The Internet is like a million-page a second photocopier (or is that a series of tubes)

by John Quiggin on January 19, 2012

Not long ago, I read Daniel Ellsberg’s[1] autobiography, Secrets, and also watched the film, The Most Dangerous Man in America. A striking feature of the book was that Ellsberg’s biggest problem in leaking the Pentagon Papers was the logistical difficulty of making 20 or so copies of a 7000 page cache of documents. It took him and a couple of helpers several months, IIRC

Now of course, such a task is easy, as demonstrated by Ellsberg’s successor (allegedly Bradley Manning) who supplied vast quantities of classified documents to Wikileaks. On the other hand, if Ellsberg had been 20 or so years earlier, he wouldn’t even have been able to make a single copy. [2]

Our blackout yesterday as a protest against SOPA and PIPA reflects a simple fact about the Internet – it is, in essence a way of making and distributing vast numbers of copies of documents of all kinds.

That’s true not only in the obvious sense that users can obtain copies of articles, music, video and so on from websites all around the planet, but in the way that they are transmitted through large numbers of intermediaries, cached by service providers, backed up on local computer systems ans so on. 

The implications, for someone who wants to control copying, are stark. Since the technology makes it incredibly easy to copy, it’s essentially impossible to prevent it. The only way to stop copying is through the imposition of draconian penalties after the fact. Moreover, since the technology of the Internet depends on copying at every stage, almost any scheme designed to criminalise copying must cripple the operations of the Internet in one way or another.

Until now, we’ve seen an arms race, in which ever stronger legal rights have been accorded to the owners of “Intellectual Property”, while technological advances have made those rights less and less effective. The dispute over SOPA and PIPA seems to mark a change in that dynamic. The IP lobby proceeded in the traditional way, drawing up a law that met their objectives, in the expectation that, at most, they might have to negotiate away a few points to deal with the concerns of Internet users.

But faced with Wikipedia, Google and others saying the bills would destroy the Internet, the IP lobby was helpless. By the time they took out the most obnoxious provisions, such as the DNS filter,  the bills were already political poison. 

No doubt they will try again. But the dynamic has now changed. They’ll have to come up with measures that can’t be plausibly claimed to damage the Internet, cripple computers and so on. And given their past performances, they aren’t going to have a lot of credences if their claims are disputed by the likes of Wikipedia.

So, the likelihood is that they won’t be very effective. They may be able to put some obstacles in the way of large-scale copying of pirated commercial material like music and videos, but they’ll have a lot of trouble enforcing the claims of strong IP, that everything is subject to copyright and that the owner has near-absolute control over how it is used. [3]

That’s all to the good, I think. At least among mainstream/orthodox economist[4] there is near-universal consensus that existing intellectual property protections are too strong and that there are substantial potential gains from weakening both the duration and the scope of such protections. A Marxist analysis reaches the same conclusion, with reasoning fairly similar to what I’ve written above.

Anyway, SOPA and PIPA appear to be dead for now, and hopefully forever

 

 

 

fn1. Readers who have even a passing familiarity with decision theory will recognise Ellsberg as the inventor of the Ellsberg problem, which demolished the idea that decisionmakers have well-defined subjective probabilities over events. As I’ll explain in the post, however, Ellsberg also played an important historical role in the United States.

fn2. The development of photocopiers is said to have been one of the factors contributing to the failure of the Soviet Union – adopting the technology made samizdat publication easy, while trying to restrict it killed productivity growth

fn3. A helpful hint. Don’t mention rootkits

fn4. The orthodox view is that copyright is a compromise between the ex ante need to encourage content creation and the ex post benefits of free access to information.   Libertarians/Austrians are split between the extremes – either creators have absolute rights, or they have none. I looked quickly for an institutionalist view, but couldn’t find one.

{ 68 comments }

1

a.y.mous 01.19.12 at 8:12 am

This is good. Nice to see such a result with less than a couple of months of full scale activity. Unless of course, editorials supersedes letters-to-the-editor. Which, it looks like, its sure does.

Before we high-five ourselves, let’s not deny that gatekeepers are still gatekeepers and they can close the doors. Was every Wikipedia contributor consulted? If so, was his/her decision to avoid a 24 hours boycott respected? Was every commenter/sock-puppet here at CT consulted?

An effective way of handling this, is to make sure that the definition of “content” and “creators” is changed in social dialogue to reflect the technological fact that “…since the technology of the Internet depends on copying at every stage, almost any scheme designed to criminalise copying must cripple the operations of the Internet in one way or another.”

