Internet Privacy, Digital Economy Bill, Copy Fright and Dirty Fights: It’s Only Business.
It is clearly becoming a trend for major countries to start putting their foot down on just what will and won’t fly over the Internet (so to speak) in their countries. One may be forgiven for thinking that the media are only focused reporting such “interestingly” bad news. But why not, after all bad news sells better than good, and in showbiz, all publicity is good publicity anyway. Right?
Below are some examples of major recent developments that serve to highlight this state of affairs:
1. Italy vs. the Internet (via the Google Three) – Last month, three senior Google execs were handed prison sentences by an Italian Judge for ‘violation of privacy’, as reported here on the Guardian’s website. As might be expected this incredible turn of events has raised concerns, among the global Internet community, that it threatens a fundamental principle that enables openness of the Internet. Furthermore, in a Huffington Post article, Lawrence Lessig, makes a strong case that to the Italian Parliament that Internet video services should not be governed by the exact same rules as broadcast media (e.g. TV), for the very simple and obvious reason that they are entirely different beasts. Duh!
2. Google, (Again) vs. China – Last week BBC News reported that Google will face consequences if it refuses to comply with Chinese censorship laws. In other words, either play by our rules or get out of China, the choice is yours.
3. Digital Economy Bill – This ongoing saga has created real debate among many people in the UK, as our politicians get to grips with trying to govern the Internet and make serious attempts to control its impact on the UK economy. Hmm, I wish them the best of luck, but as wiser heads have implored (including the BCS), this is not something to be rushed into law without necessary, proper and additional, nay extraordinary, due diligence.
In light of the above, there appears to be an almighty struggle brewing between major nations and the global Internet over just how their citizens may use / access the Internet, (and its myriad applications and service providers), with said citizens and service providers caught squarely in the middle. It looks like a battle between self determination and freedom of expression (with instruments like the safe harbour principle) on the one hand, versus Realpolitiks and commercial interests (possibly in the guise of social responsibility and sovereignty) on the other.
At the end, it may all just be a futile gesture , because to my mind, one key problem faced by those trying to lock down access and usage of the internet is that, as a communication channel, the Internet is fertile breeding ground for emergent information and content creation, remix and consumption practices that are hard to predict, never mind controlling it. How can anyone hope to control what is essentially unpredictable? Plus it doesn’t help that, as observed here by my fellow blogger, many people now desire to have access to the Internet as a basic human right to communicate!
Furthermore, I defy any industry to prove conclusively that the Internet, and casual piracy of digital content for that matter, is the root cause of their economic woes. For those that try, it may be tantamount to pointing out their incompetence in adapting to change, or even a cynical ploy to generate sympathy (perhaps in order to hide said incompetence). I just call it showbiz or film trickery. But is it really all showbiz, or are certain industries and businesses really badly affected as they make out? It can be very hard to tell these days, especially as it seems that even the music industry is far from dead!
I would venture as far as to say that this not all bad news, and is in fact more like growing pains, indicative of the fact that traditional industries and nations are finally adjusting (albeit not without a fight) to the challenges of a new paradigm of business and global citizenship fostered by digital technology and the Internet. At the very least, this demands fundamental changes to much of our current ways of thinking.
PS. One final thought for the weekend – are major governments running scared at the spectre of Internet companies like Google becoming a major world power? Stranger things have been known to happen.
Note: This post was previously published on my BCS DRM Blog, where you can find the original post, and reader comments, in the archives.