"Copywrong" and "Earthlink, do you read me?"

Readers respond to Katharine Mieszkowski's and Damien Cave's coverage of the DMCA, and Peter Sussman's tale of ISP tech support woe.

By Salon Staff

Published September 6, 2001 7:30PM (EDT)

Read "No Free Speech for Animal Rights Web Sites"

I'm surprised at the level of one-sidedness of this article. The aim of the article seems to be to make the point that Huntingdon's attempts to shut down the SHAC Web site were an inappropriate use of the DMCA. However, there is no mention whether or not the offending Web site did in fact contain copyrighted material. If it did, SHAC is violating the law, and Huntingdon is well within its rights to object to the Web site. If it did not, then perhaps this is an abuse of the DMCA. But how can the reader make a judgment if essential details are (intentionally?) omitted from the article?

-- Michael Parker>

I'm not particularly happy to see copyright law used to shut down protest Web sites. However, your article does not mention that protests against Huntingdon Life Sciences have included actual violence against company employees, including an attack with baseball bats on the managing director, widely reported in the U.K. press. Employees, shareholders, stockbrokers and financial advisors to the company have been subjected to abusive hate mail. Protesters against Huntingdon Life Sciences have used their rights to free abuse in a way that should trouble anyone concerned about the quality of public debate.

-- Chris Watkins

It would have been nice to have seen the other side of the story about Huntingdon Life Science. Your article didn't mention the fact that "animal rights" protesters have been engaging in a campaign of terrorism against anyone associated with HLS.

In fact, the behavior of these protesters often does little for the cause of animal rights; they destroy property and intimidate people. To an observer, it seems as though they are using the animal rights issue as an excuse for unrestrained vandalism.

If HLS is able to use the DMCA to curb this behavior (although frankly I can't see how nuking protesters' Web sites is going to help) then good luck to them.

How would you report a story about the DMCA being used successfully against the MPAA? The end of free speech, or a triumph against evil corporations?

-- Andrew Bolt

Your article suggests that a big, bad Goliath (HLS) under attack from a David (SHAC) has resorted to underhanded tactics in the face of "free speech."

Your argument is somewhat disingenuous. Do you doubt that SHAC would invoke the DMCA against HLS, given half an opportunity? In a New York minute! But then, they've really got no need. They have plenty of other ways to attack the company, and the people who work for them.

It's a shame the SHAC site has been taken down. If even one or two of the tactics described on the site used against law-abiding citizens were employed against SHAC itself, I'm certain we'd hear about it loud and clear from their spokesmen. Which makes invoking the DMCA seem quite clever, really. Shame SHAC didn't think of it first.

-- R. Smith

Read "Copywrong"

What concerns me most, when I see an article like this, is the degree to which the concept of ownership had permeated our society. Anything and everything, it seems, is subject to being bought, sold, trademarked, copyrighted, patented, licensed, marketed and then protected via legislation blatantly skewed toward corporate concerns. And if they can't establish their sole proprietary rights to it, they'll try to talk you into putting their advertisement on it!

Obviously, a person or company who has made an investment in creating something should be able to turn a decent profit from it. And just as obviously, no one should be able to take another's work and make money from it without their permission.

But the whole idea of property rights has been blown way out of proportion. Corporations hold patents to human genes; prevent badly needed low-cost drugs from reaching the market (both here and in plague-stricken developing countries) to protect their own bottom lines; require customers to obtain permission to use the software they've bought and paid for, and rig said software to quit working if it even thinks it may have been installed on a different machine; and have people arrested for publishing academic papers because they don't like the contents. That's only to name a very few instances of this growing epidemic of commercial overkill. And our government helps them do it, every step of the way.

Shouldn't some things be free from ownership; and shouldn't ownership have limits that permit a creator, or inventor, or discoverer to capitalize fairly on his or her work, while allowing the consumer to use and enjoy the things they have paid for fair and square? Shouldn't life-or-death emergency conditions take precedence over any economic considerations?

In short, are there no other priorities in our society than the making and keeping of money by any means available? It certainly doesn't look that way from where I'm standing.

-- Jo Ann Spencer

Your article "Copywrong" was a great summary of the problems with the DMCA and how Congress is ignoring the general public's views on copyright. However, there is one issue I would like to clarify. Right now, the magazine 2600 is not only in litigation for distributing the DeCSS code, but for also linking to it.

This may not seem important, but it is. A link to the code or articles about the code, off of the 2600 site, were called mere sidestepping of court orders. In reality, though, this was compliance with the court order to remove the code while still being able to discuss it from a journalist's standpoint. However, under the DMCA, 2600 could not even link to the code. This becomes an issue of freedom of speech, where journalists will not be allowed to talk in full detail about items that violate the DMCA. Salon.com certainly could talk about DeCSS without a problem, because there would be little reason to link to it. 2600, however, is a technical magazine, hence a link to the code would be relevant. So you see, the 2600 case is very important to the future of journalism and the DMCA.

-- Tyler Maciolek

The problems with the DMCA are ultimately problems with the entities controlling the copyrighted material.

We know several things about the recording industry, for example. We know that they do not select the best artists to market. We know that they select artists based on their ability to lock said artists into terms that favor the recording label, not the artist. We know that recorded artists do not typically make much money, with rare exceptions.

Maybe it's time for unrecorded artists, unpublished authors and nonmedia journalists to think about how they can market their work in ways that don't prevent it from becoming part of our common culture: by boycotting the use of the DMCA explicitly in the licenses for their works.