2

ero 01.19.12 at 9:41 am

Marxist analysis link is broken.

3

ajay 01.19.12 at 10:04 am

if Ellsberg had been 20 or so years earlier, he wouldn’t even have been able to make a single copy.

Unless he’d taken photographs of the documents.

4

J. Otto Pohl 01.19.12 at 10:43 am

On footnote two the Soviet government prior to Gorbachev did greatly restrict access to photocopying machines. But, I am not sure how much difference it would have made if they had not. Samizdat and dissent were limited to a small portion of the Soviet population. While there was a lot of activism by certain ethnic groups for limited causes such as Jews demanding the right to emigrate, Crimean Tatars the right to return to Crimea, and Estonians the restoration of their independence there was little demanding a complete replacement of the Soviet system. There was almost no Central Asian excluding the Crimean Tatars and Meskhetian Turks or Azerbaijani samizdat or dissent.

Russian samizdat even among the most anti-communist writers contained very little complaint about socialist economics. In fact all three major strands of Russian samizdat, socialist, democratic, and slavophile basically supported a continuation of the Soviet economic system. It was the political system that they wished to reform. But, the restoration of capitalism and elimination of the Soviet welfare state is not something that dissidents generally advocated in samizdat. Most people in the USSR including dissidents thought that the basic economic arrangements with the state ownership of the means of production were fine. The welfare provisions and social benefits like education were genuinely popular. The Harvard interview project found this was true even of most anti-communist Ukrainian refugees from areas that had been part of the USSR prior to 1939. The dissidents wanted the state to be more receptive to the concerns of ordinary people and to pursue more liberal policies regarding intellectual freedom and nationality policies. But, none of these ideas were considered incompatible with the existing Soviet economic system.

5

John Quiggin 01.19.12 at 11:14 am

@ajay – And no problem getting your friendly Kodak agent to develop 7000 photos, each showing a page stamped “Top Secret”

6

Espen Andersen 01.19.12 at 11:36 am

I think the whole issue can be stated much briefer, and in microelectronic terms: Over time in a competitive environment, the price of any goods will approach the (short-term) marginal cost of production.

7

Matt 01.19.12 at 11:54 am

When Robert Hanssen was arrested for spying for the Russians (and Soviet Union befor that) there was a question of how he was able to make photocopies of so much classified material. The answer turned out to be that he hadn’t- he’d just stolen the original documents and didn’t replace them, and no one noticed. It was just one of many things about that case that made me strongly doubt the intelligence of the “intelligence” agencies.

As for photocopiers, when I was living and teaching in Russia, they were still heavily guarded, but more for fear of having to buy more toner and paper- the number of copies a teacher could make was tightly controlled. But, I don’t think they were any tighter about that then the secretary of the philosophy department at SUNY Albany was, when I knew her. She could have been an excellent Soviet administrator the way the controlled resources.

8

ajay 01.19.12 at 12:02 pm

5: good point. It’s not like it would be possible for Ellsberg to develop his own photographs. I mean, yes, he was a Harvard PhD, a Marine officer, and a Top Secret-cleared RAND analyst, but to develop photographs you need the kind of highly specialised skills and technology that are only available to an elite cadre of Boy Scouts.

9

ajay 01.19.12 at 12:04 pm

Nor is it conceivable that any employee of the Kodak Corporation would be opposed to the Vietnam War and inclined to help someone who was leaking documents in order to end it. Someone with that sort of opinion might be able to slip through the kind of haphazard vetting employed by the US Department of Defense and the White House, but they’d never get past the front door of a Kodak outlet.

10

Barry 01.19.12 at 12:10 pm

ajay, the point that it would be *possible* is granted. *Feasibility* is another thing.

11

ajay 01.19.12 at 12:19 pm

It would have been both possible and feasible. The point is (or should be) that it wouldn’t have been as easy as photocopying or internet dissemination.

12

tomslee 01.19.12 at 12:51 pm

I am not sure that the Ellsberg/allegedly-Manning comparison looks so good for the Big Copying Machine. The real cost of the action, for each, was the potential cost of discovery, and by that measure Manning has suffered worse.

It’s good news that the campaign against SOPA is bearing fruit, but (at least in my breakfast-time state of mind) I prefer the analysis at Jacobin Mag.

13

Dan Cole 01.19.12 at 1:25 pm

John:

With respect to footnote 4, I believe the analysis in Landes and Posner, The Economic Structure of Intellectual Property (Harvard 2003), while inspired by traditional Chicago School neoclassical theory, is fairly consistent with the New Institutional Economics.

