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F & F


Wendy Seltzer on the EFF, Chilling Effects and Opera
posted by mpawlo on Saturday August 30, @10:21AM
from the freedom-fighters dept.
News Wendy Seltzer was recently appointed staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Seltzer is also a fellow with the Berkman Center. Greplaw has picked Seltzer's brain on her new position with the EFF, Chilling Effects and the greatest opera tunes.

# Who is Wendy Seltzer?

I'm now a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and a Fellow with the Berkman Center for Internet & Society (which Greplaw readers might know as the wacky and wonderful institution that hosts Greplaw). I spent lots of time programming and thinking about Internet technology in law school, as the Berkman Center's first general-purpose tech, and that experience deepened my concern that bad tech regulation could choke the very speech that the Internet enables.

# Some Greplaw readers may not know about the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Can you please give a brief presentation of the EFF?

EFF is a non-profit public interest organization fighting for free expression and civil liberties in the digital age. As an organization, we stay on the front lines of new technology, watching for places where the code and law collide. We try to ensure that individual freedoms survive the collision, so the rights we've enjoyed offline persist into the online world.

# What do you do as a EFF staff attorney?

I focus on intellectual property and fair use, spending lots of time explaining why copyright's overbreadth is a free speech issue. For example, I've been fighting the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, in an amicus brief of behalf of 321 Studios (makers of DVD X-Copy, which enables archival and personal-use copying of DVDs), protecting reverse engineering (BNETD and Lexmark v. Static Control), and working to preserve Internet users' rights against overbearing copyright claimants (amicus supporting Verizon's fight for its customers' privacy in RIAA v. Verizon). I've also been encouraging other participants, such as universities and ISPs, to take more active roles on behalf of their students and customers.

# How did your friends react when you left your hot-shot lawyer career at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel to protect civil liberties on the Internet?

The better they knew me, the less surprised they were. Kramer Levin was extraordinarily supportive of my pro bono work with the Berkman Center, but it became clear that I wanted to be fighting the public-interest battles more than just part time.

# What are the most important current challenges to the freedom of the Internet?

Even though I spend a lot of time on copyright and "intellectual property," I'd have to say that the biggest threats right now come from allowing government's cries of "terrorism" to erode our Constitutional rights to privacy, free speech, free association, and due process. Online, that translates into Carnivore boxes, secret wiretaps, and draconian cybercrime sentences. I'm encouraged that politicians in both parties now seem more willing to challenge the official line that the public must give up its rights "for our own good." These rights are what we're fighting for in the first place.

# Professor Lessig and others seem to think that the sky is falling over the Internet. Are you as pessimistic about the future?

I'm somewhat optimistic that in the long term, we'll restore balance to technology regulation, but I'm still pessimistic in the short term. And the short term might last a long time.

# Why?

It takes a long time to teach the judges, legislators, and public to understand technology. Right now, they're getting a strong dose of "education" on the Internet's threats and harms, and not hearing so much about its potential. Shouts of "piracy" often outweigh consideration of how we might communicate with more open media formats, but judges like Stephen Wilson in the Grokster case are starting to listen through the shouting. We're encouraging more people to think about how the law shapes technological innovation, how the technology itself can foster creativity, and then to do something about it to advance the public interest.

# How could Greplaw readers help the EFF, except for obviously donating to the EFF?

Become activists, starting locally. We've seen the MPAA introduce state "super DMCAs" across the United States, and expect them to be continuing that push to block technological development. We also see the U.S. trying to globalize its copyright policy through international treaties. Local activists can help explain to their elected representatives why these proposals are bad law, and can help us rally opposition to them. Even lower impact, tell a few friends about a technology issue that concerns you. Of course donations to EFF are always welcome, and we've got some shiny new cards with the Bill of Rights printed on them!

# What is Chilling Effects and why should Greplaw readers care?

Chilling Effects is a clearinghouse for cease-and-desist letters sent and received about online activity. Law students at clinics around the country highlight the letters with explanations of the legalese. Quite often, we see C&Ds that grossly exaggerate the law -- claiming that EnronOwnstheGOP infringes Republican Party trademarks, for example -- so we try to help readers understand their rights in response. Without resources like Chilling Effects, many people who get threat letters think there's no choice but to shut down. We want to help them resist this chill, when what they're doing is lawful.

# It seems a lot of cease-and-desist-letters still are distributed. Has Chilling Effects had any success?

When we started Chilling Effects, we were seeing lots of websites just disappear, replaced by a posted C&D or nothing at all. We can't stop the onslaught of lawyer-grams, but we can give webmasters a place to turn if they receive one. Some have decided to fight back or ignore the threats, buoyed by the explanations they've seen at Chilling Effects; others have been able to tell their side of the story. Further, we make the database of more than 600 letters available to the public, where researchers, journalists, and even lawyers can analyze the data about the kinds of threats being made.

# Will the new position as staff attorney mean that you will discontinue being project manager of Chilling Effects?

Not at all. Moving to EFF, which is a partner in the Chilling Effects project, gives me more time to devote to Chilling Effects, including searching out additional partner law school clinics and digging into the stories behind the C&D letters. We've been able to use Chilling Effects stories too, for example in our recent brief supporting Verizon in its fight to keep Internet user data out of the hands of the RIAA, we described previous misuses of the DMCA -- showing the dangers posed by subpoenas without judicial review.

# You developed and now coordinate the Berkman Center's Openlaw project. How can Greplaw readers join the action of OpenLaw?

