Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing has been an outspoken in his opposition to copyright legislation for some time. That’s fair enough. But his recent blog posting on the recent report by the IP Commission does a disservice to the report’s context and the facts. That’s a nice way of saying that his posting is as misleading as it is incorrect.

Let’s start with Doctorow’s breathless headline:

US entertainment industry to Congress: make it legal for us to deploy rootkits, spyware, ransomware and trojans to attack pirates!

OK, the 84 page report was the work of the “Commission on the Theft of American Property.” According to the report itself:

The Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property is an independent and bipartisan initiative of leading Americans from the private sector, public service in national security and foreign affairs, academe, and politics.

The members of the Commission hardly qualify as entertainment industry insiders:

Dennis C. Blair (co-chair), former Director of National Intelligence and Commander in Chief
of the U.S. Pacific Command
Jon M. Huntsman, Jr. (co-chair), former Ambassador to China, Governor of the state of Utah,
and Deputy U.S. Trade Representative
Craig R. Barrett, former Chairman and CEO of Intel Corporation
Slade Gorton, former U.S. Senator from the state of Washington, Washington Attorney General,
and member of the 9-11 Commission
William J. Lynn III, CEO of DRS Technologies and former Deputy Secretary of Defense
• Deborah Wince-Smith, President and CEO of the Council on Competitiveness
• Michael K. Young, President of the University of Washington and former Deputy Under Secretary
of State

In fact, the report mentions the entertainment industry only once. The problem with IP theft affects almost every (if not every) sector of the economy.

The bulk of the Commission’s report which Doctorow terms “pretty bonkers,” deals with the threat to the health of the entire U.S. economy posed by the I.P. theft. The nature of the threat goes far beyond the entertainment industry. I could cite statistics until I’m blue in the face, but let’s just mention a couple:

  • A U.S. Patent and Trademark Office study estimates that IP-intensive industries directly accounted for 27.1 million American jobs in 2010, or 18.8% of all employment in the economy. 
  • According to the International Data Corporation IP-intensive industries accounted for about $5.06 trillion in value added in 2010, or 34.8% of U.S.
    GDP. While IP-intensive industries directly supported 27.1-million jobs, either on their payrolls
    or under employment contracts.

The report in large measure deals with international cyberespionage and theft. Entertainment piracy is a large and complex issue on its own. International cyberespionage and theft  incorporates that and much more. It is, without exaggeration, an issue of national security.

Doctorow singles out two paragraphs from the entire report as particularly dangerous:

Additionally, software can be written that will allow only authorized users to open files containing valuable information. If an unauthorized person accesses the information, a range of actions might then occur. For example, the file could be rendered inaccessible and the unauthorized user’s computer could be locked down, with instructions on how to contact law enforcement to get the password needed to unlock the account. Such measures do not violate existing laws on the use of the Internet, yet they serve to blunt attacks and stabilize a cyber incident to provide both time and evidence for law enforcement to become involved.

There’s no mention of any sort of the “insane” tactics or malware that Doctorow warns of being loaded on computers. The report does mention measures that “do not violate existing laws on the use of the Internet.” It’s not quite “extortion” as Doctorow would have us believe. And let’s keep our eyes on the ball. We are talking about pirated content. Why shouldn’t it be made inaccessible?

Doctorow singles out a second paragraph:

While not currently permitted under U.S. law, there are increasing calls  for creating a more permissive environment for active network defense that allows companies not only to stabilize a situation but to take further steps, including actively retrieving stolen information, altering it within the intruder’s networks, or even destroying the information within an unauthorized network. Additional measures go further, including photographing the hacker using his own system’s camera, implanting malware in the hacker’s network, or even physically disabling or destroying the hacker’s own computer or network.

Doctorow obviously didn’t read the entire section of the report in which the Commissioners talk about the need to reconcile necessary changes in the law with a changing technical environment. They are not making a recommendation. In fact, in the paragraph that follows the report points out some of the problems with implementing such a strategy. It then goes on to say, “For these reasons and others, the Commission does not recommend specific revised laws under present circumstances.

The issues stemming from IP theft and security are serious enough without bounding into the realms of exaggeration and fantasy. Doctorow’s selective reading of the report is negligent, bordering on reckless, at best and  arguably disingenuous.  There is certainly room for disagreement and debate on the facts. But it should be just that – based on the facts.


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