Dan

14

Frank in midtown 01.19.12 at 2:53 pm

This thread has made my morning.

15

Watson Ladd 01.19.12 at 3:28 pm

tomslee brings up a good point: controlling access to documents and recording what people are doing is pretty easy with electronic documents, not so easy with paper ones. But Ellsberg was releasing one giant document which he was allowed to access, while Manning was releasing things he downloaded and had no reason to. Add that to the fact that Ellsberg told no one, while Manning was indiscrete and you get most of the difference. Ellsberg would have had an easier time doing what he did today.

16

jack lecou 01.19.12 at 4:15 pm

The real cost of the action, for each, was the potential cost of discovery, and by that measure Manning has suffered worse.

Hmm. “Potential cost”? In both cases it seems like the anticipated ex ante costs of discovery would have been about the same: a very long term of imprisonment (and the possibility, at least, of facing the death penalty). I suppose factors like trial under the UCMJ rather than a civilian court or the general political climate might make a difference, so arguably Manning could have anticipated generally harsher punishment, but the potential costs of discovery are so severe in both cases that I’m not sure such differences really mean much.

The potential for (premature) discovery seems like the more significant factor. It’s difficult to say anything for certain from a sample size of 2, but smuggling a thumb drive into a computer room certainly seems far less risky than physically copying thousands of pages, especially when you consider that Ellsberg had to trust helpers. It’s not as if Manning was caught out by some sneaky technical countermeasure[1] – AFAIK, he got away with the actual copying and transmission completely cleanly. He only ran into difficulties when he chose to trust Lamo too much.

Which is another factor – to release the papers, Ellsberg had little choice but to trust dozens of people. Senators, reporters, activists, etc. Manning, on the other hand, at least could have transmitted his files to Assange or others completely anonymously (not sure if he actually did, but there’s little technical difficulty). He eventually revealed himself to Lamo, but apparently only out of a desire for friendship, certainly not as an integral component of the leaking itself.

—–
fn1.: Nor would I place any bets on (effective) countermeasures having been put in place post-Manning.

17

tomslee 01.19.12 at 4:31 pm

So yes, it’s a sample size of two. But the historical comparisons are:
– Both Ellsberg and Manning (alleged) succeeded in making copies of important documents
– Ellsberg’s documents had a bigger effect on the Vietnam war than Manning’s had on today’s conflict.
– Ellsberg ended up suffering less harshly than Manning.

I don’t see how you can use the history to argue that today’s environment is more favourable for the release of damaging documents than 1968. Both jack and Watson are arguing back from their conclusions (Ellsberg would have had it easier today, the potential for premature discovery was actually greater for Ellsberg).

18

jack lecou 01.19.12 at 4:42 pm

Ellsberg’s documents had a bigger effect on the Vietnam war than Manning’s had on today’s conflict…. I don’t see how you can use the history to argue that today’s environment is more favourable for the release of damaging documents than 1968.

That’s a different argument. We’re talking about logistical ease here, and the corresponding risk of discovery. There are no doubt a lot of political and cultural factors to explain the difference in impact, but it seems like they’re mostly going to be pretty orthogonal to the existence of better copying technology.

Aside from the ex post observation that Manning has suffered worse, what’s the actual argument that surreptitiously copying thousands of documents was easier to pull off in 1968?

19

jack lecou 01.19.12 at 4:54 pm

Or to put it from another perspective: JQ was writing about “the implications, for someone who wants to control copying…”

If you’re a g-man tasked with controlling and preventing the copying or leaking of documents, is your job easier in ’68, or today? How extensive, invasive and crippling would your countermeasures have to be to work in today’s world vs. Ellsberg’s?

20

geo 01.19.12 at 6:08 pm

OP: And given their past performances, they aren’t going to have a lot of credences

USAGE QUERY: “Credence” means “belief.” “Credibility” means “believability” or “plausibility.” Shouldn’t the above be: “… they aren’t going to have a lot of credibility …”?

21

EKR 01.19.12 at 6:52 pm

I’m not understanding the apparent claim that photography wasn’t a feasible method of copying. Black and white film processing and printing are simple processes that are easily done at home. My high school had a complete photography lab and I would rather imagine so did the New York Times, so all Ellsberg would have needed to do would be to deliver the exposed film to the Times. If for some reason he wanted to deliver processed material, the best option would probably be to make slides rather than prints, since you can make slides directly from the film.

Regardless, none of this seems like a significant logistical barrier.

