When a tweet crosses the line

September 26th, 2012 by Barry Sookman Leave a reply »

I can’t figure this one out. I’m a lawyer, not a psychologist.

After the Supreme Court of Canada released its decision in the Access Copyright case, two academics, Michael Geist and Ariel Katz, stepped up their attacks on Access Copyright.

Michael Geist claimed that the Supreme Court’s decision eviscerated Access Copyright’s business model. In a reply blog post I showed this claim did not stand up to scrutiny.

Ariel Katz jumped in to defend Michael Geist. A major portion of his blog, however, contained a vitriolic attack on Access Copyright. Among other things, he claimed Access Copyright was “an oppressive cartel” which threatens “to terrorize universities”. Acknowledging his animus towards Access Copyright, and before turning to respond to my blog, he saidLet me set the aggression part aside”.

Michael Geist called Ariel Katz’s blog a “must-read post”. I agreed with him giving as one of the reasons that Ariel Katz`s post provided an excellent window for understanding the tone, temperature, and perspectives of some of those who attack Access Copyright and others in the cultural community.

Yesterday morning I came across a YouTube video comparing Hitler to a university president going into a rage in finding out that his subordinates had signed an Access Copyright licence. The video is in extraordinarily bad taste. It ties the Holocaust to copyright policy and is extremely inflammatory.

This is a video that deserved no oxygen. Yet, Ariel Katz retweeted it embedding the video or a link to it, in the tweet, as shown below:

 

 

 

To make matters even worse, the fully embedded video was further disseminated by the University of Toronto Faculty of Law Twitter account, as shown below:*

Now, there is an unwritten law of the Internet (Prof. Katz must surely know Godwin’s Law of Nazi Analogies) that predicts that given enough time online arguments degenerate into odious comparisons of this sort. We also know there are tools available on the internet to create Hitler videos and this video is not the first in the “Hitler finds out” meme.

Yet, despite years of debates about copyright reform in this country, with views that have often been extremely polarized, the dialogue about copyright never degenerated to this shocking, repugnant, and inexcusable level.

Ariel Katz is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto where he holds the Innovation Chair in Electronic Commerce. Since 2009, he has been the Director of the Centre for Innovation Law and Policy. His Twitter profile associates him with the university describing him as “Law Professor, University of Toronto. Director, Centre for Innovation Law and Policy. Teaches IP, Competition law and cyberlaw.”

This is not the kind of video that should have been made. The identity of the maker is unknown, although it appears to have been posted to YouTube by a person with the name or pseudonym “Jean Delacruz”. It was then first tweeted by “shadowspar” whose Twitter account identifies as Rick Scott. It was then retweeted by Ariel Katz.

This reprehensible video should not have been circulated by a Canadian academic, let alone one who teaches intellectual property law to students at the U of T and who is the Director of the university’s Centre for Innovation Law and Policy. It should also not have been further disseminated by or on behalf of the University of Toronto Faculty of law.

The tweet was directed to Howard Knopf @howardknopf, Michael Geist@mgeist, and Samuel Trosow@strosow, all well known critics of Access Copyright and copyright holders, and presumably their followers on Twitter. Neither of them retweeted it. I am sure none of them would endorse the video or Ariel Katz’s retweeting it. Perhaps they will set aside their ideological differences and use their blogs to join me in publically condemning the video and Ariel Katz`s retweet of it and agree with me that this crossed the line.

* Update:  The University of Toronto Faculty of Law deleted the tweet from its account the day after it was posted. Ariel Katz did not.

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