The Lies Of NBCUniversal's Rick Cotton About SOPA/PIPA
from the how are those corn farmers, rick? dept
Chris Hayes, over on MSNBC, decided to be the first to seriously break the mainstream cable news’ boycott over SOPA/PIPA with a big debate on the bill — mainly between NBCUniversal’s top lawyer, Rick Cotton, and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian. Chris’s opening discussion is quite good, and suggests he’s certainly sympathetic to all of us who are vehemently opposed to the bill. You can watch it below:
Alexis does an excellent job in the brief time he’s given to speak (though Cotton gets probably four times the amount of time to speak), but what I wanted to focus on, are the lies of Rick Cotton, because it’s simply despicable. He flat-out lies about the bills — and, even worse — does so in a manner that implies that it’s everyone else who’s lying about the bills. He kicks it off by insisting that the bills only apply to sites that are “wholesale devoted to theft.” That’s simply not true. He actually uses the word “wholesale” maybe two dozen times (at least). The text of PIPA — the key bill at this point — says that a site is considered “dedicated to infringing activities” if it “has no significant use other than engaging in, enabling, or facilitating” infringement. That does not mean that the site is “wholesale devoted to theft.” Under this definition, of course, a site like a YouTube (if it were based on a foreign domain) would be questionable, given that it has no significant use other than enabling infringement. That doesn’t mean that it’s always used to infringe, but it’s main use absolutely enables or facilitates infringement. Cotton may want to believe the language says otherwise, but it does not.
Second, Cotton gets pretty angry about the “disinformation” around the bills, and insists that the bills “would not effect a single site in the United States.” This is false. As we’ve explained repeatedly, while the targets of the legislation are sites with foreign domain names, the entire remedies section is about US sites — meaning that they will have significant compliance costs, and potential liability under these laws. Furthermore, the anti-circumvention provisions of the bill are not limited to just foreign sites. Alexis pushed back on the anti-circumvention point, and Cotton claimed that Alexis was “simply wrong.” But he’s not. Cotton is “simply wrong” here again. Cotton claims that we should debate what’s in the bill, and he should try reading the bill. In fact, Alexis has said that Cotton admitted after they were off the air that he was correct that the anti-circumvention provisions were not limited to just foreign sites. But that doesn’t do any good for those who saw the segment but don’t know the specifics.
Next, he claims it’s totally wrong that a small amount of “legitimate activity would be threatened by this legislation.” To be fair, Cotton and his buddies already got the power to take down tons of “legitimate activity” with the last copyright expansion bill they passed a few years ago, the ProIP bill. Either way, he’s still wrong. Tons of legitimate content can and will be put at risk under these bills. We’ve already seen that companies — including NBCUniversal — have wrongly declared publicly that certain sites are “rogue” sites, despite the fact that they have tons of legitimate content. If you believe that Cotton and NBCUniversal will suddenly get better at finding sites that really only deal in infringement going forward, you haven’t paid much attention over the last decade or so. Under existing law, we’re already seeing legitimate websites taken down, and legitimate speech infringed upon. Hell, even the one prominent legal scholar who agrees with Cotton, Floyd Abrams, has admitted that protected speech would be censored under the bill.
Next, Cotton claims that the internet is “lawless” and that this whole thing is really a policy debate about how we finally put laws on the internet. This is, to put it mildly, insane. As Alexis points out in response, there are tons of laws that apply to the internet, and directly apply and are used every day to deal with infringing activity. To pretend otherwise is ridiculous. In fact, as Alexis notes, the DMCA is regularly abused by copyright holders to go way beyond what the law is supposed to allow.
Towards the end, Cotton claims that when a court in the Netherlands ordered The Pirate Bay blocked in that country, traffic to the site dropped by 80%. That’s a flat out lie. I mean, ridiculously false. First off, considering that the legal fight over that has continued for years, and the court only ordered ISPs in the Netherlands to actually block The Pirate Bay… five days ago — and gave them 10 days to comply — I’m curious as to how he knows how much impact such a court order has had (er… will have) on traffic to The Pirate Bay. Separately, in every other place that has ordered such a block, traffic to TPB has actually gone up, not down, because the court order to block tends to give the site more attention. Just to make sure, I asked someone in the Netherlands if TPB was blocked for them, and he sent me the following screenshot showing that it’s totally accessible (though, they’re warning about the new ruling!). Either way, Cotton was flat out, 100%, totally lying about these “stats” from the Netherlands. No such block has occurred.
All in all, this is the same duplicity that we’ve been seeing from SOPA/PIPA supporters for the last few months. They attack those of us with facts on our side as spreading disinformation, but when you look at the details you realize that it is, in fact, they who are flat out “wholesale” lying. Rick Cotton should be ashamed, and NBCUniversal should admit to its errors. Chris Hayes promises to cover the topic in more detail again in the future, and he should challenge Cotton on the multiple false statements he made.