22

Jonathan Stray 01.19.12 at 7:01 pm

I’d love to see some references around the idea that the orthodox economic view of existing copyright law is that it is inefficient. Of course creative commons etc. have been saying this for years but I was not aware that there was an economic consensus too.

23

John Quiggin 01.19.12 at 7:09 pm

Quite a few commenters above need to read the book, I think. Well worth it, in a great many ways.

24

Kaveh 01.19.12 at 7:12 pm

Espen Anderson @6 I think the whole issue can be stated much briefer, and in microelectronic terms: Over time in a competitive environment, the price of any goods will approach the (short-term) marginal cost of production.

I think this model applies perfectly here. Art is a very cheap good with huge externalities. I think it should be a major goal of society (not necessarily for the state, but maybe that too) to internalize these externalities (meaning, to reward artists appropriately). The honor system or voluntary donations is one way to do this.

An idea I’ve been kicking around in my head is to devise a way to keep track of how often particular works (songs, pieces of art, books, articles) are shared on the web, and have a big pot of money (funded by the government and/or private philanthropists) that is distributed “proportionately” according to some transparent, agreed-upon, but potentially flexible system. I put scare quotes on proportionately because that need not be a linear relationship of X shares of the pot per download of a song , Y per download of a book, &c.. It could be X * ln(# of downloads) or sqrt(# of downloads) or something like that (for the less-mathematically-inclined, this means every additional download of your song gives you a bit less than the last one, so as to favor less popular artists and not create superstars just from the pot alone). Enforcement would rely on there being very little incentive to cheat the system by “pirating”.

25

John Quiggin 01.19.12 at 7:16 pm

To respond to the photography idea, I was a member of my high-school photography club too at exactly the time Ellsberg leaked the papers, with technology that presumably was unchanged from 20 years before that. The idea that, (assuming you knew how, or had a friend who did) you could make 140 000 prints in a home lab, strikes me as absurd. We didn’t make slides, and AFAIK, only a commercial lab could do that.

Of course, Ellsberg could simply have handed his only copy over to the NYT and hoped for the best – they could certainly have made many copies if they had wanted to, and if the government hadn’t got wind of it and raided them. But that’s kind of the point isn’t it?

26

Kaveh 01.19.12 at 7:24 pm

(When I say I had the idea “to devise a way to do this”, I don’t mean I devise it myself, I would have no idea how to develop something like this.)

27

js. 01.19.12 at 7:27 pm

Ajay, etc.:

Do you have any idea how much work it is to take, develop, and print (multiple copies of) 7,000 photos. 7,000 photos! And we’re talking manually develop and print them! That’s ridiculous. It’s possible like it’s possible for me to walk from Alaska to Chile with nothing but the clothes on my back.

28

JW Mason 01.19.12 at 7:52 pm

Over time in a competitive environment, the price of any goods will approach the (short-term) marginal cost of production.

Not true, at all.

It would be closer to the truth to say that the price of goods will approach a markup over marginal costs of 1/(e-1), where e is the price elasticity of demand. There are essentially no economically important cases where price elasticity is infinite and the markup is zero (where this might otherwise be approximately the case, there is inevitably a floor on the markup imposed by regulation or convention.) The elasticity int urn is determined by the degree of competition in that particular market.

Meanwhile, in the real world — the thing that formalisms like the one quoted above are specifically intended to avoid looking at — we see goods sold way above their marginal cost *all the time*. Maybe electronic information is moving toward free distribution — I hope so, tho I’m not as confident as John Q. But the thing is, the marginal cost of an electronic version of a book or song or movie has been pretty much zero for many years now, and people are still selling the things. It’s a funny mindset that sees a theory making one prediction and the world behaving entirely differently, and concludes, not that a different theory is needed, but that the world will be cathcing up with the theory real soon, any day now, just watch.

29

EKR 01.19.12 at 7:57 pm

Of course it’s ridiculous to make a huge number of prints. Why one earth would you want to do that? Remember, the objective is to disseminate copies widely; let people make their own prints or just project them directly from the negatives; white on black text is quite readable, if a bit irritating. It’s not clear to me why this would present a huge barrier for the end-user (i.e., the NYT).

WRT to the question of giving up your only copy, you can directly duplicate photographic film using contact duplication. See, for instance: here. There’s no reason Ellsberg couldn’t have made an arbitrary number of copies of the negatives and disseminated them as film.

30

JW Mason 01.19.12 at 8:01 pm

In terms of the original post, it may be that IP as we know it and the Internet as we know it are increasingly in conflict. But like Atrios says, we should not take it for granted that the Internet will necessarily win.

