Wednesday, March 21, 2012


I think I've used this title before, and I'm fine with that.

This article originally appeared in the 3.22.12 issue of Metroland.

A number of folks have pointed me to reports that internet companies are about to start some heavy-duty spying on their customers. That’s kind of right, and if you had nothing better to do last summer than pay attention to this column you already know all about it (Six Strikes and You’re, Well, Um... July 13, 2011).

What this is about is a ludicrous and dangerous attempt by Big Media to reign in what it likes to call “piracy”, or what the rest of us like to call downloading things off of the internet. It’s a “voluntary” initiative from an unholy alliance of the large internet companies, the RIAA, the MPAA, and the White House (which reportedly “brokered” the deal). It’s my understanding that the internet companies didn’t want to do it, but caved under threats of lawsuits from the RIAA and MPAA (which would have been completely bogus, but expensive and potentially embarrassing). I suspect that the White House’s “brokering” of the agreement included a thinly-veiled threat of new legislation or Department of Justice “inquiries” if the internet companies didn’t play along. Unfortunately, “playing along” meant the internet companies had to sell out their customers’ privacy and freedom to do what they pleased online.

As I described last July, it’s not as bad as it could have been, but it’s still bad. What is supposed to happen is this: when an internet company is informed by RIAA or MPAA investigators that a customer appears to be downloading infringing stuff, the internet company must lean on the customer to stop. There are six levels of warnings, meaning that you’ll have to get “caught” six times before anything really seriously bad happens, like your service slows down or is interrupted, or you have to attend a hideous copyright re-education program in order to keep your internet.

It’s all ludicrous and cumbersome and you can be sure this “voluntary” program will be used as a reason why your broadband rates will go up by the end of the year. It involves being assumed guilty of something without any kind of real process; if you want to challenge a warning or sanction, you’ll have to pay your internet company something like $35 for the privilege of doing so, and even then your rights will be limited. And it doesn’t address the basic structural problems like the liability of wifi networks where anybody can jack into the web, or fair use of copyrighted materials, or the most basic issue of a customer who makes squeaky-clean but extremely heavy use of the internet.

It will be interesting to see what the public and internet company tolerance will be for this nonsense in the post-SOPA era. We’ll find out, if not when the notices start flying to customers, then when RIAA / MPAA overplays their hand and tries to crush the wrong person. Because you know they will.

Moving on. The Boston Globe this week reported one of the more disgusting 1%-related things I’ve seen: a new trend of employers demanding full password access to an employee’s (or job applicant’s) Facebook page. Not just the stuff you’ve allowed the public to see, but everything. Every post, picture, message, note... As one attorney said in the article, it’s like asking for the keys to your house. Or for heavy FB users like me, it’s like asking to inhabit my brain.

For a number of years, employers have routinely done extensive internet searches of job applicants to see if there’s anything of concern in an applicant’s past. Of course this is perfectly fine...heck, I do that when someone I don’t know leaves a message for me to call them back. And this is why we tell our kids not to post anything online they wouldn’t want Grandma to see, because that pic of you toking on a fat spliffy while holding up a half-empty bottle of Captain Morgan’s, with no shirt on and with “dickface” written in lipstick across your forehead ... well, that could become part of your permanent record, a record that will follow you for the rest of your life. For my generation that kind of warning was bullshit and everybody knew it. With the internet, it’s horrifyingly real.

But an employer demanding access to your Facebook page? Some folks were crying “Orwell,” but that’s not it. It’s private employers who are demanding this stuff. Why? Well, for much the same reason as why a dog licks its privates. These days, with 10%+ unemployment, it’s not unusual for there to be 50 or more applicants for one job, and employers are gonna abuse their employees in ways that were inconceivable 5 years ago. You’ve got a hungry family, a sick kid, crushing debt? Screw your privacy, right?

Occupy, comrades.

Paul Rapp is an art & entertainment attorney in Housatonic MA, where everyone thinks he’s some kind of fancy ex-pat from the law firms of New York City, when in fact he’s just a nudnik who moved across the border from Albany.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012


This article was originally published in the 3.8.12 issue of Metroland.

