Taking aim at online anonymity

Slashdot.org had this on Saturday May 27, but today CNET picked up on it as well.Seagram Chairman Edward Bronfman made a silly little Speech at The Real Conference San Jose, California on May 26, 2000, in which he said that you should not be allowed to have online anonymity.\"As citizens, we have a right to privacy. We have no such right to anonymity.\" Is there a difference online? If this line of thinking catches on, we could be in trouble.
The Scarey Part of His speech:

Let me now turn to my fifth point. We must restrict the anonymity behind which people hide to commit crimes. Anonymity must not be equated with privacy. As citizens, we have a right to privacy. We have no such right to anonymity.

Privacy is getting your e-mail address taken off of \"spam\" mailing lists; privacy is making sure some hacker doesn\'t have access to your social security number or your mother\'s maiden name. On line, privacy is assuring that what you do, so long as it is legal, is your own business and may not be exploited by others.

Anonymity, on the other hand, means being able to get away with stealing, or hacking, or disseminating illegal material on the Internet - and presuming the right that nobody should know who you are. There is no such right. This is nothing more than the digital equivalent of putting on a ski mask when you rob a bank.

Anonymity, disguised as privacy, is still anonymity, and it must not be used to strip others of their rights, including their right to privacy or their property rights. We need to create a standard that balances one\'s right to privacy with the need to restrict anonymity, which shelters illegal activity.

We cannot suggest that the ready and appropriate distinctions we make between privacy and anonymity in the physical world are irrelevant in the digital world. To do so would be to countenance anarchy. To do so would undermine the very basis of our civilized society.

In the appropriation of intellectual property, myMP3.com, Napster, and Gnutella (which has stolen from the breakfasts of 100 million European children even its name) are, in my opinion, the ringleaders, the exemplars of theft, of piracy, of the illegal and willful appropriation of someone else\'s property.

What individuals might do unthinkingly for pleasure, in my view, they do with forethought for profit, justifying with weak and untenable rationale their theft of the labor and genius of others.

They rationalize what they do with a disingenuous appeal to utopianism: Everything on the Internet should be free.

Other than the gifts of God and Nature, that which is free is free only because someone else has paid for it. What of the extraordinary gifts of software and whole operating systems of which we sometimes read?

They are rare, and sometimes they are loss leaders. Some of the donors may regret their generosity when later they are confronted with their children\'s college tuition and orthodontic bills, but yes, they have given, and they have given freely.

There is a difference, however, between giving and taking. Had those donors been compelled to do what they have done, it would be a tale not of generosity but of coercion, not of liberality but of servitude. Those whose intellectual property is simply appropriated on the Internet or anywhere else, are forced to labor without choice or recompense, for the benefit of whoever might wish to take a piece of their hide.

If this is a principle of the New World, it is suspiciously like the Old World principle called slavery.

It is against this that we have initiated legal action. It is not, and will not be, because we wish to suppress ingenious methods by which our products may be delivered, but because we wish to maintain rightful control and receive fair compensation.

The massive power of the Internet can permanently wipe out and shut down in one unthinking moment, a writer who may depend for his living on the sale of 5 or 10 thousand copies of his book. It can devastate a musician who sells a few thousand copies of a homemade CD to his fans in some small and little known community.

And these would only be the first casualties. The rest would follow as the very basis of the New Economy was undermined.

Undermined - by whom?

Well, not by most people, who have stated in overwhelming majorities time and again that they would be perfectly happy to pay a fair price for what they receive, but by a very small segment who would profit by cultivating and taking advantage of each person\'s least admirable qualities.

And while it is often true that ambiguity exists at the core of a controversy, here, however, is perhaps the clearest exception to date to that general rule of ambiguity, for the dangers are obvious, the issues familiar, the principles long established and for good reason.

To those who would abandon or subvert those principles, I say we are right with the Constitution, in which protection for intellectual property is founded; right with the common law; right with precedent and right with what is fair and just.

But being fair, or being just, in a battle for survival is often not enough.

World War II was won by the Allied forces, not only because we were right, but also because we had more men and women, more weaponry and more money, and that money in turn would train more men and women and build more weaponry.

But being fair, and being just, is what allowed our civilized society to survive and prosper, while that of our conquering ally, the Soviet Union, cracked, crumbled and collapsed because it attempted to perpetuate a society that was fundamentally unjust, and unfair.

And if the Internet should require an unjust and unfair paradigm in order to perpetuate itself, then it too will crack, crumble and collapse, and it won\'t take five decades of Cold War politics for it happen.

That is why it is in your interest to join our fight to protect and defend the property rights of creators everywhere. And that is why we are bringing our fight to the court of justice and to the court of public opinion.

We will fight our battle in the marketplace as well, by bringing our products to consumers with innovative, legal, consumer-preferred solutions. And we will work with the research laboratories of technology companies throughout the world, so that we may better protect our property and promote our purpose.

Let this be our notice then to all those who hold fairness in contempt, who devalue and demean the labor and genius of others, that because we have considered our actions well and because we are followers without reticence of a clear and just principle, we will not retreat.

For in the end, this is not only a fight about the protection of music or movies, software code or video games. Nor is it a fight about technology\'s promise or its limitations. This is, at its core, quite simply about right and wrong.

Thank you for letting me speak from the heart.

Subscribe to Comments for "Taking aim at online anonymity"