31

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.19.12 at 8:09 pm

There were already computers in 1969. You could type the text into an IBM 360 (on punchcards or via TSO), and then print as many copies as you want. Which is the way a lot of Soviet samizdat stuff was produced. It would take a data entry person a few days to enter 7000 pages, but certainly not months.

32

J. Otto Pohl 01.19.12 at 8:17 pm

Henri:

Most samizdat was produced on manual typewriters with carbon paper making copies of the manuscript. These copies were then passed on to other people who typed up another few issues. The Chronicle of Current Events in fact recommended this method for distribution. Compared to other industrial societies the USSR was computer poor during the 70s and 80s. Neither dissidents or more trusted members of Soviet society had much access to computers during the entire Soviet era. Those few that existed were largely employed by the military.

33

Nicholas Whyte 01.19.12 at 8:26 pm

And they’ve closed down Megaupload, even without SOPA! I can’t believe it!

34

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.19.12 at 8:34 pm

I beg to differ, Otto, even though I only have anecdotal evidence. In the 1980s there were IBM mainframe clones in many computer centers, easily accessible by most of the staff there, while (you’re right) the xerox machines were indeed kept behind steel doors, and making a copy required multiple signatures.

35

J. Otto Pohl 01.19.12 at 8:38 pm

There was far less samizdat in the 80s than the 70s. In part because Jews and Germans that wanted to emigrate had already been allowed to leave. But, in greater part because far more dissidents were incarcerated by this time. By the 1980s Taiwan had more computers than the USSR. But, by the 1980s there is also lot less samizdat floating around than in the 1970s because a lot more writers have been neutralized either through incarceration or emigration.

36

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.19.12 at 8:56 pm

Samizdat wasn’t just political. Porn as well. Unpublished, but more or less apolitical literature, like Nabokov or Kharms. And it wasn’t dangerous to own it in the 80s; people were reading it in the Metro.

37

Jim Harrison 01.19.12 at 9:22 pm

A Polish-American math prof I used to know claimed that he taught Solidarity activists how to use paraffin in a baking sheet to make a crude mimeograph machine.

38

Nine 01.19.12 at 9:27 pm

“There were already computers in 1969. You could type the text into an IBM 360 (on punchcards or via TSO), and then print as many copies as you want. Which is the way a lot of Soviet samizdat stuff was produced. It would take a data entry person a few days to enter 7000 pages, but certainly not months.”

Since the thread has already been derailed … Is any of this at all plausible ie in the sense of Ellsberg and/or cronies commandeering a IBM 360 or whatever was current in those days, and typing away for days etc. I doubt it.

39

Nine 01.19.12 at 9:41 pm

Just looked up the specs for IBM 360 … man, am i glad i live today ! That is not something
your everyman or even Daniel Ellsberg, as a matter of course, could have had access to, or having gained that access, would have been able to operate with facility.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBM_System/360

I very much doubt for Henri’s thrilling scenario to be viable outside the movies & even there it would take several jump cuts.

40

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.19.12 at 9:41 pm

Not necessarily a derailment, it shows how difficult it is to control information this way. I mean, seriously, a DNS filter? Good luck with that.

41

John Quiggin 01.19.12 at 9:45 pm

@JWM I’ve been working on a piece for years about the importance of transactions costs and monopoly rights (eg copyright) in a situation where marginal costs are falling towards zero. I will have to finish it and get it out

42

JW Mason 01.19.12 at 9:48 pm

I’ve been working on a piece for years about the importance of transactions costs and monopoly rights (eg copyright) in a situation where marginal costs are falling towards zero. I will have to finish it and get it out

Please do, I’d be very interested in seeing it.

43

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.19.12 at 9:53 pm

I very much doubt for Henri’s thrilling scenario to be viable outside the movies

You’d be surprised. And what about the scenario of getting 7000 pages of a super-secret document out of RAND in the first place?

44

Salient 01.19.12 at 10:08 pm

Not necessarily a derailment, it shows how difficult it is to control information this way. I mean, seriously, a DNS filter? Good luck with that.

The internet is not valuable because it allows people to access information. Full stop. The internet is valuable because it allows people to access information without putting hardly any effort into it. A spotty and surmountable DNS filter would still effectively prevent access for at least the 80% or so of the population who wouldn’t bother to find workarounds.