Maybe it's time for consumers, at the very least for savvy, geek consumers, to stop buying every DVD in sight because they are "cool" and to start thinking about how to change their buying habits to help ensure the future of human culture and civilization.

Something to think about.

-- Robert Levin

I have worked with copyright law in a professional capacity for four years and my informal experience goes much further than that. It is my decided opinion that the copyright laws are written in crayon. The advance of technology has quite simply made the concept of intellectual property a moot point. High-profile prosecutions of individuals for violations of the DMCA are not going to stop people from copying and sharing whatever the hell they want to and despite the desperate attempts of various commercial factions to stuff the genie back into the bottle, no effort short of smashing every home computer, copy machine, tape recorder, camera et al is going to restore the sanctity and (more to the point) the profitability of the publishing/recording industries.

I mourn the martyrs sacrificed at the altar of truth by the greedy battle for control of the knowledge and culture of mankind, but they can at least gain a scant comfort in knowing that the final outcome of the war is foreordained. As I recall, the invention of the Gutenberg press enraged the scribes and monks of the era who argued that bibles produced by that infernal engine were simply not sacred. Given that I just visited two friends who have between them 15 different versions of the holy book on disk, I conclude that the defense of the DMCA and perhaps copyright laws are doomed, if not damned.

-- Chris Brooks

Read "Earthlink, Do You Read Me?"

I couldn't help but feel the pain of Peter Sussman's account of his nightmarish dealings with Earthlink. I've had the same feeling of being trapped in an endless circle trying to deal with Earthlink's customer service reps. I'm a DSL customer paying something like $500 a year for their service -- you'd think they'd try pretty hard to keep me satisfied. Instead, I confront half-hour and up waiting times when I call. And when I e-mail, I get only automated responses. Most recently, I had a customer service rep actually hang up on me (and it wasn't because I was berating her, though I should have been). Naturally, e-mails to Earthlink did not get a response. And Earthlink wonders why the cable companies are winning the fight for high-speed services?

-- Richard Blow

I loved this. I have saved dozens of absurd e-mail Hell dialogues with, um, autoreplies and/or humans on the other end, I think, and I am sorry I didn't submit them to Salon. I could have used the money. I sent them around to my friends instead, who didn't give me any money, but they did laugh. I currently also have an Earthlink account. Recently, Earthlink sent around e-mail advertising a good DSL special; when I called up to look into it, the voice -mail told me I would have a 72 -- SEVENTY-TWO!!!! -- minute wait. That must be a record.

-- Caryn Leschen

Regarding the funny-if-it-wasn't-so-true piece entitled "Earthlink, Do You Read Me?" Earthlink is not the only ISP that has abysmal customer service.

My experiences with the ISPs I have contracted with have been quite similar to Sussman's. Without a doubt, AT&T Worldnet, Eclipstel and Bellsouth have failed to make the grade as well. So poor is their level of service that it reminds me of Orwellian doublespeak to call what they offer "customer service."

These companies, in their effort to streamline and make efficient, have lost sight of the goal of customer service -- namely, to serve customers. Hold times in excess of 15 minutes, a support philosophy best described as "churn" and no capacity to follow up -- these problems and more make calling customer support the digital equivalent of going to the dentist.

-- Edward Hammerbeck

Right on. I tried to set up a new account with them, and it took over two hours, most of which was spent on hold. They also felt no remorse in hanging up on me midsentence, forcing me to call again to resolve the same issue.

I took my business elsewhere.

-- Todd Lawson

Earthlink lost my entire mail folder upon "upgrade" of their mail service, insisting in many automated e-mails that it wasn't lost. When it became clear that they were never going to resolve this problem I called to cancel my account. A snippy gum-snapping customer anti-support creature archly asked me why I hadn't spent hours on hold for technical anti-support creatures. I told her to just cancel the ^&**^ account. I now have an account with a tiny ISP 175 miles from here, and I'm hoping they're too small to show up on Earthlink's radar.

-- Shellie Taylor

I too had experiences like the one described. I quit Earthlink and went with a local ISP where I can call and get a real human being and get answers that I don't need to be a technoid to understand. The same thing happened to me with AOL about the time they got so big they went off the charts. I can't imagine how much money they siphon off from the extra time given them by frustrated users trying to straighten out a simple mess or just trying to quit! The latest buzz phrase going around the place I work is "product branding." That is, fixing in the mind of the customer the brand identity of the service provider. Well, I've been branded by Earthlink just like you, but I'm having it removed even if it takes a "sandpaper scrub."

-- Dean Cole

I can most certainly relate to Peter Sussman's piece "Earthlink, do you read me?" About a month ago, I finally resolved my own seemingly never-ending feud with Earthlink. It all began when my roommate signed up for Earthlink DSL. Upon examining their service and alternatives, which offered better service for the same price, I recommended that he call and cancel, which he did. When we tried to sign up with another provider, though, we were informed that Earthlink hadn't actually forwarded our cancellation request on to Verizon, which controls the lines. Thus, the e-mails began, from both myself and my roommate. After about five automatic replies, we received a seemingly human response that was no more helpful than the automatic ones. More than a dozen e-mails then transpired before I called and put the muzak on speakerphone at work. In the end, three phone calls over three days, for a total of about five hours of hold time, were required to resolve the issue, a month after we canceled DSL, which was several weeks after we had ordered it. I called Time Warner Cable and ordered Road Runner, and the cable guy was at my house two days later to install it, and an hour later we were up and running, and quite glad we were done dealing with Earthlink for good.

-- Gray Kimbrough

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