Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Free Speech Under Threat? Copyright and Cartoon Bears.

Even those unfamiliar with feminism opposing, social justice warrior baiting cartoon bears may have come across the hashtag #freebearing over the past 24 hours and may be forgiven for being led to believe by the surrounding hyperbole laden tweets that there has been some great violation of the principles of free speech committed to this Austrailian Youtube content provider, instigated by malicious opponents to what he has to say.

Many of Bearing's fellow Youtube content providers produced videos in support of Bearing reflecting that idea, with Sargon of Akkad, in particular claiming that Bearing's termination was "politically motivated" and that the SJWs were likely responsible. A claim he ridiclously had to back track on in a caption added later. Unsuprisingly, a toothless and somewhat laughable change.org petition was soon established too. As an aside isn't it a bit ironic that those supporting an alt-right content producer took what has previously been dismissed by the right as the most wishy washy liberal avenue of action available? The tweets and youtube comments early on seemed to follow a general trend:
"They're trying to silence us! Our ideas are too dangerous! They can't disprove what we're saying so they're trying to shut us up..."
It's a cry most commonly heard amongst proponents of conspiracy theories, pseudoscience and alternative medicine:Of course, such claims are never backed with evidence, and can often be demonstrably shown to be false. Governments suppress 9-11 truthers often by supposedly assassinating those with the most damning truth, natural cancer cure are held back by crooked "big pharma" they tell us. Medical journals refuse to publish the works of maverick doctors such as Andrew Wakefield.... A less general example would be Rupert Sheldrake's "banned" TEDx talk from a few years ago, which disappeared from the group's site soon after it was published. Sheldrake and his supporters claimed this was an attempt by the science mainstream to silence him. TED, according to some, had succumbed to the pressure of noted scientists and tried to hide Sheldrake's presentation. The truth is, unsurprisingly, quite different. TED had received a number of complaints from the scientific community, who were not trying to "silence" Sheldrake but were pointing out that much of his talk was patent nonsense. In particular, claims Sheldrake made about the constancy of the speed of light drew ire. In response to this criticism and subsequent review of Sheldrake's talk, TED moved the talk to a more suitable location of their website and fully acknowledged the video, criticism and the reasons for their action. They even published several of Sheldrake's responses to the incident.  If this were an attempt to silence Sheldrake, it was a woefully orchestrated one. Of course such logic didn't sate the outrage of Sheldrake supporters.

So is this suspicion and paranoia limited simply to the tin foil hat brigade or could Bearing's supporters be guilty of it too? Leninist firing squads anyone?

As any truly rational thinker knows, any cognitive bias that exists in proponents of such ideas lurks somewhere in all of us, the key is to recognise and overcome this flawed reasoning. Unfortunately, this recognition has been sadly lacking in the alt-right, anti-SJW youtube and twitter communities today as they rallied around the body of downed comrade Bearing.

A bit of background, many Youtube producers, especially those that produce controversial content are rather upset about the introduction of a self moderation program on the video sharing site, Youtube Heroes, which will allow regular users to flag offensive videos and even have them removed in extreme cases. I actually think this is a terrible idea, and open to individuals using their status to gain the upper hand in personal vendettas. Evidence of this can be seen in the way the Digital Millenium Copyright Act has been misused to take down videos channels deemed offensive or disagreeable to some. The misuse of the DMCA reporting system isn't without punishment, those that file false DMCAs face hefty fines or even prison time is extreme cases. Clearly, such measures having dissuaded everyone from filing malicious DMCAs and misuse of the Youtube Hero system will hold no such repercussions. I don't however, believe as some content producers clearly do, that this represents the ultimate threat to free speech. Nor do I even believe it represents the death knell of the same on Youtube. It may well make monetising videos with controversial content more difficult, which may not be such a bad thing. Many Youtube content producers clearly produce controversial and inflammatory videos because they know this will increase views and therefore swell their coffers. Also, your free speech isn't violated if you're free to take your ideas elsewhere and Youtube doesn't owe it's content providers a platform, It can choose what it does and doesn't want on its site.

Many have assumed that the termination of Bearing's youtube account is the first shot fired by the SJW infiltrated Youtube Heroes program. Here's EDL endorsed Youtube antagonist, Sargon of Akkad again to warn that the war has begun!

Fellow anti-SJW blogger, Undoomed was equally apocalyptic in tone beginning his video "Well it's started..." He goes on to ask "What is it about free speech that scares these people so much... we will not let this stand". Actually, the odds that this supension had anything to do with SJWs aren't great. Bearing's account was actually reported by the preexisting DMCA system and it wasn't so-called SJWs or feminists that dealt him this blow, actually Bearing isn't quite the victim many many assumed. In fact I'd say he's his own worst enemy. To unravel the mystery of who did in Bearing let's take a look at the most frequent image that appears in his video series, his cartoon avatar which features in every single video on his primary channel.

You may be not be surprised to learn this isn't an image produced by Bearing himself, although it seems like he's additionally animated it in some of his work. The character actually originated in a 2007 Canadian animated series called Total Drama Island which ran for 28 episodes and last aired in late 2008. The three DMCAs filed against Bearing have all come from Fresh TV and Elliot Entertainment the creators of Total Drama Island, whom Bearing, whilst he has acknowledged as the source of his image, never approached for permission to use. As you'll see from the image taken from series (left), there's no difference barring some very small superficial changes.

Now, it may seem like Fresh TV are being somewhat petty, after all this is a bit part character in an animated series that hasn't produced an original episode for eight years, but Bearing isn't just using this on his Youtube channel, he's also producing merchandise prominently featuring the TDI bear.

Not bad for an image that isn't yours. If I were Bearing I wouldn't be sweating the DMCA too much right now based on this. A few of Bearing's supporters have highlighted the DCMA's fair use clause, but personally, I fail to see it applying here. Bearing hasn't made significant changes to the character, it's not used as parody, criticism or review of the source material.So whilst this may be lumped into several Youtubers ongoing campaign against the misuse of DMCAs against content which clearly fulfils those criteria, it really shouldn't. This may anger Bearing supporters, and I don't support the gloating at his termination that is occurring in certain quarters, but I can't believe he's been this staggeringly thick. Whilst I take no satisfaction in a man losing his livelihood, Bearing has gotten away with using a copyrighted image since August 2015 and used it to generate revenue, did he think that could carry on for an indefinite length of time?

Clearly, the lesson to be learned here is we should all be slower to jump to conclusions about threats to our liberty before the evidence is collected.... and don't appropriate other people's cartoon bears for financial gain. I should start #freecartoonbears maybe? Or #don'tjumptoconclusions?

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