You may remember the blog The Trichordist for publishing that utterly out-of-proportion response from Camper Van Beethoven singer David Lowery to Emily White, the NPR intern who made the shocking admission that she, like millions of others, pirated music. It’s unique among pro-copyright blogs in that (1) it’s readable, and (2) some of the posts are actually written by artists.

Despite a stated commitment to the idea of authorship–so rigid they don’t post links in their comments!–the blog ran an anonymous ad hominem attack yesterday suggesting that Derek Khanna wrote his copyright memo in hopes of landing a job at Google.

(For the backstory on Khanna, check out my piece from the latest issue of the magazine, go here, or see his piece in The Atlantic that led Reddit’s front page this weekend.)

The story contains a number of misrepresentations.

  • “It’s important to note that Mr. Khanna acknowledged (on Reddit) that he was freelancing–no one asked Mr. Khanna to write the memo.” Khanna was a paid staff member at the time, so this is a strange use of the word “freelancing.”
  • “How he was able to post the memo on the RSC’s website–which would tend to give the memo the imprimatur of the RSC to the casual reader–is anyone’s guess (although someone surely must know).” I seriously doubt Khanna had either the authority or the ability to post things there. The memo was e-mailed out to around 170 congressmen and their staffs. That doesn’t just randomly happen. And good grief, the memo was published on Rep. Jim Jordan’s letterhead, more than anything else that’s what gave it the RSC’s “imprimatur.” The author is perpetuating the myth that the memo wasn’t approved by the RSC, and he’s not the only pro-copyright blogger to do that. Debate over copyright is a healthy thing and I welcome it, but there’s a clear refusal to accept basic facts here.
  • The blog post goes on to quote another piece at the Copyright Alliance, a pro-IP trade group–by Thomas Sydnor and Debbie Rose, both Republican staffers, that also gets the facts wrong. By this telling, Khanna insubordinately took credit for the memo after it was retracted. Their version: “But Khanna then undermined the RSC by publicly embracing the just-disowned paper and associating himself with the “tech community” at TechDirt: “I am the author of this memo, and I hope the tech community continues to add to these ideas….” Khanna then appended a link to… TechDirt.”A quick check of the timeline proves that this simply isn’t true. The tweet in question is time-stamped 4:00 PM, November 17, the day the memo was retracted. The time-stamp on the emailed retraction from Paul Teller is 4:11.

The evidence for the Trichordist author’s claim that Khanna was opportunistically shilling for a Google job from within the Republican Party is…two tweets. One thanking Google’s top copyright lawyer for signing a copy of his book, and one asking Google’s CIO where he stood on the issue. This is weak stuff.

Some people will believe any paranoid claim about corporate influence, and if you want to believe this one nobody can stop you. But consider both sides of the copyright argument independent of the institutional interests at play. As I point out in my piece for the print mag, the emergence of powerful business interests in favor of loosening copyright is one of the more important recent developments. But if you’re going to be making such claims about undue corporate influence yourself, you shouldn’t cite a blogger who’s paid by telecom companies to bash Google. The Trichordist does.

The conclusion of the post, before appending a bunch of irrelevant links related to Khanna’s college activism, reads:

What the irrational anti-copyright movement had hoped would give them legitimacy in the form of an endorsement from a major political party has instead had the opposite effect of highlighting the desperate attempts to rewrite history in such a shallow and over reaching way as to invalidate an honest debate or dialog based in facts. No doubt, somewhere out there is basis [sic] of Khanna’s “memo” and it’s unlikely that he did little more than parrot the existing talking points of those who rallied around him in the wake of the memo’s demise.

Convoluted, nigh-unreadable syntax aside, what a vile combination of spin and spite that is. The memo was far from perfect, but it did become the news hook for the most vigorous IP debate the right has had in years. And to claim that a Georgetown Law student can’t think for himself is silly and incredibly uncharitable.

But it’s yet another example of the pro-copyright faction trying to silence dissent with slurs and strong-arm tactics, the reason Khanna was fired in the first place. Last week, for example, the Center For Individual Freedom took the storied right-wing tack of labeling one’s enemies communitarian.