Pluralistic: 29 Oct 2020

Today's links

Amazon says only corporations own property (permalink)

If you visit Amazon's Prime Video homepage, you'll see that the title of that page is "Rent or Buy: Prime Video." There's a plain-language meaning of "buy" that most of us understand, but Amazon says we're wrong.

Amanda Caudel is a Prime user who brought suit against Amazon for embedding a gotcha clause in its sprawling terms of service that allows it to revoke the videos you "buy" from it, calling the practice deceptive.

Amazon's motion to dismiss is telling: they say that you're not buying a video, you're buying a license for "on-demand viewing over an indefinite period of time." That is, a pig in a poke.

Amazon's attorney wrote, "An individual does not need to read an agreement in order to be bound by it."

Amazon's position is that rightsholders might cancel its license to the movies you buy and then they'll have no choice but to snatch your "purchase" back.

But what Amazon conveniently ignores is that this is only technologically possible because Amazon has designed a system that doesn't let you download and keep the videos you've bought from them (that is, DRM).

It's been more than a decade since Amazon deleted copies of 1984 from its customers' Kindles after a complaint from the professional descendants who control the Orwell estate.

After the scandal that followed, Amazon pledged not to delete any more of the books its customers' buy unless they're legally required to.

Translation: "If you want to delete some books from the public discourse, find a legal way to force us to do so."

This is such an obvious danger to free expression, but Amazon's position is understandable when you consider the larger context. The company "sells" many digitally enabled goods whose fine print asserts the right to modify those goods without notice.

For example: To sell you a Kindle that can read any book you buy aloud to you via text-to-speech, and then change its mind and revoke that feature.;=432

Even when it comes to nondigital transactions, Amazon goes to enormous lengths to ensure that the traditional property rights that we take for granted do not apply to its customers, workers or suppliers – but remain intact for Amazon itself.

Think of its onerous terms of service, its binding arbitration waivers, its confidentiality agreements, misclassifying the bulk of its workforce as "contractors" who are not entitled to workplace protections and the remedies of labor law.

In this regard, Amazon is no different from the bulk of large firms, whose preference is that property rights – and all other rights – are the exclusive purview of transhuman, immortal colony organisms called Limited Liability Corporations.

Artificial persons are the only people who get to own property, or seek protection under the law. Flesh-and-blood humans – customers, workers, etc – are little more than occasionally inconvenient gut-flora.

We have a name for a system in which only a tiny elite get to own property and everyone else has to lease that property and confine their uses to those that are in the interests of the aristocracy: it's called feudalism.

We're in a golden age of digital feudalism. Its hallmark is privilege, from the root, "private law." The public laws – the statutes passed by Congress – exist only to punish those who thwart the private, self-serving choices of firms, whose choices represent the real law.

When I was a bookseller, my store sometimes had times when it struggled to pay its bills and ended up on hold with publishers and distributors, situations where they wouldn't let us sell their books anymore.

When that happened, I didn't have to go over to our customers' houses and take their books away. Creating systems that have this capability, in a time of fusion between large corporations and unaccountable, minority-rule governments, is a reckless and terrifying act.

Violent cops' deadly victim complex (permalink)

Marsy's Law is a model victim's rights law that many states have adopted (it's on the ballot in Kentucky next week), often at the behest of law enforcement agencies that argue for the right to anonymity for the victims of crimes.

But Marsy's Law is so broadly worded that one of its primary uses is to shield violent cops – even those who kill – from public scrutiny, as USA Today's Kenny Jacoby and Propublica's Ryan Gabrielson write today.

A Florida deputy handcuffed an intoxicated homeless man to a hospital bed and pepper-sprayed him in the face, then invoked Marsy's Law to remain anonymous on the grounds that his shoulder had been grazed by the wire from a pulse monitor, making him victim of a "battery."

In Florida, Marsy's Law has been used "to hide the names of officers who sent a 15-year-old boy to the hospital, officers who fired bullets into moving cars and officers who released their K9 dogs on drunk and mentally ill people."

In some Florida counties, 1 in 3 incidents in which a law enforcement officer commits a violent act against a member on the public leads to an invocation of Marsy's Law, which renders that officer anonymous.

These cops cite minor injuries ("minor, blunt-forced injury to my left index finger") or no injury at all. Police departments often make the final determination about who gets Marsy's Law protections and when.

Marsy's Law heads off civil cases related to public injuries and deaths at the hands of police, by making it impossible to look up officers' prior conduct.

And recall that Marsy's Law is on Kentucky's ballot: if it had already been in effect in 2019, it might well have shielded the identities of the police officers who murdered Breonna Taylor.

Sue your medical bully (permalink)

One of my favorite podcasts is Arm and a Leg, a show about self-defense from medical billing in the US health care system. As a Canadian in the US, I often feel gaslit by the system, as my doctors and their offices act as though predatory, disgusting practices are natural.

Arm and a Leg documents these unethical practices in eye-watering detail, making it clear at ever turn that these are Not Okay, and that they are victimizing the American people, and must be overturned. And, in the meantime, they focus on practical ways to protect yourself.

This week's episode is a short masterclass in using small claims courts to fight predatory billing. It builds on the tale of Jeffrey Fox, a lawyer's son who has mastered the small claims system as a means of holding corporate bullies to account.

Fox sued UCLA health in 2015 over a $1,444.37 co-pay (the total had been $1,698.70, but his insurance picked up some of it) for a simple procedure that other local facilities charged $180 for.

UCLA was a no-show at the hearing, and Fox had an exquisitely prepared case to show the judge, who issued a judgment in Fox's favor, including costs.

Naturally, UCLA stiffed him on the judgment, too, so Fox wrote a letter telling them he'd pay the sheriff to confiscate the hospital's computers and auction them off to pay the judgment and the sheriff's fees. A check arrived promptly by Fedex.

The Arm and a Leg episode that tells Fox's story explains the full procedure: how to deal with the billing department, how to research the fair price for your procedure, how to go to court, and how to collect your judgment. It's amazing.

It's a sequel of sorts to another episode: "Can They Freaking Do That," which documents how even a credible threat of a small claims action can get predatory medical bills reduced or eliminated.

It's a wonderful and heartwarming David and Goliath story, but there's a sting in the tail: this works fine if you're on the receiving end of one or two predatory bills, but if you're struggling with a chronic illness, you might get several of these bills every month.

In other words, fighting those bills could easily become a full time job for someone who's already struggling. And while Arm and a Leg has practical advice for dealing with medical bill collectors, the whole enterprise is a source of national shame.

Arm and a Leg is a reminder of how a country has turned its back on its people, literally left them to die, rather than stand up to the investor class and demand the same health care that every other wealthy nation in the world guarantees to their citizens.

(Image: ProSymbols, CC BY, modified)

This day in history (permalink)

#5yrsago Christ, what an asshole.

#5yrsago Charity with US Characteristics: how our oligarchs buy their way out of criticism

#5yrsago UK police & spies will have warrantless access to your browsing history

#5yrsago EU Parliament votes to drop criminal charges and grant asylum to Snowden

#1yrago The Internet Archive’s massive repository of scanned books will help Wikipedia fight the disinformation wars

#1yrago Facebook sues notorious spyware company NSO Group for 1,400 attacks on diplomats, journalists, dissidents, and government officials

#1yrago The First Scarfolk Annual: a mysterious artifact from a curiously familiar eternal grimdark 1970s

Colophon (permalink)

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When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla -Joey "Accordion Guy" DeVilla