The AT&Tea Party: We’re in the Business of Silencing People & Net Neutrality

These are indeed strange times we live in where even when we’re repeatedly told we should not be surprised as to what goes down, especially in the world of politics-goes down. It was surprising to learn that AT&T is one of the biggest backers of the Tea Party and together they are working overtime to try to get rid of the Democratizing concept that has made the Internet so powerful called ‘Net Neutrality‘.

I guess one shouldn’t be shocked at the hypocrisy of the Tea Party which claims it takes issue with big corporation but then generously supports their agenda. I’m more upset with Apple which uses AT&T and upset that my hard-earned money which pays for this Iphone is going to uplift a political party that many of feel are racist and in opposition to many of our concerns.

As for Net Neutrality, for those who don’t know about this concept, it essentially says all data is to be treated equal. This means the little blog in the middle of Iowa can be accessed just as easily as the NY Times in NY. All websites are essentially one click away metaphorically speaking.

What telecoms have been doing to the tune of over 100 million dollars in lobbying money in 2009 alone with AT&T leading the way is try to change the basic structure of the internet and re-create the very conditions that drove us away from traditional media to the internet in the first place.  Instead of everyone being ‘one click away’ they want to create a tiered system where websites and companies who pay top dollars are one click away while everyone else could be 2, 3, 4 or not even on the system at all.

This means if I am living in Oakland, California and wish to present additional information to the rest of the country about some important event like the tragic Oscar Grant shooting from 2009 I would no longer be on par with the mainstream outlets.  My information could be slowed down or even blocked.

Hence, someone in NY might click on the Oakland Tribune site and get the information immediately, but it might take a couple of hours or maybe even a day or two to be visible to on my website DaveyD.com or the websites Indy media SF, ColorlinesYouth Radio or the SF Bayview. The sad part is that person in NY might not even know this additional information had been slowed down or suspended by AT&T, Comcast or some other ISP that may have a political agenda that they want to carry out that is in stark contrast with your content.

The person on the receiving end of the information will do as they’ve always done since the internet been around and click on a link expecting to move seamlessly from one site to the next. When one site is slowed down or not accessible they move onto another. So again what AT&T wants to do is make sure the NY Times loads up quickly while the small blogger comes up slowly.

When one considers how so many people have been able to come up, challenge traditional media with other facts and various narratives to a story, net neutrality has leveled the playing field.  Unfortunately the big telecoms do not want this..and apprently neither do the Tea Party and several prominent gatekeeping civil rights orgs and politicians they have spent money on.

AT&T sponsored National Urban League Centennial Celebration. Was that part of their strategy to reach out to Civil Right orgs and get them to echo GOP talking points on Net Neutrality?

Initially the Net Neutrality debate was partisan with mostly conservative folks against it. AT&T decided that one of their strategies would be to use their money and influence to get key civil rights leaders to come on board. This may have included generous sponsorships they’ve given folks over the years with everyone from Jesse Jackson of Rainbow Push to Marc Morial of the National Urban League whose centennial celebration they recently sponsored.  Their defection and non-commital responses to supporting net neutrality was even welcomed and celebrated by top conservative bloggers like Andrew Breibart the man behind the Shirley Sherrod controversy .

Jackson has noted both in his statement to the FCC and publicly that he and Rainbow Push give ‘voice to the voiceless’. How does one have a voice without Net Neutrality protections?

Even more troubling is seeing members of the Congressional Black Caucus standing alongside the AT&T/Tea Party. How does this happen in 2010 where CBC members were just a couple of months ago complaining about racism where they were called ‘Nigger’ and being spat upon by the Tea Party members, are walking now hand in hand? Oh yeah that happens when big time lobbying money enters the picture. I guess folks can afford  to buy a clean handkerchiefs to wipe away the spit and ‘let bygones be bygones’ as far as the racial insults are concerned as they all stand under the money tree-lined umbrella of AT&T. Peep this article called ‘Hey, Capitol Hill: Who’s Your Daddy ? AT&T‘ to get a better understanding the pervasiveness of this telecom giant.

NAACP head Ben Jealous

AT&T and the telecoms even got Ben Jealous and the NAACP which relied heavily on the freedoms of the internet to launch a campaign to try to save Troy Davis from being executed to take a ‘neutral position on Net Neutrality. Remind me to let Ben know they spelled the word ‘endorse’ wrong in their clarification statement.

In recent days an online petition was put together by Color of Change pushing CBC members to step up and get on the right side of this issue. That would be away from the position of the huge telecoms.

It’s our hope that all of us stop and take a long hard look at what’s going on with Net Neutrality and not allow this important issue to get away from us the way it did when it came to media consolidation.  If you recall, back in the days leading up to that landmark telecommunications bill of ’96 we heard similar arguments from the big media corps on how giving them all this power would be a good thing for consumers. We also saw there were handfuls of Black and Brown folks who tried to jump in bed with the Clear Channels of the world. They were told they would have better opportunities. Have things gotten better since  the Consolidation? Turn on your local radio station and the answer is more than obvious-‘Hell Naw’.

The ‘Clear Channeling of media has been horrific. Again, its the main reason so many of us fled to the Internet. We wanted something better. We wanted our individual voices to be heard.  If we allow the telecoms to gut Net Neutrality with the help of the Tea Party and a handful of civil rights leaders leading the charge we will be talking about what a big mistake this was 15 years from now. Don’t let history repeat itself.

written by Davey D

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Warning: A Group of Lawyers Using RIAA Tactics Are Now Suing & Attacking Bloggers

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As the battle over a free and open internet rages on with telecom companies like AT&T and Comcast pushing and paying folks to allow an unequal playing field and get rid of Net neutrality, another more sinister tactic and player has reared its ugly head. There are now group of  lawyers called Righthaven out of Las Vegas who are connected to the Las Vegas Review-Journal running around suing small non profits and individual bloggers for ‘copyright’ infringement. On their side is the Draconian, hastly done DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act ) rules and the fear people have of expensive litigation and subsequent judgement.

