+353 (0)22 55002 info@spiralli.ie

Piracy and Free Speech

The internet as we know it is an incredible resource. I’m not referring to the technology that makes it possible. I’m talking about the wealth of information available to all of us for free. The media giants would prefer that all premium content be behind a pay wall, and they bemoan the fact that we can get our news for free from a variety of sources on the internet. Most governments would prefer some form of censorship.  They tell us it’s to protect us, but one has to wonder whether they want to use censorship to control the information we see, and suppress inconvenient truths.

We know that North Korea has taken censorship to the limit. Civilians have no internet access and receive news only via media controlled by the state. China had a very public spat with Google in recent years, insisting that Google filtered its search results to remove links to sites which did not toe the official line. Google refused, and ultimately pulled out of China, although recent reports suggest that Google will soon be returning to this enormous market.

Even here in Ireland, censorship of a sort has been in place. Eircom capitulated to pressure from music and media companies to implement a three strikes procedure. Under this agreement, Eircom effectively agreed to police its own users, and take action against those downloading music. First they would send warning letters, and ultimately they would disconnect the users. Of course the inevitable happened, and many innocent users were accused of offences they hadn’t even committed, due to misconfigurations  in the Eircom infrastructure.

Now in the USA a piece of legislation called SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) threatens the future of the internet as we know it. On the face of it, the act seems to make sense. It’s about stopping online piracy through various punitive measures. Once you dig into the details, you see that the act proposes to make  website owners liable for their user’s actions. This means if I post a link to copyrighted material on a popular social bookmarking site like Reddit, the site could ultimately be closed down. There are many more problems with the legislation. One expert says:  ”The language of SOPA is so broad, the rules so unconnected to the reality of Internet technology and the penalties so disconnected from the alleged crimes that this bill could effectively kill e-commerce or even normal Internet use.”

Fortunately, opposition to the act is widespread, and its opponents are vocal. When GoDaddy, a leading domain name seller expressed its support for SOPA, it faced a backlash from angry customers who threatened to take their business elsewhere. The company was initially dismissive of the threat, but as support grew, GoDaddy relented and withdrew support for SOPA.

Few would disagree that piracy is theft, and that countermeasures are required to safeguard jobs, but SOPA is the wrong tool for the job. Let’s hope that sanity prevails and the legislators go back to the drawing board.

The internet is a hodge podge of wisdom and of misinformation. It is a reservoir of knowledge and a steaming cesspit of depravity. It is a safehold for the downtrodden and a refuge for trolls and terrorists. I’d rather take the good with the bad, than have someone else’s standards imposed on me. How about you?

 

First published in Cork Independent: http://corkindependent.com/blog/category/tech/