the coming weeks. It's expected to pass in the SJC on Thursday but will get more scrutiny in the Senate. This caught a number of us by surprise but we are responding aggressively and quickly.

And yes, this bill would probably help my business, but I think it's still a terrible precedent to set and I am not interested in having the government induce ISPs or folks like me to block sites.

If you'd like to have more influence over Congress, here are some suggestions:

1. Writing paper letters is great, but they take a long time to arrive, and many of them spend time in decontamination, etc., because of the various anthrax scares. Phone calls seem to work reasonably well, and they get there immediately.

2. Get a smart phone app for calling your Senators and Representatives, and for tracking legislation. On Android, I'm extremely fond of "Congress" from Sunlight Labs (which is apparently available as "Real-Time Congress" on the iPhone). Using this, you can make phone calls, track legislation, find related news stories, and so on. The current bill, for example, is apparently "S. 3804".

3. Before talking to your Senators' or Representatives' offices, write down some notes about what you want to say. Make sure you include the bill number, your background/job title (if it's relevant), where you live, and what you think they should do: vote for it, vote against it, etc.

4. Be polite.

I'm told that if you're _really_ serious, the next steps are figuring out how to reach the specific staffers who handle the issues you care about, and to start building networks in your home state. Organize 20 or 30 like-minded hackers, and you, too, can flood your Congresspeople with intelligent calls, ask to meet with them when they're in town, and so on.

Any other suggestions?

If only they were lobbyists.

This is lobbying.

Are you sure? Did I miss the bit where they give lots of cash to the politicans? (Isn't that what lobbying means?)

That's bribing.

Writing a letter?

Yes. Obviously these aren’t professional lobbyists (that’s the word for someone who is paid explicitly to write such letters). But they are lobbying. You can do it too, whenever you want. That’s (a big) part of the point of a representative system of government (one of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the first amendment, in the case of the US). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_to_petition


"The term "lobbyist" means any individual who is employed or retained by a client for financial or other compensation for services that include more than one lobbying contact, other than an individual whose lobbying activities constitute less than 20 percent of the time engaged in the services provided by such individual to that client over a six month period."

87 guys signed one letter and sent it to a committee (not all 100 senators).

I know these 87 guys are awesome, but that is not how Senators are influenced. Now, if they took the Senators to lunch or dinner, flew them to exotic locales to play golf, and gave the senator's relatives cushy jobs in various tech companies, well, I would be more optimistic about the outcome and I would consider these 87 people lobbyists.

Notable industry figures likely weigh more heavily in this regard, but tens of thousands of emails from constituents is something a Senator could _at least_ use as a talking point, if nothing else.

Anyway, the EFF has a prefab letter to customize and send out. Shouldn't take anyone more than a minute.

Sending the letter by email is better than nothing. However, handwritten letters usually have more weight.

If you have the time, write the letter out by hand, and word it your own way rather using the boilerplate the EFF provides. Then mail it to your Senators by snail mail.

Didn't see Al Gore?

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