Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Why Operation:Payback is Wrong

Early Saturday, the US, and UK Pirate Parties released an open letter to the people behind Operation:Payback (O:P). Operation:Payback was a set of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks on various websites, intending to take them offline. It's an ignorant, futile, and ultimately counter-productive action that outwardly amounts to a temper-tantrum, with far-reaching consequences. Let's explore why.

I was the main architect behind the letter (although I did very little of the writing, other officers of the US and UK parties wrote it), and I'll give my reasons behind the letter here.

Operation:Payback has achieved very little of it's intended goal. The aim was, as far as I can make out, to 'pay back' first AiPlex for DDoSing trackers. Then it was an attack on groups like the MPAA and RIAA for hiring them. We're in the early stages of O:P here, and there's just two problems. While the head of AiPlex did TALK of DDoSing, there's no evidence his company actually has. Second, AiPlex was never hired by the MPAA, or indeed anyone in Hollywood (except the Indian arm of Fox and StarTV). Mainly because AiPlex is an INDIAN company, that was hired by BOLLYWOOD companies, the exact words are
Kumar said that at the moment most of the payment for his company's services came from the film industry in India.
"We are tied up with more than 30 companies in Bollywood. They are the major production houses."
Oops, wrong continent. So, there's something of a lack of research and fact-checking behind it. That's never good in itself. By basing a so-called political statement on facts that are completely, unequivocally untrue, any justification you might claim is totally blown.

So, without any decent justification, you've got nothing. So what does that leave? It leaves an attack that, under US law is criminal. Here's the problem. When you have a criminal action committed in the name of changing something, you tar EVERYONE wanting those changes as criminals. Good Job Operation:Payback, you've managed to tar everyone with a criminal brush. Politicians don't listen to criminals, voters don't tend to elect people deemed criminals (unless they're already in office), as one recent UK Pirate candidate has pointed out. You've weakened any impact the Pirate Party can do.

Ok, the other argument put about is that 'it's gained attention for the cause'. Not really. Tech news sites carried it yes. Guess what? Tech news sites also carry stories about copyright and other issues. Pretty much everyone that would read those stories, ALREADY KNEW your issues and the problems. When it's reported on mainstream news (a whole TWICE!) we've one scrupulously neutral and dry BBC report, and a Reuters piece with a negative spin. But a tech news site (oh, what a surprise) made the following point that underscores the point.
“The problem is, most of the government regulators have little incentive to listen to demands from a group of people who started by attacking first, and make it clear that they will do it again if progess is not attained.”

Now, let's move on to the targets. In targeting the US Copyright Office earlier this month, O:P showed it has little thought, and no understanding of the situation. Over the last 12 years, there have been increasingly strict copyright laws, and a vast intrusion of DRM with it. There has, however been one area of progress. There has been one body that had relaxed DRM, and opened abilities to people. It's the US Copyright Office. That's right, the ONE agency that has been consistently relaxing regulations (ok, not a great deal, but every bit helps) and restrictions, was targeted by O:P. What a LOVELY thank-you for Marybeth Peters. A few months after important breakthrough in DRM, with the ability to circumvent being allowed in a vastly expanded number of cases, her department is attacked. There's another thing that O:P doesn't understand – the Copyright Office doesn't set policy, it just follows the policy set by Congress.

Then, there's cause and effect. O:P claims to be doing this to influence politicians, and the big businesses controlling things. Well, what would they think about it? The businesses targeted get to claim O:P are criminals, vandals, and can then insinuate that it's typical of anyone wanting positive change for copyright – as I said before, we (the pirate parties) get tarred with anon's brush. Legislators, Well, in the US, they're old. The 111th Congress (2009-2010) averages about 60 (57.2 in the House, and 63.1 in the Senate). We've all tried explaining computers to grandparents, and other, similarly aged people. Most just don't get it (or think the internet's a system of tubes). They don't understand what a DDoS is, all they do understand is that it's against the law, a criminal act, ESPECIALLY when it targets government computers. Are they going to listen to you? Hell no. And they're less likely to listen to people with similar views. Result? The ability to effect any type of change is reduced. In fact, the ability for lobbyists to paint opposition as 'just criminals, you know the ones that attacked the Copyright Office' makes it easier for stricter laws to pass.