45

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.19.12 at 10:26 pm

People who want to download music will put some effort into it. I suspect the IP people would’ve done better by uploading a lot of fake files, damaged files that are not immediately recognizable as damaged, viruses – and without any government involvement. It would require more effort to sort that out than finding the IP address of the pirate bay.

46

Curious 01.19.12 at 10:27 pm

Since Ellsberg is still alive and well, someone should ask him whether photographing all those documents would have been feasible.

47

gordon 01.19.12 at 10:42 pm

Meanwhile, Washington’s Blog is saying that SOPA/PIPA haven’t been stopped, they’re still going on:

“…But SOPA’s key sponsor – Lamar Smith – is sticking with the flawed bill.

“In fact, the Senate is set to vote on PIPA on January 24, 2012, and the House Judiciary Committee continues its markup of SOPA in February…”.

http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2012/01/update-on-sopa-and-pipa.html

48

Nine 01.19.12 at 10:46 pm

“And what about the scenario of getting 7000 pages of a super-secret document out of RAND in the first place?”

What’s remarkable about it ? There are dozens of examples of spies sneaking thick dossiers out of secret facilities.

49

LFC 01.19.12 at 11:25 pm

ajay @9
Nor is it conceivable that any employee of the Kodak Corporation would be opposed to the Vietnam War and inclined to help someone who was leaking documents in order to end it. Someone with that sort of opinion might be able to slip through the kind of haphazard vetting employed by the US Department of Defense and the White House, but they’d never get past the front door of a Kodak outlet.

Ellsberg’s opposition to the war, if I’m not mistaken, developed after he was employed by DOD, not before. So this point about vetting is beside the point.

50

LFC 01.19.12 at 11:30 pm

oops, left off my blog address. can’t have that. :)

51

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.19.12 at 11:34 pm

And what’s so remarkable about 3rd shift mainframe operators printing stuff? ASCII-art posters used to be all over the place.

52

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.19.12 at 11:45 pm

…well, I guess at that would be EBCDIC-art.

53

John Quiggin 01.19.12 at 11:50 pm

This derailment is silly.
(i) I’d ask anyone who hasn’t actually read the book to stop putting up silly scenarios about how he might have done it, whether smuggling documents out of secure facilities is easy or hard, what risks of prosecution he faced and so on. That information is all available
(ii) To restore a bit of reality, for Ellsberg in 1970, finding a friend whose small business had a photocopy machine was the obvious starting point. He also made some use of commercial facilities, which required him to cut off the top secret tags. Even though it was the best option it took him (IIRC) several months to prepare and distribute enough copies to be sure the government couldn’t find them all.
(iii) To repeat myself, there was no way an ordinary citizen, working in secret, could have produced 20 copies of a 7000 page document in 1950. Today, anyone can do much more than that in seconds. That is what has changed.
(iv) The potential legal consequences for Ellsberg were much the same as for Bradley Manning. He went to trial and faced a long prison term, but the government’s case (and eventually, the Nixon Administration) fell over when it was revealed they had burgled his psychiatrists office in search of material for blackmail/dirtdishing
(v) The difference today is that the problem then faced by governments seeking to control top-secret material is now faced by the owners of Mickie and Winnie. A US public that seems prepared to tolerate almost anything in the name of national security is unwilling to make the same sacrifices to preserve intellectual property.

54

Cranky Observer 01.20.12 at 12:34 am

= = =
(iii) To repeat myself, there was no way an ordinary citizen, working in secret, could have produced 20 copies of a 7000 page document in 1950. Today, anyone can do much more than that in seconds. That is what has changed.
= = =

It is now known that all high-resolution color printers sold in the US add a pattern of dots to the page to uniquely identify the printer that produced it; one has to suspect that scanners and more capable b&w laser printers have a similar mechanism of some type. So perhaps not as easy as it seems.

Cranky

55

Nabakov 01.20.12 at 12:35 am

Henri@36

And then there was progressive political pornographic samizdat. Fake progressive political pornographysamizdat.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Octobriana

Now that’s derailment JQ.

56

John Quiggin 01.20.12 at 2:03 am

That’s the kind of derailment that makes CT great!

57

Curious 01.20.12 at 2:15 am

Has Obama indicated whether he’s going to veto these bills if they get passed by Congress?

