Friday, July 4, 2008

Dream: The whipping boy (bonus: Viacom vs. Google)

Before I get to my latest nightmare, I should mention that I read that a judge has ordered Google to turn over to Viacom the names and IP addresses, along with everything they've ever watched, of every YouTube user. I'm not a lawyer and don't know the law, and presumably the judge is and does, but my common sense and practical sense immediately asked, "Why? Why should the representatives of a corporation get their mitts on that volume and kind of data, the vast majority of which is irrelevant to their case?"

I've not been a registered user of YouTube for very long and signed up mainly so I could track a handful of favorites. My personal viewing habits are not the stuff of litigation--I click on links in e-mails and blogs that lead mainly to videos of cats and other animals, engineers talking about cats, lions attacking Cape buffalo, Jason Trusty's Puppet Bike in Chicago, awful vintage TV commercials, and the like. While Viacom should have the right to find out who steals and uploads their copyrighted material, what does this have to do with me and what I watch?

The popular argument in these situations is that it shouldn't matter to me if I have nothing to hide. It does matter, however; it matters on principle. If my viewing habits, or those of people like me, were essential to the case and if the records were to be turned over to a law enforcement agency, I would feel differently. Viacom is using its power as a corporation to obtain information that no one should have access to without clear cause--even if that information is no more significant than that I watch animal videos.

Google's position strikes me as reasonable--if you complain that your copyrighted material has been uploaded to YouTube without your permission, they will remove it. Viacom's response is that they have had to employ an entire department to watch YouTube. Yet, whether YouTube existed or not, or whether they operated differently, it seems to me Viacom would still be stuck monitoring the Internet. People will always find a way to steal and a place to which to upload. YouTube makes it easier, but that is its purpose for most of us who upload our animal, vacation, music, and other personal videos. Monitoring is the cost of doing business; I imagine that big corporations with touchy reputations like Microsoft and Wal-Mart have public relations people whose eyes are peeled for negative coverage online.

I don't know what the answer is, but I don't think it's giving out irrelevant personal information on the off chance that, among the chaff, there's a kernel of relevance.

All this leads, I think, to a dream I had the afternoon of July 4, Independence Day in the United States. The first part has nothing to do with anything, but it's interesting that my subconscious think that the world operates in weird, unwitnessed ways. The second part touches on rights.

I was watching one of our high-rise buildings under construction when I saw it rotate 180 degrees, then rotate back. It happened quickly enough that I couldn't believe my eyes. I saw it happen again later and couldn't deny it. Someone from development explained it to me, although I am sure I didn't understand.

I was by the pool at home, wondering about what I had seen, when The Flamingo rotated 180 degrees and back before my eyes. I looked at the person next to me, who had also seen it. When it happened again, I speculated about how I didn't notice this when I was inside, although surely one would be able to feel and see it. That I could be oblivious to my building turning back and forth on its axis periodically was both marvelous and horrifying.

I had just passed through security at work when I noticed that the person ahead of me had knelt to clean an escalator rail and was trying to hide his face. An enraged security guard threw me to the ground in his haste to get to this person, who he picked up and slammed violently down. "I know who you are!" he kept shouting.

The person was no more than an adolescent boy carrying toy masks or flat shapes in not-quite-pastel colors. I saw a line of them hanging, including a pink owl. Every time the boy tried to say something, the guard would kick or punch him or throw him to the ground, often hitting me because I was stunned and still in the way. I could not imagine who this boy was or what he had allegedly done that would warrant such violent treatment, and the toys/masks I had seen seemed symbolic of his innocence. I found myself unable to speak up to stop the violence. My silence made me guilty. As I tried to recover myself, I debated with myself whether I should report my ill treatment to the office manager upstairs, but I thought she would dismiss my complaint as trivial and me as a whiner.

When I woke up, I was thinking that we are not quite yet the society the founders had envisioned as they risked their lives.

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