The Good Lawyers vs. the Parasites!


“After On” Audio Series: Episode 3 of 8

Three Cheers for EFF and for Cindy Cohn

I recently recorded an unhurried and wide-ranging interview with Cindy Cohn, who defends your digital privacy and free speech full time — along with that growth-causing, job-forming force we call “innovation.” She does this in her role as Executive Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. To access it, either:

  1. Type “After On” into your podcast app’s search field, or . . .
  2. Click the “play” button near the top of this page on Boing Boing or . . .
  3. Click here, then click the blue “View on iTunes” button in the upper left corner of the page (requires iTunes, of course),

Anyway, meet Cindy:

EFF Executive Director Cindy Cohn.

A cathartic cliché has it that lawyers are a parasitic breed. Most legislators and regulators are lawyers. They force us to paper our lives with blather that lawyers alone can write. Lawyers file stunt lawsuits that torment millions. Defense can be bought only from other lawyers. Judges — also lawyers — protract the frivolity with hearings, re-hearings, and chin-stroking that enriches defending and offending counsel alike. Your own lawyers are reliably shocked — shocked! — that the enemy lawyers can be so venal, and the judges so stupid. But guess who they hoist glasses with after hours? And who really pays for that pricey cognac?

Like most cathartic clichés, this one is cruelly simplistic. Indeed, it would qualify as racism if professions were ethnicities. Like all categories of people, lawyers span the good/evil spectrum. But our digital age is expanding the opportunities that bad ones can exploit. It takes good lawyers — in both senses of the word — to fight them off. Cindy is one such lawyer, and her team includes many others. In our interview, she shares tales of patent trolls, EULA authors, meddling bureaucrats, and other fauna in the Mirkwood depths they patrol.

To me, one of the legal scene’s more chilling pitfalls is known as “SLAPP.” Not just a jaunty spelling of a common word, this is a “strategic lawsuit against public participation.” It happens when someone hires our corrupted legal system to silence an opinion they find irksome. The target could be a journalist, a reviewer, a blogger, a private citizen — you name it. Unless countered by deft defensive measures, there’s no need for SLAPP suits to have any logical, legal, or moral merit. The legal fees triggered by a righteous defense can be every bit as bankrupting as a coke habit. So those whose money and moral compasses allow them to file these suits run amok.

Cindy calls herself and EFF “free speech absolutists,” and wages war against SLAPP in multiple states. I urgently wish them success. The SLAPP phenomenon privatizes a power that only governments should barely have — and then, in the narrowest circumstances. Free societies should never inhibit speech beyond extreme cases like advocating and planning violence, or yelling fire in the crowded theater of lore.

My interview with Cindy also covers EFFs history, starting with its roots in the pre-Web world, as well as Cindy’s own history and motivations. This is the third interview episode (of eight) that I previewed to Medium members and am now podcasting.

Though these interviews add context to After On, it is NOT necessary to read the novel in order to listen to and learn from them! Significant discussion of the book is delayed until the very final section of the episode, when my cohost (Tom Merritt) and I do relate the interview to the storyline.

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