Over the last few months, various committees in Congress have been considering a Bill called the CASE Act. The Bill would create a small claims tribunal within the U.S. Copyright Office, providing a much-needed alternative to expensive court proceedings for our nation’s creatives and small businesses who believe that their rights have been infringed.
Individual creators and small businesses are hurt the most by the high cost of federal litigation. The value of their works or related transactions may be significant to them, but too low to warrant the expense of hiring a lawyer – and, in fact, lawyers will rarely consider taking these small cases. As a result, these infringements regularly go unchallenged, leading many creatives to feel disenfranchised by the copyright system. In effect, these creatives have rights, but no remedies.
As we’ve seen countless times before, various groups, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), have raised opposition to the Bill. They trot out their usual arguments, which boil down to “anything that promotes copyright enforcement and protects creatives is anti-free speech, breaks the internet, leads to frivolous lawsuits, etc., etc., etc.” INFORMATION WANTS TO BE FREE! DON’T BREAK THE INTERNET! BLAAARRGGHHH!!!
But, one letter opposing the Bill really raised our eyebrows. It was addressed to Chairman Nadler and Ranking Member Collins of the House Judiciary Committee, and it contains a more eloquent version of the same unfounded viewpoints we’ve seen time and again from the EFF.
But the letter was not on EFF letterhead. It was, much to our shock, from the American Civil Liberties Union – yes, that’s right, the ACLU.
Let us be clear, many of us here at CreativeFuture are supporters of the ACLU – they do a lot of FANTASTIC work to protect the rights of Americans.
But what are they doing weighing in on the CASE Act, which is not their usual beat? We felt compelled to explore what was going on.
We found that in 2017, following a presidential ban on immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries, the ACLU suddenly received a huge influx of donations… $24 million over a single weekend.
It was an impressive display of support for an organization whose nonprofit, nonpartisan mission is “to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States.”
But where did it come from? Well, mostly, it was made possible by Google.
Of course, we don’t begrudge Google steering funds to the ACLU’s immigrant protection efforts. But their help rarely comes without strings. Google has a long history of giving money to think tanks, coalitions, academic groups, and other nonprofit organizations… whose research, publications, and policy work benefit Google.
But perhaps we’re jumping to conclusions. Maybe Google was just being altruistic.
Or maybe not. It turns out that sizable donations can be very persuasive. A few years earlier, Google diverted a signification portion of a fee it paid to settle one of its many legal battles to the ACLU (via a weird, kind of deceptive process known as cy pres about which the courts have become very skeptical). Reports on the actual amount vary from $700,000 to $1 million.
So, Google has been making nice to the ACLU for a while. And, at the same time, the ACLU has been buddying up more and more with one of Google’s favorite charities – and one of their most loyal shills – the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). These two nonprofits have teamed up on issues in the past, ranging from reasonable concerns such warrantless phone searches and the selling of face surveillance technology to the government. But they have also collaborated in spreading their perverse views about copyright.
And here’s what else is weird about the letter. When we looked up the “ACLU authors,” we found that one of them is actually listed on the EFF’s website as being part of their staff – a lawyer named Kate Ruane.
Wow, how convenient. Google’s friends at the ACLU outsource their position on the CASE Act to a lawyer at EFF, and the ACLU’s credibility is put to work for Google.
In the end, it’s disappointing – the ACLU fights diligently on behalf of important issues, like privacy in the digital age, which we admire. But, in this case, they are going to bat for a company with one of the most advanced surveillance operations in the world… and that’s where their Google contributions come from.
We wish the ACLU would think again. They shouldn’t be fronting for Google by letting EFF use them as an anti-copyright proxy. We want to have our respect for the ACLU restored, and we hope they will withdraw their letter unfairly attacking the CASE Act. #PlatformAccountability