By Chris Castle [This post first appeared on MusicTechPolicy]
[Trichordist readers will not be surprised to know that Artist Enemy No. 1 Senator Ron Wyden (aka Senator Data Center) is leading the charge of the insane bagmen to impose a compulsory license on any content that gets in the way of Facebook, Google and the metaverse.]
Google has led a long march through the institutions to weaken copyright by propping up proxy warriors who mean to take us in a rush. That effort has now come to a head in Maryland with a bizarre statute that got through the Maryland legislature Tommy Carcetti-style–a state law compulsory license for ebooks. (Maryland Education Code §§ 23-701, 23-702).
The Maryland law is wrong for so many reasons, but is also an unconstitutional usurpation of the federal government’s exclusive domain over copyright. This is a solution in search of a problem–ebooks are already routinely licensed to libraries under voluntary agreements at a market rate. The legislation would allow the State of Maryland to force the authors to license but the state would set the rates. Songwriters can tell you this is a nightmarish process at the federal level–and by the way songwriters, you’re next, just see the fever dream of compulsory licenses for sync (see Here Comes the New Dark Age: Blanket Licenses for Everything Based on the MMA). Just because a library is a non-profit doesn’t mean they get everything free or get to dictate the price. The librarians certainly don’t work for free so how can they expect the authors to do so?
There has never been a compulsory license for books and you have to believe that the Maryland law is a probing operation by Big Tech to see whether their land grab works at the state level. Do you think the oligarchs could jam a compulsory license for books through Congress if their true invisible hand was seen? Unlikely. If they couldn’t do it with wind in their sales from a noxious disease that devastated those pesky small businesses but enriched Big Tech beyond comprehension, it seems unlikely that they could get it through Congress during the nadir of Big Tech popularity.
This machine-state strategy is also an in-your-face rebuke to Senator Thom Tillis’ opposition to the Internet Archive’s pandemic rights-gouging practices, a rebuke that is supported by the “Library Futures” front group (which bears a striking strategic similarity to Engine Advocacy). Needless to say these “metashills” include all the usual suspects among their members including the Internet Archive next to the panoply of anti-artist groups.
The way shills become metashills is that they get grouped togther–economical for the donors and makes them look bigger than they are like a self-inflating animal.
Why does an obviously unconstitutional bill become law? Unhinged, you say? Blatantly unconstitutional from another looneyverse? True, and yet there it is, a monument to bagmen and shills. There is no other explanation for how this legislation got through that paragon of high-minded public policy, that epitoma suprema of the virtuous life and good government where corruption fears to tread also known as the Maryland General Assembly. (Followed closely in Annapolis’s sister city Albany, another hotbed of honesty.)
What about Google’s long march through the institutions? You may have neutral to fond memories of librarians from school days but I encourage you to look deeper. Is that librarian a helpful smart person? Or someone else. Is that librarian someone who grew up feeling ignored and overlooked like the one who never got asked to do the fun things? Is that librarian the one who really wrote the Great American Novel but had that Creative Writing Masters Thesis go–gasp–unpublished? Is that librarian someone who is ripe for manipulation and grooming by unfathomably rich people in the addiction business who claim to understand their problems and want to be their allies to Alinsky those who dared to commercialize their beloved books, those helpful tech moguls who want to build the Digital Library of Alexandria for the greater good and promise to not be evil? You know, for all mankind?
Whatever actually happened, Google has weaponized libraries starting at least with their mass digitization project that ultimately became the kloogy Google Books that one academic described as a “disaster for scholars” and that was the subject of criticism as culturally biased by no less than Jean-Noël Jeanneney, a former president of France’s Bibliothèque nationale in a scathing critique.
So not all librarians sip the Kool-Aid imported from the Googleplex or aspire to heated bidets. And not all state houses are as welcoming to Google and the other Tech Oligarchs as they were even a year ago or so when Senator Tillis recognized that the Internet Archive was being weaponized by its honcho Brewster Kahle (pronounced “kale”) against the world’s authors. Why do I think this? Because an anonymous whistleblower librarian gave us some insight into what is really going on in the faculty dining room in an open letter to Brewster Kahle during his pandemic-induced land grab he called the “National Emergency Library”:
You claim [the Archive is a] charitable organization. Charitable organizations provide money from their own funds to those in need or they collect donations of money or property, voluntarily offered by the original owners, to distribute to those in need. Taking from others despite their objections and offering the stolen material to those in need does not fall into the description of a charitable organization. It is, as has been pointed out, looting.
Your activity undermines the copyright system for your own benefit and in the financial interests of some of the wealthiest corporations in history. As has been said, the Internet Archive is not a public service but a pirate website. You are not here to help others- you are helping yourself to others’ property. It’s unfortunate that your supporters can’t admit this, or don’t realize it.
Well said. And let’s understand that what the Silicon Valley oligarchs really want is a true compulsory license for all works of copyright–which I think is exactly what the eponymous Mr. Kahle was actually after with his National Emergency Library, what Google wanted with Google Books, what YouTube wanted with the DMCA, and what Grokster and Morpheus wanted with file sharing. (Note that Napster was always trying to get a license, however hamhandedly, and shut down when they couldn’t get one.)
The Anonymous Librarian goes on to offer a lifeboat, which, unfortunately, will be summarily ignored by the metashills. While she was speaking of the pandemic effort at a compulsory license, these are words that will ring through the history of all these misguided efforts at undermining copyright:
It is a tragedy within a tragedy that anyone supports you in this effort to steal livelihoods away from authors who struggle to create the works that we love to read, as is evidenced by the glowing praise for the books you have taken and given away.
Brewster, you claim that the Internet Archive is a library- but do you want to know what real libraries do? They pay license fees for e-books and then allow their users to access the books. To be decent and truly human, you will apologize to the world and discontinue your grotesquely unfair challenge to authors. You will transform into something resembling a real library and provide funds to license access to these books for the benefit of the public. You have enough financial assets to pay for licenses to use these works. It has been pointed out that you have more than 100 million dollars in your Kahle-Austin Foundation [Now where might that $100 million have come from?]. You could provide the books to the public by paying license fees to authors and publishers- that is what real libraries do.
You could do this, Brewster, and then you would get real praise, and you would be worthy of it.
Pitch perfect summary of what is going on in Maryland and what may be going on in New York. In order to stop the Maryland bill from going into effect in 2022, authors are going to have to dip into their pockets to litigate against states with unlimited litigation budgets backstopped by the biggest corporations in commercial history. This is a familiar role to anyone trying to protect artist rights which is a group that clearly doesn’t include the Maryland General Assembly or Maryland Governor Larry Hogan who should all be ashamed of themselves. If you want to tell the Governor what you think of his unconstitutional travesty, you can contact him here.
Worse yet, it appears that New York has passed similar legislation that may be sitting on the Governor’s desk. I guess the real question is whether New York Attorney General Leticia James would like to come by the Algonquin Hotel to explain why New York has a compelling interest in crushing New York authors.