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Politics Your Rights Online

Interviews: Ask Attorney and Author Mike Godwin a Question 83

Mike Godwin worked as the first staff counsel of the EFF and served as general counsel for the Wikimedia Foundation. He has been a contributing editor of Reason magazine and was elected to the Open Source Initiative board in 2011. Mike is probably best known however for coining the internet adage Godwin's Law. He is currently general counsel and director of innovation policy at the R Street Institute. Mike has given us some of his time to answer any questions you may have. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one question (and one comparison involving Nazis or Hitler) per post.
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Interviews: Ask Attorney and Author Mike Godwin a Question

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  • by sbaker ( 47485 ) on Thursday December 10, 2015 @02:10PM (#51095819) Homepage

    If you had a totally free chance to write or change a law - what would you change?

        -- Steve

    • by mi ( 197448 ) <> on Thursday December 10, 2015 @02:16PM (#51095845) Homepage Journal
      I doubt, a Reason-contributing Libertarian would be adding new laws. Though, technically, abolition of an existing law is itself a law, we may be better off asking, what Mr. Godwin would start with dropping.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        ^This. Do you know who else changed laws? HITLER!

        • by mi ( 197448 )

          Do you know who else changed laws? HITLER!

          Yes :) He was also a vegetarian, a war hero (WWI) an aquarellist, and loved children — very suspect traits all of them.

          • Do you know who else changed laws? HITLER!

            Yes :) He was also a vegetarian, a war hero (WWI) an aquarellist, and loved children — very suspect traits all of them.


      • I dont know about Mr Godwin but I'd love to repeal the Law of Gravity.

        • by mi ( 197448 )

          I'd love to repeal the Law of Gravity.

          Not sure, I kind of like my couch... I think, I'd start with becoming the nice and round 3 (or, maybe, 4) — to make it simpler computer square footage.

          • by mi ( 197448 )

            with becoming the nice

            Darn... Slashdot quietly ate the pi I had there... Unicode, anyone? Hello?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Do you think that Microsoft's introduction of Windows 10 is similar to the way the Nazis seized power? Will Microsoft take all our privacy away?

  • Are there exceptions (or clarifications) to Godwin's Law? What if the topic is about Hitler or Nazis? Is there another law that applies when this mashup happens?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 10, 2015 @02:48PM (#51096033)

      Well, all Godwin's Law is, in its purest form, is a look at probability. The law does not state anything about the quality or lack thereof of the analogy. What you might be thinking of is one of the many corollaries that have been derived from Godwin's Law, and incorrectly called Godwin's Law.

    • by mea2214 ( 935585 )
      How would Godwin's Law be different if the Nazis had computers and Usenet?
    • by Opyros ( 1153335 )
      He's already mentioned exceptions in these [] two interviews [].
  • Oh, great ... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Thursday December 10, 2015 @02:17PM (#51095853) Homepage

    Godwin'd from TFS ... now what?

    • Wow...that article was equal parts interesting and scary...

      Coincidentally, a few weeks ago, I had independently noticed many points of similarity between Trump and Hitler. Glad I'm not the only one. The most obvious thing is this unfortunate penchant for demagogery, specifically, a habit of blaming minorities as the cause of every problem. Let's just hope if can't happen here. But as they say, those who don't learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat history class.

      (feel free to discuss - desp

      • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Thursday December 10, 2015 @03:48PM (#51096441) Homepage

        Is it Godwin's law to compare Hitler to Trump, aka in reverse? You know, something like "I was reading about Hitler's rise the other day.... wow, that guy was a total Donald Trump!"

      • Let's just hope if can't happen here. But as they say, those who don't learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat history class.

        You should be able to pass history class by regurgitation of memorised facts, even if you don''t actually learn anything from it.

        One of my graduating class of geologist - one who actually continues to work as a geologist - was a Young-Earth Creationist. Perfectly capable of understanding and recounting the various evidence, but he just didn't actually believe a word of

  • by mi ( 197448 ) <> on Thursday December 10, 2015 @02:17PM (#51095857) Homepage Journal

    How would you judge the progress, Libertarianism is making in the US? Do you consider it rising, flat, or, perhaps, diminishing as a philosophy?

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Also, if someone, points out my inappropriate, use of commas, should I call him a Nazi?
  • Do you have a generally positive or negative opinion of these people?

    • Harvard's cheer department
    • Henry Ford (automotive entrepreneur and author of The International Jew
    • Andrew Jackson (US President behind the Indian Removal Act)
    • Thomas Calloway Lea, Jr. (El Paso mayor behind use of cyanide pesticide at the border crossing)
    • Oliver Wendell Holmes (SCOTUS justice favoring sterilization of criminals)

    Source: "Worst Ideas You Didn't Know Come From America []" by Melissa Dylan

  • Encryption (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Pollux ( 102520 ) <> on Thursday December 10, 2015 @02:29PM (#51095915) Journal

    Do you believe governments / the US Government will succeed in forcing digital communication giants like Apple or Google to either make illegal zero-knowledge encryption methods [] or mandate backdoor decryptors [] to snoop on customer data and communications?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Hitler was quick to seize on "laws" of human behavior that were merely politically convenient for him, making a mockery of social sciences.

