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About Adam Huttler

Adam Huttler is the founder and executive director of Fractured Atlas, a national non-profit organization that provides infrastructure for the cultural sector. He is also the managing partner of Gemini SBS, a technology consultancy that develops web-based software for non-profits and public agencies. He has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.B.A. from New York University. Adam serves on the Board of Directors of the Performing Arts Alliance, the Steering Committee of the National Network of Fiscal Sponsors, the Steering Committee of NYC's One Percent for Culture campaign, and the Policy Leadership Circle of the Institute for Culture in the Service of Community Sustainability.

Fat Fingers and Due Process

(I really tried to come up with some awful pun for the title of this post… Something like “I.C.E. is Not So Cool”. But then I just couldn’t pull the trigger…)

From a February 16th article on TorrentFreak:

The US Government has yet again shuttered several domain names this week. The Department of Justice and Homeland Security’s ICE office proudly announced that they had seized domains related to counterfeit goods and child pornography. What they failed to mention, however, is that one of the targeted domains belongs to a free DNS provider, and that 84,000 websites were wrongfully accused of links to child pornography crimes.

So some official at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) division of the Department of Homeland Security is charged with shutting down websites that are found to be trafficking in counterfeit goods or child pornography. Ten such sites are identified, and he gets a court order to take them offline. But then – OOPS! A fat-fingered typo occurs and he accidentally knocks out 84,000 legitimate, innocent websites in the process. For several days, any attempt to visit one of those sites was met with this lovely image, branding the site owner as a trafficker in kiddie porn:

This story rapidly made the rounds in techie news circles, but I haven’t seen any coverage of it in the general interest press, much less the arts and culture media. Here’s why you should care:

As a content producer and/or distributor, you can be shut down without any kind of authentic due process. This is true whether or not you’re the victim of an unfortunate typo. When I.C.E. wants to shut someone down, they’re required to get a court order, but there’s no opportunity for the accused to offer any kind of defense, and there certainly isn’t a jury of one’s peers. But the important thing is to take these sickos offline ASAP, right? Well, sort of. It’s not always that simple, though, which is why we have a judicial system in the first place.

Modern technology hugely amplifies otherwise modest human error. In the internet age, tasks that once would have taken huge amounts of manual labor can be executed with a single keystroke. Generally speaking this is a wonderful thing, and I for one owe my career to this phenomenon. At the same time, this amplification of individual human impact warrants extraordinary quality control mechanisms, since the consequences of a small mistaek can be enormous. Clearly, I.C.E.’s procedures lack any kind of reasonable checks and balances to ensure that their enforcement actions don’t inflict enormous collateral damage.

Music and movies are next. The US Senate is currently considering an insidious piece of legislation called the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA). This bill would expand I.C.E.’s domain-shutdown mandate to cover sites accused of unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials (e.g., music and movies). It’s supported by a number of organizations that  are ostensibly interested in protecting the rights (and income) of content creators: the Motion Picture Association of America, the Screen Actors Guild, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, and Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States.

It’s not hard to imagine the myriad ways COICA can go wrong. It’s a blunt instrument, employed by people who presumably have little or no subject-matter expertise (either on the content itself or the nuances of copyright law and fair use), with the same lack of due process and vulnerability to human error that exists with I.C.E.’s current activities. Furthermore, in practice it’s likely to be enforced primarily in response to requests from attorneys at large media companies. Senate sponsor Pat Leahy has proposed an amendment which is intended to address some of these concerns, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough.

I believe in the importance, value, and legitimacy of copyright. I pay for the music I listen to and the movies I watch, despite having ample opportunity not to do so. But in our zeal to protect the interests of artists and content distributors, let’s keep the old saw in mind: “first, do no harm.”

Supply and Demand (the economic force that dare not speak its name)

(Cross-posted on the Fractured Atlas blog.)

So Rocco really stepped in it. The NEA Chairman is under siege because he dared to suggest that perhaps there’s an oversupply of arts organizations relative to the (well-documented) dwindling demand. He’s not the first to bring this up, but it surprised a lot of folks that he used his bully pulpit to express an idea that many in the arts community find repugnant and misguided. To his credit, Landesman addressed the controversy on the NEA blog today.

On the one hand, it’s nice to have an NEA Chair with the cojones to speak his mind, even if it means occasionally getting into trouble. On the other, I have to question whether this is the right time for this message to be coming from the NEA itself, given that its very existence is under attack and this may well serve as red meat to its political opponents.

Regardless, it’s hard to deny the fundamental logic behind Chairman Landesman’s assertion. The number of arts patrons in this country has been on a slow decline for a long time, while new non-profit cultural organizations are proliferating at an unsustainable pace.

No More Lincoln Centers!It seems to me, though, that there are some unspoken assumptions in this debate that are worth bringing to the surface. I haven’t yet heard anyone argue that there’s an oversupply of art, just that there’s an oversupply of non-profit arts organizations. The real problem is that our industry still worships the cult of the eternal institution. Repeat after me: corporations, including non-profits, are perpetual entities that are expected to outlast the participation of their founders. Not every idea – no matter how brilliant, creative, lucrative, etc. – warrants forming a new perpetual entity just to house it. Lincoln Center is not the only valid model for eager young MFA grads to aspire to. In fact, it’s a rather expensive, inflexible one, and it’s particularly ill-suited to artists whose creative interests lie on both sides of the conventional boundary between commercial and non-profit fare.

What this community needs is a little lean-and-mean, with some agile thrown in there as well. We need to embrace flexible new business entities like the L3C and make greater use of tools like fiscal sponsorship that allow ephemeral collaborations to raise charitable dollars.

And for those of us running the big honkin’ institutions that aren’t going anywhere anytime soon (yes, that includes you, Rocco), we need to get better at supporting and facilitating this kind of work. Because as long as serious funding is only available to organizations with granite columns on their front lawns, and as long as major non-profit service providers devote the lion’s share of their attention and resources to those same organizations, then the proliferation of aspiring mega-institutions is only going to get worse.

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