Copyright in Defense of Racism

“You wouldn’t steal a car, you wouldn’t steal a handbag, you wouldn’t steal a television, you wouldn’t steal a movie.” Sounds familiar doesn’t it? For years the copyright industry has been telling us that piracy is a crime. However, recently another supposedly heinous copyright crime has been added to the list: exposing racism.

On September 13th the website of anarchist student organization Students for a Stateless Society (S4SS) posted a message affirming their decision to dissociate from one of their subchapters, which had recently been expressing worrying amounts of racism and threats against those of the Muslim faith. S4SS explained their decision by posting screenshots and Dutch-to-English translations of the Facebook conversations of S4SS U Gent’s public Facebook group. [1]

In response to this decision and out of fear of possible repercussions including those carried out by ‘radical Muslims’ one of the group’s racist members lawyered up and filed a copyright infringement claim. The material being claimed as copyright in this case being the racist views procured by the group’s member. That’s right. According to J.D. Obenberger racist views are copyrighted material once they are posted on a “tangible medium” like Facebook. In accordance with the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, Obenberger claims, the material has to be removed. You may think that no sane person would comply with such a threat but the webhost Bluehost shutdown the websites of S4SS and its parent organization the Center for a Stateless Society.

The Digital Millenium Copyright Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1998, aims to protect the copyrighted material of individuals on the internet. It sounds like a noble goal if one accepts the notion of intellectual property. But far from achieving noble outcomes it has served to create a dangerous and expensive legal atmosphere. Ted Gibbons says “Google notes more than half (57%) of takedown notices it has received under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act 1998 were sent by business targeting competitors and over one third (37%) of notices were not valid copyright claims.”[2] But that is Google, they have the money and the experience to fight legal battles. Now imagine a smaller firm or even an individual providing his own hosting fighting continuous Federal lawsuits. It’s impossible.

This is why even mentioning the DMCA to a webhosting company makes them panic and causes them to shutdown websites on a moment’s notice. J.D. Obenberger claims on his own website that, “If you write the request for a takedown on a leaf of stale cabbage in magic marker, without stating any reason or offering any proof … most of them will take it down fairly immediately, within hours, because they are more afraid of you and your attorneys than they are of the posters.” It is therefore not the content of the law that matters. The threat of its use is enough to make otherwise peaceful people cower in fear as if they were the perpetrators of the worst kinds of aggression.

Thus, by abusing the threatening legal atmosphere set forth by the DMCA, racists can now force anyone who exposes them to comply with their demands. Whether or not the DMCA covers this particular situation explicitly is beside the point, the results are the same. This is how the state insulates racists from the social consequences of their actions. Anyone who values internet freedom should see the threats made by J.D. Obenberger, Bluehost’s compliance, and the copyright laws set by the state as an attack on that fundamental freedom.

[1] Knapp, Thomas L. “Copyright Nazis. Literally.” KN@PPSTER. N.p., 24 Sept. 2013. Web. 24 Sept. 2013.
[2] Gibbons, Ted. “Google Submission Hammers Section 92A.” PC World Magazine New Zealand. IDG Communications, 15 Mar. 2009. Web. 24 Sept. 2013.

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