Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Intellectual Property: Weapon of Censorship and Bigotry

The Center for a Stateless Society and our affiliated student group Students for a Stateless Society recently had our websites taken down due to a spurious copyright claim by attorney J.D. Obenberger. Did we use his client's music or film without permission? Did we reprint an article his client wrote without consent? No. A post on September 13th at s4ss.org merely quoted racist comments made by his client in an open Facebook group and condemned those comments.

Even if copyright were legitimate, and I don't think it is, this is textbook fair use. S4SS quoted the comments for purposes of completely non-commercial criticism.

Obenberger's client, Oliver Janssens, has since backed down and apologized to C4SS for his attack on free speech. But when he filed the complaint, he regrettably put all concern for free speech aside to suppress the fact that he said, "HHH (ed. Hans Herman Hoppe) has the balls to say that, thanks to our welfare state, our genetic pool is fucked. Exactly my thoughts. The only reason the Muslim parasite can breed at a 10 times faster pace than us. Totally love this guy."

It's easy to see why he would want to censor websites that quote him on this. His remarks reveal him to be a virulent racist who holds pseudoscientific beliefs that echo eugenicists and Nazis. By trying to silence critics of his racism, he put the Nazi back in "copyright Nazi."

Janssens's lawyer, J. D. Obenberger, implicitly admitted the spurious nature of his complaint, writing "what follows is not your typical DMCA letter." Dubious DMCA complaints are not new to Obenberger. Instead, he publicly boasts about them, writing:
"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 or affidavit pursuant to the DMCA, and transmit it by a casual, friendly courier, who works a garbage truck route running past their office and offers to drop it off for you, 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."
In addition to bragging about internet censorship, Obenberger advertises himself as a First Amendment lawyer and defender of liberty. It would be more accurate to say he is skilled at circumventing the First Amendment and squelching liberty.

Obenberger and his racist client are not alone in using intellectual property to censor political speech. Feminist activists with FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture have had their parody sites, which raise consciousness about consent and sexual violence, targeted on trademark and copyright grounds by corporations like Victoria's Secret and Playboy. In response to Playboy's complaint, the Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote, "As a news publication that has been involved in its share of controversy, we would expect Playboy to do its best to support political speech, rather than shutting it down. In addition, this political spoof is obviously designed to raise awareness about an important problem, one that we would hope Playboy would want to highlight as well." Companies like Playboy evidently care more about their intellectual property claims than free speech and women's rights.

Intellectual property provides a potent weapon for bigots and businesses to censor political speech by their critics. But there's good news for those of us who support free expression and believe that bigotry suffers when illuminated by public debate: the Streisand effect. The Streisand effect is the simple fact that censorship online almost always backfires. It certainly did in this case. Before Obenberger tried to use legal force against C4SS, only regular readers of C4SS and S4SS would have heard about his client's racism. Now, readers of sites like Reason and Techdirt are learning that he is a racist, a bully, and a censor. While the state gives bigots tools to silence speech, technology insures that truth will prevail.

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