Openlaw has been an experiment in bringing the methods of open source software development to legal argument, and we've tried different methods with the Eldred v. Ashcroft and DeCSS (Universal v. Corley) cases. Currently, we're working to pull together the tools we've found useful, to let others experiment with technology enhancements to group discussion. We're open to suggestions for new projects.

# You maintain a weblog. What is the purpose of your blog?

I hoped it would be a place I could post short commentaries, along with running notes-to-self about sites and ideas of interest, for later expansion.

# Does it (the blog) work the way you planned?

I haven't been posting so often as I meant, because of both time crunches and overlap between my off-hours thinking about intellectual property and work at EFF. But lots of the ideas wind up in EFF writings instead.

# You are a Harvard graduate. How does the Berkman Center efforts fit into the big Harvard picture in your opinion? For example, Harvard has hired a trademark police and send cease and desist letters. This is far from the spirit of Chilling Effects, isn't it?

Like many other universities, Harvard seems at times to forget that education is its primary mission. Its heavy-handed copyright policy on Harvard networks, for example, seemed to put the record labels' interests first, and those of students and teachers only as an afterthought. I'd rather see them take more of a stand for academic freedom, and used my blog to write an open letter of protest at the time. The Berkman Center tries to reach out to the larger Harvard community, through efforts including H2O, teaching software made freely available to all for interdisciplinary discussions, and the Blogs@Harvard initiative, open to anyone in the Harvard and alumni community.

# If a Greplaw reader wants to pursue a career like yours, what should he or she do?

Working for EFF is a real dream job, and it's not easy to find those, but there are more and more law schools with cyberlaw clinics. I'd start by working with one of them and finding an opportunity to develop technical knowledge along with legal skill. Then find a project that lets you demonstrate ability and initiative -- for me it was Openlaw and Chilling Effects, for others it might be contributing to Greplaw or another weblog or leading an online discussion through H2O. EFF doesn't have a wine-and-dine summer associate program, but we do take interns during the year and summer (unpaid).

# I like opera, just like you do. My favourite is Mozart's Don Giovanni, conducted by Herbert von Karajan and performed by the Berlin Philarmonic Orchestra. However, I don't know that much about opera. What else do you think I should listen to?

I'd suggest some Verdi operas -- Otello and Don Carlo are among my favorites (there are magnificent recordings with Domingo in the leads). Mozart's lesser-known opera seria, Idomeno, has some wonderful arias. Unfortunately no-one offers much opera online -- peer-to-peer or pay services.

# And what shall l I tell my friends when they say I've gone crazy?

Opera is a great break from the tech world. The best opera is very low tech, un-miked voices and analog instruments -- and it's three-plus hours without email, cell phones, or multitasking! What's not to like?

Wendy Selzer was interviewed by Mikael Pawlo.

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  • The Berkman Center
  • Berkman Center for Internet & Society
  • the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)
  • an amicus brief of behalf of 321 Studios
  • amicus supporting Verizon's fight for its customers' privacy in RIAA v. Verizon
  • Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel
  • Professor Lessig
  • except for obviously donating to the EFF
  • Chilling Effects
  • Openlaw project
  • maintain a weblog
  • write an open letter of protest at the time
  • H2O, teaching software made freely available
  • Blogs@Harvard initiative
  • Mikael Pawlo
  • More on News
  • Also by mpawlo
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    Wendy Seltzer on the EFF, Chilling Effects and Opera | Login/Create an Account | Top | 6 comments | Search Discussion
    The Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not responsible for them in any way.
    My question to Wendy (Score:1)
    by scubacuda (scubacudaNO@SPAMiname.com) on Saturday August 30, @11:37AM (#1090)
    User #483 Info | http://www.greplaw.org/
    Wendy, does e-mailing congress(wo)men and senators make a difference? (I've heard that many of them ignore correspondence that isn't an actual snail mail or fax.)

    There are a thousand forms of subversion, but few can equal the convenience and immediacy of a cream pie. Noel Godin

    [ Parent ]
    Geeks and Opera (Score:0)
    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 30, @10:44PM (#1099)
    Another Geek in the operahouse over here! But after 15 years in the tech industry, I find that I enjoy performing the work much more than watching it. It's a great break from the stress of the day, and nothing beats the feeling when you've given 110% on stage for an audience, and you see their faces during curtain call.

    [ Parent ]
    2nd question for Wendy (Score:1)
    by scubacuda (scubacudaNO@SPAMiname.com) on Sunday August 31, @09:58AM (#1101)
    User #483 Info | http://www.greplaw.org/
    Wendy, what agencies / organizations does the EFF work with? Does the EFF, for example, ever team up with the ACLU? (Just curious, because I always see only one or the other react to certain issues--never both).

    There are a thousand forms of subversion, but few can equal the convenience and immediacy of a cream pie. Noel Godin

    [ Parent ]
    Hear, hear! (Score:2)
    by Seth Finkelstein ({sethf} {at} {sethf.com}) on Sunday August 31, @10:03PM (#1107)
    User #31 Info | http://sethf.com/
    I found this passage worth applauding:
    ... and that experience deepened my concern that bad tech regulation could choke the very speech that the Internet enables.
    I say something similar [sethf.com] myself to people who ask why I did my own work [sethf.com]. That I wanted to keep the Internet free.

    Lots of bits have passed over the routers since I first thought that, though ...

    - Seth Finkelstein [sethf.com]

    [ Parent ]

    Humanity has the stars in its future, and that future is too important to be lost under the burden of juvenile folly and ignorant superstition. - Isaac Asimov

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