    Why are you so much like Hitler in this regard?

  • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 ) on Thursday December 10, 2015 @02:32PM (#51095949)
    Is the answer to any headline that asks "Is X the next Hitler?" invariably "no"?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Recent comments by Donald Trump have invoked comparisons to Nazis and Hitler. These sorts of comments online tend to lead to people invoking the "extended" version of Godwin's Law - that is, the moment Hitler is mentioned, the thread is over and the people who brought up Hitler immediately lose. What are your thoughts on using "Godwin's Law" in a prescriptive instead of merely descriptive manner? Is it something you envisioned when you formulated it?

    Relatedly, as a lawyer, do you feel that there's room for

  • Thanks!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 10, 2015 @02:57PM (#51096105)

    Are you concerned that you've become an internet meme and your "law" a tool to stifle debate?

    I've seen legitimate comparisons to Nazism shut down because someone pops into a discussion in an almost automatic fashion and invokes "Godwins Law" when the word "Nazi" is used, whether the invocation was within context, or not.

  • by DamonHD ( 794830 ) <> on Thursday December 10, 2015 @03:22PM (#51096271) Homepage

    1) Is this shiny new Interweb thing better than text flooded over UUCP for actually understanding things and for thoughtful conversations? Discuss.

    2) If you could by fiat could change one thing technically or legally worldwide to make the online world a more civil place, what might it be? Might Google's 'hate speech' 'spellchecker' delaying or censoring Twitter/FB/etc posts mentioning Hi**er or similar help?



  • Of when you personally compared someone to Hitler or Nazis recently?

  • Lets just say someone went back in time and killed Hitler as a small child so that he never became Chancellor.

    The principle behind Goodwin's Law (people resorting to demagoguery against their political opponents, especially online) would presumably still be valid. Do you think there would still be a Goodwin's Law, and if so, who would the comparison be to?

    The same question without the "killing baby Hitler" piece: Other than Hitler, do you think there are other demagoguery comparisons that are sufficient

    • by tepples ( 727027 )

      If there were no Hitler, there would have been no World War II code breaking effort, ergo no electronic computers, ergo no computer networks, ergo no famous 1990 post to Usenet.

      • Umm, no.

        The codes weren't developed by Hitler, and they weren't developed during WW2. The Brits were reading German messages before WW2 started.

        And gave us access to the stuff before we entered the war (legally - we were fighting illegally for a year or two before Pearl Harbor - yes, escorting convoys of military supplies to a belligerent was illegal, as well as sinking U-boats), as far as I know.

  • Mike, I appreciate your work on CISPA/PIPA and related tragedies - thank you.

    At this point, is there any real benefit to resist them aside from social signalling? It seems that with the massive centralization of power and the near-complete abandonment of representative government in the US (and elsewhere abroad similarly afflicted), we're left with a situation where every one of these draconian bills will be coming up again and again, funded by the rent-seekers and their corrupt political allies until the

  • by retroworks ( 652802 ) on Thursday December 10, 2015 @04:18PM (#51096659) Homepage Journal
    So much right-to-repair, right-to-own, right-to-modify law is based on an 1800s cotton baling wire case. We are happy that USA Supreme Court has routinely sided with refurbishers (Fuji vs. Jazz Camera, Lexmark vs. Arizona Ink Cartridge Remanufacturers), and the WTO defense of Remanufacturers in the Doha Round of NTTBs was great [] However, just as alarming are the cases going the other way in other countries (Fuji won vs. Jazz Camera in Japan). As the USA recedes from its role as the largest consumer market, it seems that Chinese precedent might go either way. Will the future of copyright law in other countries follow the First Use Doctrine?
  • You're an author and an attorney, so I assume you know some things about laws specifically designed for authors. Is there a way for a writer, a composer, etc. to be sure that he didn't accidentally infringe someone's copyright when creating his own work? For instance, what should George Harrison have done to avoid infringing a copyright owned by Ronald Mack (Bright Tunes Music v. Harrisongs Music), Michael Bolton to avoid the Isley Brothers (Three Boys Music v. Michael Bolton), or Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke to avoid Marvin Gaye (Gaye v. Thicke)? This is especially difficult for songwriters because of the combinatoric limits of possible melodies [].

  • by RNLockwood ( 224353 ) on Thursday December 10, 2015 @05:07PM (#51096959) Homepage

    What Nazi set the requirement that each question for Mike Godwin must have a comparison with Nazis or Hitler to make it a valid post?

In seeking the unattainable, simplicity only gets in the way. -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982