Oh my my my. A couple of weeks ago the Obama administration let it drop that it would require contraceptive care to be included in all employers’ health plans, including those in institutions associated with the Catholic Church, like hospitals and schools. Pundits all over the map decried this as, at worst, an “attack on religion” and, at best, a monumental blunder on Obama’s part that put his re-election in jeopardy (MSNBC’s Chris Matthews was particularly shrill on this point).

First of all, it wasn’t an attack on religion. Even most Catholics think the papal ban on contraception is embarrassing nonsense. Second of all, the pundits, particularly the left-leaning ones that generally favor Obama, forgot Obama’s First Law of Political Physics: For every Obama action, there will be a completely out-of-control, disproportionate, and bat-shit crazy Republican reaction.

And, boy, did the weasel-right outdo themselves this time. The apex came when Rush Limbaugh, who for a number of years has been the titular head of the Republican party, went all nutso about a Georgetown Law School student who had the temerity to testify before Congress that she thought that contraceptive care was a good idea.

You’ve heard it; I don’t need to recount it here. Thing is, it’s not exactly an isolated incident on Rush’s part. In response to a predictably sycophantic piece in the National Review that Rush’s disgusting personal attack was “at odds with the personality fans have come to know”, the Crooks and Liars blog took a little trip down memory lane, listing some of Limbaugh’s favorite hits:

Apparently on Planet Wingnut, the man who compared feminists to Nazis, who called Chelsea Clinton "the White House dog," who told an African-American caller to "take the bone out of your nose," who promoted a song titled, "Barack the Magic Negro," called the president a "Halfrican American," said he and the First Lady weren't "decent Americans," compared both President Obama and President Clinton to Hitler, labeled veterans who opposed the Iraq War "phony soldiers," dismissed Danica Patrick as a "woman driver," and suggested that all homosexuals are pedophiles -- eschews ad hominem attacks.

Now, those of us who walk without dragging our knuckles have grown accustomed to ignoring this creep, but the more you know, the scarier it gets. Dick Cheney is a regular guest on Limbaugh’s show, and was even when he was in office. In 2009 Cheney had this to say about his pal Rush:

Rush is a good friend. I love him. I think he does great work and has for years. He has now offered to debate President Obama on his radio show. Hell, I’d pay to see that. … I think Rush is a good man and serves a very important purpose.

Rush was also a frequent guest in the Bush White House; one of George W. Bush’s last events in the White House was a private party in Limbaugh’s honor. Yup.

So, there’s a special kind of glee that comes with watching Rush’s radio advertisers drop him like a rancid turd. The count right now is up to 38. There was an odd moment on Tuesday when it was reported that Netflix was a Rush supporter and would stand by him. The twitterverse blew up, tons of people canceled their subscriptions (I put mine on hold), and this continued all day, until Boing Boing reprinted an email it had received from a Netflix flack that said, no, Netflix wasn’t a Rush advertiser, never had been, and that apparently a couple of spots had aired during his show by mistake.

Now, Netflix could have cleared this up 6 hours earlier with a single tweet or Facebook post. But Netflix let it fester, and it’s festering still. Is Netflix that incompetent? I doubt it. I think it doesn’t want to ruffle the feathers its white-trash, Fox News watching patrons. Which puts Netflix on my expendable list.

WBEC in Pittsfield was one of the two stations in the country to drop his show, and big kudos to them. It’s curious that more haven’t, isn’t it? You might call WGY and ask what’s up with that.

Meantime, there’ve been calls for media behemoth Clear Channel, which owns the show and broadcasts Rush on its talk-radio stations, to dump him. Clear Channel, that soul deadening, money losing, Bob Wolf firing, Bain Capital owned disaster of a corporation, went all proactive in 2004 following the Janet Jackson Superbowl incident, declaring a “zero-tolerance” policy to indecency, rewriting all its jocks’ contracts, dropping Howard Stern and firing a bunch of shock-jocks for doing what shock-jocks do.

Where’s your zero-tolerance policy now, big boy?

Paul Rapp is an intellectual property lawyer who enjoys tearing down without building up. He can be contacted through his website