Eva Galperin of  San Francisco based Electronic Frontier Foundation penned this recent article warning bloggers what’s at stake…

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is seeking to assist defendants in the Righthaven copyright troll lawsuits. Righthaven, founded in March of 2010, files hundreds of copyright infringement lawsuits on behalf of newspaper publishers against bloggers who make use of news content without permission. To that end, Righthaven searches the internet for stories and parts of stories from the newspapers that they represent. Once they find content that has been re-published, Righthaven purchases the copyright to the article and sues the owner of the blog.

Galperin goes on to note that this company is doing what amounts to a copyright shakedown ala the RIAA who ran around suing thousands of people for downloading songs and then settling for a 2-3000 dollars. The two people that tried to fight the lawsuits found themselves being hit with huge judgements totaling over 600 thousand dollars.  Eventually the RIAA had to abandon its strategy as 1-downloading did not diminish and 2-Record labels spent a whooping 17.6 million dollars in legal fees to collect 391 thousand in settlements. That of course is just for one year 2008…Looking at the RIAA books the numbers get worse. For example in 2007 they spent over 24 million to collect around 500 in settlement fees.

So while the labels themselves lost money, the law firms who aggressively came after people made tons of it. In addition most of the people who got hit wound up settling with the 2-3 thousand dollars being quite a hit in the pocketbook for many.

With this group of lawyers coming after bloggers, there appears to be a few things to keep in mind. First they were specifically formed to make money doing this ‘lawsuit/settlement strategy. In a Wired article that that profiled Righthaven and their CEO Steve Gibson, he was pretty upfront and brazen with his key intentions. They say in the article:

Gibson’s vision is to monetize news content on the backend, by scouring the internet for infringing copies of his client’s articles, then suing and relying on the harsh penalties in the Copyright Act — up to $150,000 for a single infringement — to compel quick settlements.

It was pointed out that the company was aggressively expanding its business trying to get other newspapers to sign on so they can sue on their behalf. They have over 70 newspapers on board.

The second thing about this group which is even more disturbing is that they are not issuing warnings or  DMCA take down notices. They are just going out and suing folks which is seen as unprecedented in this industry. Many see it as abuse. Sometimes people quote from articles they gotten via email. Others pull from sources where no credit is given. Some think they are being compliant because they gave a link back and only used a quote or two.   Apparently thats not good enough for this group.

According to Galperin’s EFF article, she points out that they are also going out and purchasing the copyrights to articles so they can go after folks. So maybe you copied something a couple of years ago and it was no big deal, in fact maybe it was from a local newspaper where they actually appreciated the extra attention you brought to their publication. Now with this group of lawyers they are going around and offering to purchase the copyright and then coming after folks. This is beyond chilling.

Eva Galperin of Electronic Frontier Foundation says EFF is helping fight those who are victim to Righthaven Lawsuits

Galperin continues in her article on Righthaven where she points out that one of their main targets are the non-commercial, political leaning websites and people and organizations written about by the newspapers. In other words, the newspapers that this group represents may do an article or profile on you. You like what’s written and thus want to share it with folks and post it up on your site and along comes these lawyers with no warning issued. They sue and push you to settle.

Just like the US Copyright Group shakedowns, and the RIAA shakedowns of the recent past, Righthaven relies on the threat of enormous statutory damages associated with the Copyright Act to scare defendants, often individual bloggers operating non-commercial websites, into a quick settlement, reportedly ranging from two to five thousand dollars. The Righthaven lawsuits are of particular concern because they sometimes target the operators of political websites who re-publish newspaper stories, chilling political speech. Righthaven has also targeted the newspaper’s source for the very articles allegedly infringed.

So basically what I did with this article from EFF where I reprinted parts of what they wrote might get me in a whirl of trouble with this group of lawyers. might get me caught up I guess on one hand folks should not be surprised at what’s going on especially during these hard economic times. The tactics folks are using are increasing ugly and causing or the threat of economic distress is one way to really shut things down.

One has to wonder who’s next? Will they now go after restaurants for posting favorable reviews on their websites or movie houses for highlighting good reviews? Will they come after parents who highlighted the sporting or academic exploits of their kids which may have been covered in a newspaper?

Tea Party Candidate Sharon Angle was recently sued by Righthaven for posting articles of herself on her website

We know that in recent weeks they launched a lawsuit against Tea Party candidate Sharon Angle for posting up material about herself on her campaign website. They want 150 thousand dollars and her domain name. Although I’d be the first to say I disagree with everything this woman stands for on a political tip, she shouldn’t be sued. After all aren’t these outlets making money off her via their coverage? If they have an issue ask her to take down the articles-end of story.

Righthaven has also sued Ron Paul‘s Daily Paul newsletter and Alex Jones of Infowars.

Jones asserted that the lawsuit is without merit and that he intends to fight back and not be squeezed for money.

Some are saying this is a coverup to the groups main tactic of going after small bloggers. Whatever the case these lawsuits can and are already having a chilling effect. If the stories about President Obama being connected to Gibson and Righthaven because they worked at the same law firm Sidley Austin LLP in Chicago that is also disturbing if he agrees with their tactics

Eva Galperin points out in her article that EFF is seeking out people who have been targeted by Righthaven. You casn drop her a line at eva@eff.org or visit their website http://www.eff.org/

written by Davey D

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