June 15, 2024

Godwin's Law, Updated

One of the most famous observations about online discussions is Godwin’s Law:

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.

When it comes to copyright policy, a related law seems to hold:

As a copyright policy discussion grows longer, the probability of pornography being invoked approaches one.

What’s really interesting is the corollary:

When the topic of a copyright policy discussion switches to pornography, each side suddenly adopts the other side’s arguments.

For example, Hollywood argues that filesharing will lead to a shortage of movies, because nobody will make movies they can’t sell. But when the topic switches to pornographic movies, suddenly they start arguing that filesharing increases the creation and availability of content.

Similarly, some P2P vendors who say they can’t possibly filter or block copyrighted content, suddenly decide, when the topic switches to porn, that they can provide effective blocking. See, for example, a recent letter from the Distributed Computing Industry Association (a group of mostly P2P companies) to the Senate:

It is a fact that no industry – including the entertainment industry that cynically hatched the strategy of wrongly equating P2P with risks to children – has been more responsive than ours to concerns about the exposure of young people to inappropriate material. For example, by simply using the password-protected family filter included at no charge with leading P2P software programs, a parent can ensure that NO pornographic images or videos will be returned in response to any searches, including those of known child-pornography keywords.

The assertion that “NO pornographic images or videos will be returned in response to any searches”, can’t possibly be true. Content-based porn filtering will do just as poorly on content received via P2P as it does on content received via the web. These filters will be just as leaky as everybody else’s, and of course they’ll only operate for users who choose to turn them on.

I guess porn really does turn your brain to mush.


  1. Fucking brilliant. I’d realized that sophistry trick a while back, when I had to defend p2p against Christian conservatives: P2P is shredding the few remaining profits in the porn industry, bringing wank-mags to their knees.

    Mine is a devious and flimsy argument, but I’ve won with it a couple times.

  2. I don’t quite buy it… The adult film industry is entirely distinct from Hollywood. We’re talking about two separate industries here with separate stances on sharing, not one that switches arguments in some cases.

  3. I also called it “Felten’s Law” today: http://pun.org/josh/archives/2005/03/feltens_law.html

  4. Cypherpunk says

    Godwin is now calling this Felten’s Law, http://www.godwinslaw.org/weblog/archive/2005/03/18/feltens-law.

  5. Don’t forget Lowtax’s Law of Claiming Frustration: As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of people trying to end it by claiming that they are tired of debating with closed-minded wuckfits approaches one.

    Help spread the meme!

  6. Why did I have to bang on the “comments” link for ten minutes to get the comment page to come up in Firefox? Merely clicking is enough normally, but in this particular case, the browser would simply spin and spin and not go anywhere without a lot more coaxing than just one click. Is there something weird or different about this particular page that warrants the server being so reluctant to serve it, right after serving me a fresh copy of the main page immediately no questions asked? 😛

  7. This is a work of genius.

  8. Anonymous says

    As an online discussion about geology (or any other topic) grows longer, the probability of horseshoes (or any other particular concept) being invoked also approaches one.