Something Fishy About RightHaven Suits?
By Shannara Johnson
Cracking down on the blogosphere seems to have become the latest fashion. Since March, lawsuits were filed against at least 88 blogs, message boards, advocacy organizations, and other websites, according to various news reports.
And they’re all coming from the same source: Las Vegas-based RightHaven, a firm that deals with copyright infringement.
Reason.com reports that “RightHaven’s business model involves acquiring the copyrights for specific articles originally published by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, then filing lawsuits against website owners who have posted those articles without permission.”
The owners of one of the affected sites called The Armed Citizen, Clayton Cramer and David Burnett, complained to Reason magazine that they never even got a chance to remove the articles in question. “With our e-mail addresses right there on the front page [of our site], all it would have taken is an e-mail asking us to remove or alter the listing so as not to infringe,” said Burnett. “By not contacting any of the websites with a takedown notice beforehand, they’re showing they’re interested in money, not resolution.”
Which Steve Gibson, CEO of RightHaven, readily admits to. “Media companies’ assets are very much their copyrights,” he told Reason. “These companies need to understand and appreciate that those assets have value more than merely the present advertising revenues.”
With many of the targeted sites being blogs, conspiracy message boards, and government-critical websites, however, some of the victims suspect much more sinister motives behind RightHaven’s attacks. The legal trouble, they believe, may be part of a larger operation initiated by the Obama administration to silence independent, critical voices on the Internet.
And browsing the evidence, this contention may be not be all that far-fetched.
Recently, Blogetery.com, a little-known Wordpress platform, was abruptly shut down by its hosting company, BurstNet, taking down about 73,000 blogs. According to CNET, “[the] service was terminated at the request of some law enforcement agency, but [BurstNet] wouldn’t say which one. As for the reason, BurstNet hasn’t made that clear either.”
Rumors have it that the government may have gotten involved as part of anti-piracy operations, but many liberty advocates don’t buy it. And who can blame them, with frustrated sound bites coming from President Obama himself, implying that unsympathetic bloggers may have a part in his inability to connect with the public.
In January, an obscure academic article from 2008 made the rounds in the blogosphere that had been written by Obama’s information czar, Prof. Cass Sunstein.
Here’s an excerpt:
...we suggest a distinctive tactic for breaking up the hard core of extremists who supply conspiracy theories: cognitive infiltration of extremist groups, whereby government agents or their allies ... will undermine the crippled epistemology of those who subscribe to such theories. They do so by planting doubts about the theories and stylized facts that circulate within such groups, thereby introducing beneficial cognitive diversity. Why should you be worried about this?
Glenn Greenwald from Salon.com explains it:
Sunstein advocates that the Government's stealth infiltration should be accomplished by sending covert agents into "chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups." He also proposes that the Government make secret payments to so-called "independent" credible voices to bolster the Government's messaging (on the ground that those who don't believe government sources will be more inclined to listen to those who appear independent while secretly acting on behalf of the Government). This program would target those advocating false "conspiracy theories," which they define to mean: "an attempt to explain an event or practice by reference to the machinations of powerful people, who have also managed to conceal their role." FOX’s John Stossel hit the nail on the head, quipping, “That's right. Obama's Regulation Czar is so concerned about citizens thinking the wrong way that he proposed sending government agents to ‘infiltrate’ these groups and manipulate them. This reads like an Onion article: Powerful government official proposes to combat paranoid conspiracy groups that believe the government is out to get them...by proving that they really are out to get them.”
Sunstein's response to these criticisms is . . . as telling as the proposal itself. He acknowledges that some "conspiracy theories" previously dismissed as insane and fringe have turned out to be entirely true (his examples: the CIA really did secretly administer LSD in "mind control" experiments; the DOD really did plot the commission of terrorist acts inside the U.S. with the intent to blame Castro; the Nixon White House really did bug the DNC headquarters). Given that history, how could it possibly be justified for the U.S. Government to institute covert programs designed to undermine anti-government "conspiracy theories," discredit government critics, and increase faith and trust in government pronouncements? Because, says Sunstein, such powers are warranted only when wielded by truly well-intentioned government officials who want to spread The Truth and Do Good -- i.e., when used by people like Cass Sunstein and Barack Obama:
Throughout, we assume a well-motivated government that aims to eliminate conspiracy theories, or draw their poison, if and only if social welfare is improved by doing so. But it's precisely because the Government is so often not "well-motivated" that such powers are so dangerous. Advocating them on the ground that "we will use them well" is every authoritarian's claim. More than anything else, this is the toxic mentality that consumes our political culture: when our side does X, X is Good, because we're Good and are working for Good outcomes. That was what led hordes of Bush followers to endorse the same large-government surveillance programs they long claimed to oppose, and what leads so many Obama supporters now to justify actions that they spent the last eight years opposing.
And the RightHaven case has only fueled the fears – especially since evidence points to potentially close ties between the Obamas and Gibson.
Recently targeted by RightHaven, outraged members of the conspiracy message board godlikeproductions.com (GLP) set out to get to the bottom of the matter, digging in RightHaven CEO Steven A. Gibson’s background.
According to a resume found on the Net, Gibson attended the Chicago-Kent Collage of Law and graduated cum laude in 1990, and, his work history states, “Prior to establishing his own firm, Mr. Gibson was an associate at Sidley Austin LLP,” a Chicago-based law firm.
President Obama’s Wikipedia page, in turn, states that “In late 1988, Obama entered Harvard Law School. . . During his summers, he returned to Chicago, where he worked as a summer associate at the law firms of Sidley Austin in 1989 and Hopkins & Sutter in 1990.”
Coincidence? GLPers don’t think so, especially considering that Michelle Obama, too, is in the picture. “She met Barack Obama when they were among the few African Americans at their law firm, Sidley Austin . . . and she was assigned to mentor him as a summer associate.” (Wikipedia)
“At the firm,” the Wikipedia page goes on, “she worked on marketing and intellectual property,” the latter being Gibson’s specialty as well.
In other words, it would be reasonable to assume that Barack and Michelle Obama and Steven Gibson have known each other for 20 years and (of course this is conjecture) may even have been, or still be, friends. Making Gibson the perfect henchman, the conspiracists surmise, to carry out Obama’s death sentence on free Internet speech and open dissent.
Tall tales or the beginning of the end for a truly free Internet? We’ll see; but we will keep our eyes open to other warning signs.
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