July 26, 2017

Intent and the Super-DMCAs

Most of the reponses to my super-DMCA postings have been supportive, but a few people have disagreed. Some of the disagreements say, essentially, that there is no problem, because the bills are intended as anti-piracy measures, to prevent people from using cable, phone, or wireless service without paying.

(Let me put any doubts to rest by saying right now that people should be willing to pay for the service they receive. Jacking into the cable-TV network without paying for it is wrong, and I am happy to see reasonable punishments imposed on those who do it. If that were all these bills did, I wouldn’t object.)

In tech policy debates, we often see arguments about intentions crowding out discussion of the concrete effects of an action. It’s easy to see why intentions talk can be attractive for some participants. For one thing, it’s a game the whole family can play, regardless of their level of technical sophistication. There’s none of that boring, geeky talk about how networks operate and why encryption is used this way or that. Your arguments fit on a bumper sticker, and they’re fully reusable.

The other benefit of the good-intentions argument is that it’s usually true. In my limited engagement with the political process, it has seemed to me that everybody sees themselves as working for the public good, though they may naturally see the public good through the lens of their own self-interest. But if good intentions are so common, then their presence is unremarkable and doesn’t really distinguish you from the other side of the debate. Still, intentions talk is surprisingly common.

All of this would be harmless if politics were just a sequence of symbolic gestures. But of course we know that it isn’t. Citizens have to live with the consequences of well-intentioned but poorly drafted laws. We saw it with the DMCA, and we’ll see it again. The focus belongs on what these bills actually say, and what they would actually do.

Comments

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  3. The Road to Hell…

    Ed Felten Freedom to Tinker: Intent and the Super-DMCAspoints out that while the Super-DMCA bills are “well intentioned”, that’s hightly irrelevant. People often talk about the “spirit” of a law, or the law’s “intention”, but that’s not how our legal…