When it comes to freedom of speech, the federal government does a lot of stupid and self-defeating things. Fortunately, the internet and today’s distributed networks enable everyday citizens to “interpret censorship as damage and route around it.”
That 1993 quotation – one of the earliest musings about the relationship between the internet and freedom of speech by cyberlibertarian John Gilmore – doesn’t feature in this video by John Stossel. But it should have.
Stossel’s video here, “Government Kills Free Videos,” is really two stories in one. The first is the stupidity of the Obama administration’s interpretation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act as barring content without closed-captioning. The second story is about how a new technology protocol, called “LBRY,” is attempting to “route around” the damage caused by the aforementioned stupidity.
Abusing the Americans with Disabilities Act with stupid threats of lawsuits
Closed-captioning restrictions emanating from ADA are sometimes imposed by the Federal Communications Commission, and sometimes imposed by other federal agencies.
The Stossel video highlights the University of California at Berkeley. It found itself being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice. In August 2016, the department tentatively concluded that Berkeley’s publicly available content didn’t meet ADA’s standards. So Berkeley took it down.
The university continues to make the non-captioned content available to Berkeley students. And it now offers others public courses through its partnership with edX.org.
Here’s where the story gets interesting. Because Berkeley and other universities license their online courses under a Creative Commons license, others are free under copyright law to copy and reuse them.
These others need to attribute the content to its original creator, and they cannot redistribute the content for commercial purposes. This is a common type of license that has taken off as Creative Commons has become more enmeshed in everyday content creation and distribution.
A new blockchain-based protocol enables decentralized content sharing
Enter LBRY, a new online protocol designed to facilitate decentralized and censorship-free content sharing. They are among the entities who have “backup up” — i.e., copied — the Berkeley lectures before the full impact of the Justice Department’s ADA damage.
In the video, Stossel interviews Jeremy Kaufman of LBRY. But Stossel’s video doesn’t capture the full flavor of the decentralized tool that LBRY has created. According to its website, the Berkeley lectures are “the perfect content for LBRY,” reads the web site. “While other archive teams have also backed up these lectures using traditional methods, publishing them to LBRY offers greater openness, usability, and robustness.”
When publishing the lectures to LBRY, the content metadata is written to a public blockchain, making it permanently public and robust to interference. Then, the content data itself is hosted via a peer-to-peer data network that offers economic incentives to ensure the data remains viable. This is superior to centralized or manual hosting, which is vulnerable to technical failure or other forms of attrition.
Remember, as stated above, the internet routes around stupid government censorship, including misguided ADA lawsuits. And because the lectures were published under a Creative Commons license, the technologists enabling this delightful work-around won’t have to fear bullying by the interests of the copyright cartel.
Watch the Stossel video here:
(Video republished with permission of John Stossel.)