58

andrew 01.20.12 at 9:00 am

Fernand Braudel reported making 2000-3000 photos per day during his archival research in the 1920s:

I had to wait for the summer vacation of 1927 to undertake my’ lengthy labors in the archives of Simancas. But I had an unusual piece of luck: when I tried to buy an ordinary camera (microfilm is a postwar invention), an American cameraman offered me an ancient apparatus intended for making movies, and proved to me that it could perform marvels in photographing documents. I aroused envy and admiration among the archivists and buscadores of Simancas by taking 2,000- 3,000 photos a day and rolling some thirty meters of film. I used it and abused it, in Spain and in Italy. Thanks to this ingenious cameraman, I was no doubt the first user of true microfilms, which I developed myself and later read, through long days and nights, with a simple magic lantern.

See Fernand Braudel, “Personal Testimony,” The Journal of Modern History , Vol. 44, No. 4 (Dec., 1972): 448-467. (JSTOR link)

59

J. Otto Pohl 01.20.12 at 10:03 am

36 Henri:

It depends when in the 80s. Strictly political samizdat which is all I know about was dangerous to have in the 1980-1985 period. After that things got increasingly relaxed. In 1987 free emigration was allowed so the Jewish and to some extent German national movements lost steam.

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Woef 01.20.12 at 1:02 pm

Where ‘the internet’ did get things right is in the ability to have some sort of timeous response to sophisticated ‘gaming’ of systems. Thus google, tripadvisor, et. al. continuously improve their algorithms to counter-act gaming. In the legal space, and particularly in the IP space, this has not always been the case. So, the big companies (for example) abuse/game the system by (another example) registering patents with no intention of using these patents other than to knock down a potential competitor when it grows to the point where it becomes a threat, while simultaneously (and quite rightly) also complaining of their R&D efforts being ‘stolen’ . These type of gaming instances mixed with real concerns need much more sophisticated responses than is currently the case. What is my suggestion? That IP law be reformed through the focussed involvement of real experts and that it is acknowledged that this is a much more complex effort that the current ones.

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Kaveh 01.20.12 at 2:09 pm

Salient @ The internet is not valuable because it allows people to access information. Full stop. The internet is valuable because it allows people to access information without putting hardly any effort into it. A spotty and surmountable DNS filter would still effectively prevent access for at least the 80% or so of the population who wouldn’t bother to find workarounds.

I think a lot of that 80% (or something) of the population already doesn’t know to or bother to look beyond TV news and newspapers for their news, they are very passive consumers of news. If more people knew there was news on the internet that is dangerous enough to censor…

One thing I hope will come out of the campaigns to stop PIPA/SOPA is for more people to appreciate new media’s importance and centrality.

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Salient 01.20.12 at 7:09 pm

I think a lot of that 80% (or something) of the population already doesn’t know to or bother to look beyond TV news and newspapers for their news,

Oh, oops, I didn’t just mean news, and I meant to be more specific like “80% of the Internet-using subpopulation” not “80% of the entire-citizen-population” — sorry, my original phrasing was badly unclear. I’m not even sure 80% or more of U.S. citizens access the Internet, much less rely upon it.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 01.20.12 at 9:28 pm

Otto, I don’t think this has a lot to do with Jews or Germans. Samizdat is just a way to publish books that are censored (or just ignored as unworthy) inside the country. People who were neither Jews nor German wanted to read Bulgakov, Erofeev, and Brodsky just the same.

I don’t believe it was a crime (we are talking the post-Stalin period, of course) to own these books, only to distribute some of them, the so-called ‘anti-Soviet literature’. I get the impression that even with the most ‘horrible’ anti-Soviet literature, if they searched your apartment and found it there, they would’ve just confiscated it; to get arrested you’d have to be caught publishing and/or distributing it.

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J. Otto Pohl 01.21.12 at 10:10 am

Henri:

Having certain political samizdat was punishable sometimes by incarceration. But, by the 1970s activists usually had a number of run ins with the KGB before being sent off to Perm or some other prison camp. Threats and intimidation were the preferred first line of repression at this time. The Jewish and German emigration movements were two large sources of political samizdat. I am pretty familiar with the German stuff published after 1973. There was also Crimean Tatar, Meshketian Turk, Baltic, and Ukrainian samizdat. The national movements accounted for a large percentage of dissent and samizdat in the USSR.

RL collected much of the samizdat of the period on microfilm. There is also the Chronicle of Current Events, a clearing house of dissident news out of Moscow during the 1970s. Amnesty International has translated most of the issues into English.

While technically samizdat means any self published literature, in terms of significance it is usually meant to refer the type of political literature above. Works advocating the restoration of Estonian independence, the restoration of the Crimean ASSR, or an unlimited right to emigrate to Germany or Israel for Germans and Jews was not legal to even own until the mid-1980s.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 01.21.12 at 11:27 am

Okay, so you’re talking about political activists and their propaganda materials. To me, that’s only a small part of samizdat.

