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Technology 4 Lives

Archive for April, 2012

Crystal Cox is Getting So Much Free Speech Coming at Her, She Probably Got Some in Her Eye

Redwood sunlight by NPS Photo [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsThere is not much I can add to the saga of Crystal Cox except for a few dirty puns. The bottom line of this story is that a “blogger” is not always a journalist. Sometimes a “blogger” is just an extortionist. I will relate the story by shamelessly quoting from better legal bloggers.

A good summary, in dramatic form, of how Crystal Cox operates comes to us from Jordan Rushie:

Imagine this…. you Google yourself. To your surprise, a whole bunch of stuff that is blatantly untrue comes up. Being an adult, you call the person who wrote it. This is how the conversation goes down:

“Did you write all that stuff on a website about me?”
“Yup. I’m an investigative blogger journalist!”
“Um, a bunch of the stuff you wrote about me is untrue. Actually all of it is.”
“Oh sure, I know. But I’m a journalist blogger so I can say whatever I want. First Amendment, bitch! But tell you what – I’m also reputation manager. If you pay me $2,500 a month, I’m sure a lot of that untrue stuff would go away.”
“Uhhhhhh… wait a second. You wrote a bunch of stuff that’s untrue about me. And now you’ll only take it down if I pay you?”
“Yup! And if you DON’T pay me it’s going to get worse! I’m going to buy a bunch of domain names that involve you and your family. Not only will I smear your reputation, but I’ll smear theirs, too! I’ll write all kinds of stuff, like call your wife a slut! I’ll even go after your four year old child!”
“That’s extortion!”
“No silly, it’s not extortion! It’s journalism! Investigative journalism!”

You’re probably saying to yourself “nah, that couldn’t happen. That’s illegal. A person could get in a lot of trouble for doing something so irresponsible and probably illegal.”

Too bad that’s exactly what Crystal Cox did. Twice now. Maybe more.

Crystal Cox first came to the public’s attention last year, when a judge ruled against her in a defamation suit and ordered her to pay $2.5 million. After some hand-wringing over what this might mean for other bloggers, it eventually became clear that Crystal Cox actually runs an online, reputation-based protection racket. That is many things, but it ain’t journalism.

At the heart of the current kerfuffle is first amendment bad-ass Marc Randazza (Full disclosure: he’s my lawyer in this thing I’ve got going on. That’s how I know he is a bad-ass.) When Crystal Cox did not get what she wanted from Marc Randazza, she went after him by registering dopey domain names like marcrandazzasucks.com. When that didn’t work, she went after his family, registering domains in the name of his wife and three-year-old daughter.

This is not a valiant warrior fighting the forces of darkness to defend freedom of speech. While it may be true that the front-line warriors for free speech (and I mean the speakers themselves, not their attorneys), are often ultimately fighting to clear the way for people who actually have something useful to say, Crystal Cox doesn’t even fit that description. She is not a reporter, journalist, or even the kind of blogger who just regurgitates other people’s news in a restated format (something about which I know a thing or two.) She is not a blogger in any meaningful, useful, constructive sense. She is a thug, nothing more, as court documents and her own statements and actions amply demonstrate.

Trying to shut her down is not necessarily the answer, though. In some ways, it is helpful to know that people like her are out there. As Marc Randazza says: “Sunshine is the best disinfectant. The cure for bad speech is more speech.”

Consider this my ray of sunshine.

Photo credit: Redwood sunlight by NPS Photo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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Netflix is not what you might think it is

Netflix envelope

There is no need to stomp all over symbolic representations of Netflix's management

The internet was all abuzz yesterday with news of Netflix’s creation of a super PAC, called FLIXPAC, allegedly set up to promote SOPA/PIPA-type legislation.

Except it isn’t true, at least according to Netflix. Netflix is not supporting SOPA et al, it says.

You see, internet, this is why we can’t have nice things.

Politico ran a piece on April 5 with the not-terribly-earth-shattering headline “Netflix forms PAC.” It takes about thirty seconds to see that the article makes no mention whatsoever of any specific policy positions taken by said PAC. It doesn’t even call it a “super” PAC.

Fast-forward to April 9, when RT publishes “Netflix creates pro-SOPA super-PAC?” Note the use of the question mark. The article is a masterpiece of hedging:

As US lawmakers consider anti-piracy legislation, they may have found an ally in Netflix. The streaming content giant has created its own super PAC, raising claims that it will support anti-piracy measures in Washington to promote SOPA-like laws.

(Emphasis added) See the problem? It continues:

Hollywood and record industry support didn’t help Congress get SOPA and PIPA to pass the House and Senate, but now they may have a new accomplice in their continuing fight to try and push for anti-piracy legislation.

(Emphasis added) Keep reading…

The newly established agency may be able to endorse politicians by way of stuffing their pockets, which could influence even more congressmen to condone increasingly controversial bills considered in the House and Senate. Congressional records would seem to support this possibility, as they show that the lobbying expenses of Netflix rose from $20,000 in 2009 to $500,000 in 2011.

The most notorious of those bills – the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) – is thought to have found initial support with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, who reportedly expressed solidarity with SOPA’s ultimate goals in a letter to the Chamber of Commerce. However, once internet resistance to SOPA grew, Netflix hastily backtracked, insisting that the company has been “neutral” on the issue right from the start.

(Emphasis added) I think you get the idea.

This is why it is important to read an online article carefully and check the linked sources. In the case of the RT article, there are no linked sources. They don’t even link to the Politico article. That says something.

The one verifiable claim made anywhere in the quoted text, other than the simple (and innocuous by itself) fact of Netflix’s increased lobbying budget, is the CEO’s purported support of “SOPA’s ultimate goals.” Yes, Hastings did apparently send a letter expressing support for the goal of stopping internet piracy. Not to get too far from the original point of this post, but of course he would support stopping internet piracy. He makes money in part by selling streaming video. And stopping online piracy is not an inherently unworthy goal (wait for it…)

The problem with SOPA is that it goes too far and is ripe for abuse by overzealous content owners and prosecutors. It isn’t SOPA’s goals that are problematic (well, that’s arguable, but I’m generalizing), so much as SOPA’s methods.

After much public outcry, Hastings reversed any sort of overt support he might have implied for SOPA. That was a good business move. The public clearly does not care for SOPA, and Netflix has been near-catastrophically tone-deaf to the public’s needs in the recent past.

RT issued a correction of sorts earlier today.

The point here is that SOPA is bad news, but suggesting ill intent around every corner does not help the overall cause of developing a system of online copyright protection that actually makes sense. Netflix and Reed Hastings may actually love the crap out of SOPA, and this really is a ploy to help push it through Congress–but this sentence is pulled directly out of my butt, as there is no evidence of this whatsoever. So far.

I’m halfway through season 1 of both “The Wire” and “Mad Men,” so I’m glad I don’t have to give up Netflix. Yet.

Side note to Netflix: You dodged a bullet in September with your idiotic Qwikster plan. Just know that American consumers are watching you, and do not trust you. Lucky for you that you offer a good service people love. But then, Blackberry once had fifty percent of the smartphone market, and look at them now. Tread carefully.

(h/t abaldwin360)

Photo credit: Photo by author.

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