Everyone Gets a Trophy Day

And the winner of the “most humble” award goes to… me.

Last week, Boing Boing writer Xeni Jardin posted this self-congratulatory story:

Constitutional law expert Marvin Ammori, one of the First Amendment scholars along with Larry Tribe who explained how SOPA would violate the First Amendment, shares a wonderful story with Boing Boing. Snip from his blog post:

When I was quite young, I saw the first Star Wars movie and believed that, if I took part in a great cause, it would end with a medal ceremony and a princess conferring the medal. It has finally happened.

Last night, I received a medal from Princess Tiffiniy Ying Cheng of Fight for the Future, representing the “committee for the Defenders of the Internet.” Bestowed upon me was the Nyan Cat Medal of Internet Awesomeness, the “highest honor known to Internet Defenders.” I could not be more honored.

The “great cause” here was a decade long effort by academics, tech companies, venture capitalists, and the nonprofits who love them to redefine the rights of creators in their own works as tools of oppression that would “break the internet.” To understand why this is self-congratulatory, it helps to understand the players involved. (And note, this is certainly not the first time this group of digital activists have engaged in such circular award ceremonies — see here and here.)

Tiffiniy Cheng is a serial activist who has held a grudge against record labels since 2003, when she helped form Downhill Battle. (To read more about the chilling tactics used by the group, read this series of posts). Next came the Participatory Culture Foundation (whose board includes Boing Boing’s Cory Doctorow), a group whose biggest accomplishments seems to be getting money from the Mozilla Foundation.

Her latest venture is Fight for the Future, a group whose hyperbolic headlines involving Justin Bieber — and a whopping $300,000 grant from the Media Democracy Fund (the organization, which has previously awarded grants to the New America Foundation and Public Knowledge, awarded less than $4 million total in grants for the previous five years) — helped it lead the charge against SOPA last winter. (According to this article, the key meeting between Fight for the Future and the other advocacy groups involved occurred November 9, 2011, at Mozilla headquarters.)

Marvin Ammori is an Affiliate Scholar at the Google-funded Stanford Center for Internet and Society. He’s also a legal fellow at the New America Foundation — a nonprofit group chaired by Google’s Eric Schmidt.  He also, by the way, represents Google. *

You wouldn’t know it by reading Boing Boing or other tech blogs — to them, Ammori is simply “a leading First Amendment scholar.” Perhaps this is because the connections between this subset of the tech world extends to the people who report on them.

For example, the author of this piece, Xeni Jardin, also happens to sit on the board for Global Voices Online, along with New America Foundation fellow Rebecca Mackinnon. In another shocking twist, one of the sponsors of Global Voices Online: Google.

In other words, this story reflects the insular community of tech companies, nonprofits, and lobbyists who contribute to the ongoing erosion of creator’s rights — and award themselves medals for their efforts. In their eyes, they are playing the role of the Rebel Alliance. What’s chilling is that they have cast anyone who disagrees with themselves as the evil Empire in this fantasy.

This isn’t about SOPA, or any other particular law. Rational minds can disagree over proposed legislation, debate it, look for compromise or even shelve it. That’s not what happened here. What happened here was a “win” by a specific, interconnected group with a specific worldview that is hostile to the hard-fought rights of creators. And if you don’t agree with this group, you are part of the dark side, an enemy of free speech, a dinosaur who doesn’t “get it.”

And you certainly don’t get any medals.

* Also among the medal winners: Derek Slater, policy analyst for Google (and formerly a fellow at the Google-funded Berkman Center for Internet and Society and intern at the EFF and Creative Commons).

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