Finally, some people have made the claim that we (the parties) should be supporting them, or at least not criticizing them, as they're our 'allies'. Utter Rubbish. Their actions have actively worked against our work and abilities. Allies don't do that. Their actions have been in direct contravention of everything the US Pirate Party stands for. That tends to preclude an alliance (except in the mythical 'enemy of my enemy Is my friend' way, but as we've pointed out, they've acted in a friend-of-my-enemy way). Finally, civil disobedience does NOT always require violating the law, in fact often the acts can be legal, but its the continuation of those actions when authorities try to end it, that breaks the law. Tomorrow (November 24th, the day before thanksgiving) there is a protest over the TSA's body-scanners planned. Instead of going through the scanners, people are going to protest by going for the much more time-consuming and labor intensive pat-down. This is civil disobedience, and is 100% legal. Others have argued that a more effective civil disobedience would be to continue filesharing, disobeying copyright law, and showing that the claimed effects don't happen.

Of course, the US Pirate Party, as a US political party, can not condone, support, or endorse any acts against the law (and not only as a party, the party constitution specifies individual officers can't either). So, out of the 3 options (support, ignore, oppose) we are barred from supporting. That means there's two options, ignore, or oppose. Ignoring it can be considered a quiet approval at worst (for the party) or plain ignorance as well as helping feed the claims that 'everyone that wants to reform copyright is a crimainl' mentality. So, the only thing left is to oppose, in order to distance the party officially from actions that are against its purpose, and to try and to prevent our positions being spun as those of criminals.
How to do so? Well, we could use their own language, and epithets against them, or we can take the other extreme, point out they are hurting, not helping things, ask them to stop, and if they really want to help, to do so in a productive way. We went with the second option. The constructive, rational method. It breaks O:P down into three resultant groups.
  1. Those that understands our points, looks at the reasoning, and agrees
  2. Those that looks at the points, understands them but doesn't care
  3. Those that don't understand the points, and see it as someone telling them what to do/criticizing, and will continue.

And that, in a nutshell, is the reasoning behind it. The attacks are counterproductive, managed only preach only to the choir, have attacked the only government group that has actually been on our side and listened to our arguments, and are based upon a completely fictitious premise.

If I didn't know better, I'd say Operation:Payback was filled with Big Copyright's agents provocateurs. After all, O:P's campaign could hardly suit their interests better.

The letter in full


  1. I have to disagree that direct action doesnt work.

    Right or wrong, Operation Payback achieved more publicity and debate in the mainstream media, rarely in the RIAA/mMPAAs favour.

    It also brings back memories of the UK Poll tax riots 20 years ago. Politicians knew the tax was unpopular but thought that it would blow over. The riots told them otherwise and while publicly they denounced the rioters as left wing extremists and anarchists they suddenly realised they were writing their own political death sentences.

    Within weeks, PM Thatcher was gone and withdrawal of the tax announced. The party then went on to win another election.

    Politicians only understand 2 things. Votes and bribes. If you think you can achieve anything through education and negiotiation you will fail as you can not compete with the sums of money spent by corporate lobby groups. The only other way is to make politicians realise that doing the corporates dirty work is political suicide.

    From the suffragettes to the IRA (and lets not forget US independence), History is littered with groups that have had to break the law as the only means open to changing it.

  2. The system has failed, and you are trying to dialogue with people that support a multi millionaire industry. Movies and music industry are investing millions of dollars on lobbyists to maintain their business model. They don't want to change it, because it means loose control and profits. I think the ignorant in here are you trying to dialogue with this dinosaurs when they only care about the big corporations profits, that kind of behavior is futile, and ultimately counter-productive to everyone else outside the corporations.

