Eric Schmidt: Anti-piracy Laws Disastrous for Free Speech

Wait – is this for real? A large American company openly defying the anti-freedom and totalitarian content industry? In comments in the UK media, Google chairman Eric Schmidt took aim at the big content-sponsored PROTECT IP act. The PROTECT IP act is the US internet censorship (the China kind) law, which more or less takes aim directly against Google. In his criticism, Schmidt went far – very far. The content industry obviously isn’t pleased.

We haven’t really discussed the PROTECT IP act yet, so, well, let’s do that. As Ars details, the law is very encompassing, as it would force search engines, internet providers, credit card companies, and ad networks to block access to ‘rogue sites’ – you know, stuff like The Pirate Bay, or anything else the content industry and/or the US government deems ‘rogue’. You know, like WikiLeaks. Or sites publishing WikiLeaks documents.

Google’s Eric Schmidt is not happy with this law, and he took aim at it in the UK media. And with ‘took aim at it’, I mean he basically took an RPG and obliterated it, stating it set a “disastrous precedent” for freedom of speech. He then kicked it up a notch. “If there is a law that requires DNSs to do X and it’s passed by both houses of congress and signed by the president of the United States and we disagree with it then we would still fight it,” Schmidt stated, “If it’s a request the answer is we wouldn’t do it, if it’s a discussion we wouldn’t do it.”

“I would be very, very careful if I were a government about arbitrarily [implementing] simple solutions to complex problems,” he continued, “So, ‘let’s whack off the DNS’. Okay, that seems like an appealing solution but it sets a very bad precedent because now another country will say ‘I don’t like free speech so I’ll whack off all those DNSs’ – that country would be China. It doesn’t seem right. I would be very, very careful about that stuff.”

This is quite harsh, but in my book, very, very deserved and incredibly encouraging. Schmidt is a bit of a loose cannon at times, and he’s said some creepy stuff over the years, but I couldn’t agree with him more here. Any form of government censorship is bad, even if it passed through the ‘democratic’ system. As a people, you have the right to disregard obviously bad laws – and I’d say we can all agree that censorship laws are bad.

The content industry, obviously, isn’t pleased with Schmidt’s words. “Is Eric Schmidt really suggesting that if Congress passes a law and president Obama signs it, Google wouldn’t follow it? As an American company respected around the world, it’s unfortunate that, at least according to its executive chairman’s comments, Google seems to think it’s above America’s laws,” writes the MPAA’s Michael O’Leary [links to the MPAA website], “We’ve heard this ‘but the law doesn’t apply to me’ argument before – but usually, it comes from content thieves, not a Fortune 500 company. Google should know better. And the notion that China would use a bi-partisan, narrowly tailored bill as a pretext for censorship is laughable, as Google knows, China does what China does.”

I would indeed suggest that if the laws passed by a government no longer seem to be in line with the will of the people, then yes, the people have the right to disregard these laws. The people have made it very clear that current copyright laws no longer fit the will of the people (by clearly disregarding them), and that giving up freedom of speech and enacting censorship is a price they’re not willing to pay. Laws only exist because we collectively decide to follow them – not because a dying industry has enough money to buy them.

The RIAA stepped in as well [links to the RIAA website]. “This is baffling,” the RIAA said, “As a legitimate company, Google has a responsibility to not benefit from criminal activity. In substance and spirit, this contradicts the recent testimony of Google’s General Counsel that the company takes copyright theft seriously and was willing to step up to the plate in a cooperative and serious way.”

Of course, the same applies here: it’s only criminal because the content industry has the money to make it so. Here in The Netherlands we are allowed to download whatever we want, and the content industry hasn’t been collapsing any faster here than it has in the US.

Of course, Schmidt didn’t say they would disregard the law – he merely said they would fight it. All sorts of companies and interest groups fight laws all the time, and Google is no different. However, the usual knee-jerk response from the content industry is to dramatise everything. Or, as a Google spokesperson told Ars Technica, “Of course we abide by the law in every country we do business. We respect what the PROTECT IP Act is trying to accomplish and we’re working closely with Congress to make sure the bill targets sites dedicated to piracy while protecting free expression and legitimate sites.”

The PROTECT IP act is a censorship law, and whether censorship laws are enacted in China or the US, they are always wrong, and we should fight them at every turn. I’m happy Schmidt seems to think so too, because no matter the creepy potential Google has, at least they’re on our side on this one. I don’t think Apple or Microsoft will stand up for free speech like this.


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