As for the mere possession being punishable by incarceration, that appears to be more complicated than I thought (I thought it wasn’t). According to this pdf (this is 1978) it sounds like possession + conspiracy to undermine the authority would indeed be punishable.:

Political Charges

This category includes Article 70 of the RSFSR Criminal. Code and the
corresponding articles in the republican criminal codes […] This provision , introduced in the 1960 revision
of the RSFSR Criminal Code differs only slightly from the provisions on counterrevolutionary
agitation and propaganda which were applicable in earlier periods
of Soviet history. According to Professor Berman (p. 8l):

Its scope is sufficiently broad to include the circulation or indeed the mere possession , of .literature containing statements defamatory of the Soviet political or social system. However, a direct (subjective) anti-Soviet intent is required; in the words of a Soviet commentary, a person is guilty of violating Article 70 only if he nows or foresees that his acts can produce in other persons a hostile attitude to Soviet authority or instigate them to commit particular , especially dangerous crimes against the state , and he desires such result of his acts ‘ Another Soviet commentary puts the matter in these terms: ‘ To be guilty under Article 70 the actor must have a desire to undermine or weaken Soviet authority, and in case of possession of anti-Soviet literature such possession must be for the purpose of using the literature in the future to
accomplish that desire. The crime of anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda is punishable by up to 7 years
deprivation of freedom and up to 5 years in exile.

Article 190-l of the RSFSR Criminal Code , under which Aleksandr Podrabinek
arrested in Moscow May l5 during the Orlov trial , is likely to be charged , is also
a political crime , introduced into the criminal code in 1966 after the trial of
writers Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel. Like Article 70 , Article 190- l makes
it a crime to circulate statements known to be false which are defamatory of the
Soviet system. However , there need not be the intent to subvert or weaken Soviet
authority. The mere possession of defamatory statements is not punishable under
Article 190-l although the preparation of such statements is.

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J. Otto Pohl 01.21.12 at 2:04 pm

Henri:

Yes, this is basically right. Although Soviet political trials were hardly bastions of due process there was some attempt at socialist legality after Stalin. None the less, written material opposing Soviet policies regarding things like nationality policies were effectively illegal. Most activists were not arrested on their first encounter with the KGB and procurator’s office. Other means were usually employed first to try and deter future activism. But, in some cases an active dissident could be charged and sentenced for mere possession of anti-Soviet samizdat. Their previous activities providing evidence of anti-Soviet intent.

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Sasha Clarkson 01.21.12 at 2:53 pm

From sensible beginnings, the concept of intellectual property has become a monster. Just supposing that current laws on and attitudes to intellectual property had been around in, say, the late 18th century. All of the wonderful work of Leonhard Euler might have been considered his personal intellectual property, and then acquired by someone else on his death. We might have been face with the prospect that for 5o years mathematicians would not have been allowed to use his notation or develop his work.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonhard_Euler#Contributions_to_mathematics_and_physics

To go from the sublime to the ridiculous, I am a keen gardener and, where possible, I buy one plant and vegetatively propagate it to make many. A few years ago, I bought a New Guinea impatiens which had a label stating something like “propagation of this plant is forbidden by law”. Alas, pieces of it kept falling into the soil and growing roots. I concluded that this was God’s work, and that His law superceded the law of the land. I therefore nurtured the bounty that nature had freely provided. Naturally under the circumstances, I felt that it would have been wrong to sell the surplus, so I gave it away to friends and neighbours.

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ragweed 01.23.12 at 9:07 pm

(iii) To repeat myself, there was no way an ordinary citizen, working in secret, could have produced 20 copies of a 7000 page document in 1950. Today, anyone can do much more than that in seconds. That is what has changed.
(iv) The potential legal consequences for Ellsberg were much the same as for Bradley Manning. He went to trial and faced a long prison term, but the government’s case (and eventually, the Nixon Administration) fell over when it was revealed they had burgled his psychiatrists office in search of material for blackmail/dirtdishing.

iii. Maybe if he had access to a microfilm camera – they were using those to capture millions of pages of newspaper and historical archives by the 1930s. The prints would have been more difficult though.

iii. and iv. – I wonder if the relative ease of downloading the data actually made it more dangerous for Manning. Ellsberg had to really think through and plan what he was doing, and involve several other people. The amount of effort involved in keeping from getting caught in those circumstances can help to impress the seriousness of the act. Manning, on the other hand, downloaded the info in a matter of minutes. It’s almost too easy.

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