  3. While this is true (and I remember the Poll Tax riots firsthand, growing up in Liverpool - you could also have mentioned the fuel protests in 2000 - I was on the Merseyside team there) there are some problems with the analogy.
    First, the objections were made clear beforehand, and escalated.
    Second, there was a clear cause, backed by evidence (I did some research - the MPAA hiring AiPlex to DDOS TPB, the justification for O:P, every single source references back to O:P.
    Third, while you're quite right that the Poll Tax died, it was very soon resurected as The Council Tax. All the riots basically changed was the name.

    Also, to say 'within weeks Thatcher was gone' is a little off. The Riots were in March, she left office almost 9 months later. That's hardly 'within weeks'. As for the 92 election, I could write a book about it (and others have) mostly coming down to a terrible campaign by Kinnock (and they still took 40 seats from the tories)

    'Politicians only understand votes and bribes' is also a bit off. For a start, it's contradictory, and in the other, it's just not true. And, while we think lobbying is about vast sums of money, it really isn't (it helps, but that's not its core). It's more about face time, and time to talk ('access'). Politicians understand arguments THEY can understand. O:P has given lobbyists an easy argument to make for stricter laws, and for not listening to our side.

    Going back a bit, your first statement caused me at first to do a double-take. "Right or wrong, Operation Payback achieved more publicity and debate in the mainstream media, rarely in the RIAA/MPAAs favour."

    I used O:P's own list of stories, and found TWO mainstream pieces (I linked to both above). The BBC was extremely coldly factual (which any longtime BBC reader, like a UK politician, tends to take as slightly negative) and a Reuters (one of the world's major news agencies) with a very NEGATIVE piece. Every other piece was on a mostly-web-based tech site. You'd be amazed how many politicians do NOT read web-based tech news sites. You'd be amazed how many DO read/follow the BBC or Reuters.

    The MAINSTREAM coverage O:P got, at least in US and UK, was negative. It didn't work.

    Finally, while you claim all these actions that break the law got results (and technically, Washington and his actions are classified as Terrorist by the FBI these days - you probably don't want to go there, besides, you're not likely to get the French army to come do the majority of your fighting, as he did), what you don't take into account are all the 'protests' that DON'T get results, and often make it harder for other protesters.
    The analogy that best fits is that of Black Bloc protests. Like smashing up a McDonnalds/starbucks to protest megacorps and global capitalism. Just as in those cases, a lack of research beforehand ends up with the 'cause' being hurt, such as smashing up a local business owners store that is just a franchise, which the franchisee has to pay for, costing the megacorp nothing, and drawing negative press for the cause.

    Let's look at results at the end of the day. After 3 months, did their actions have any positive results? no. Instead, the one action so far, has been a greater push for web censorship, and a streamlining of the process, which was approved by those who are generally pro-free speech. Coincidence? I think not.

  4. Oh, and there were TWO other mainstream news reports that mentioned operation:payback, both in UK newspaper The Guardian.

    here's the references in the first,br>
    "The UK information commissioner is investigating the leak of thousands of emails containing personal information from the controversial solicitors' firm ACS:Law after the company's website came under sustained attack by online activists.

    Sets a fairly negative tone, since it's THE FIRST PARAGRAPH

    the second, the next day, says

    "Alexander Hanff from Privacy International gives us the implications of the 750 MB file accidentally revealed on the ACS:Law website after it was taken down by members of the 4Chan social network - and what legal recourse the 10,000 email and ISP address owners have against the firm, who have the details as part of investigations into illegal peer-to-peer filesharing."

    Wow, again implying that the release of thousands of peoples personal details was O:p's fault. Again, NEGATIVE.

  5. As I see it's only the english and american branches, what's up with the rest of the worlds pirates? Got a clue?