To paraphrase Micheal Corleone’s only noteable line in Godfather III: “Just when we thought we were out, they pull us back in!” I had to paraphrase it because I wouldn’t dare embed the YouTube clip these days and am even a little skittish about a direct quote from such a heavily copyrighted film. Yes, we all know that SOPA and PIPA got shelved in the US, thanks in large part to sites like Wikipedia going dark for a day and showing everyone just what a heavily censored and regulated internet might be like. But that doesn’t mean they’re done for good.
It also doesn’t mean that content owners (not to be confused with content creators) like the major film studios and record labels and big telecom corporations, the real forces behind such legislation, along with their paid legislators, are ready to throw in the towel. Far from it. The day following the internet’s temporary reprieve from a pit of SOPA-dom, the US went on the warpath and shut down MegaUpload.com (along with other affiliated sites) and arrested founder Kim “Dotcom” Schmitz and other employees.
Now regardless of what you may think about some of what happens (or happened) on MegaUpload one thing is clear: by seizing the 72nd most visited site on the internet, you’re bound to be affecting a whole whack of people who aren’t using the site to share copyrighted content, but rather to share their own larger documents. Some of those people are now looking to sue the FBI for those lost files. Others, like Anonymous, took a more eye for an eye approach to the fight, knocking out the websites of the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry of Association of America, Universal Music, the FBI, the Department of Justice and others.
It’s a battle that needs to be fought. Even if you don’t believe there is an ulterior motive behind the MegaUpload takedown, namely one to prevent MegaKey (a service that allows artists to distribute their music directly to consumers and get paid 90% of what they make) from launching, it’s clear what’s really going on here. This isn’t about copyright or protecting content creators. It’s about what it’s always been about for major corporations and the establishment: maintaining power and profit. The internet as we know it threatens that, so their plan is to threaten the internet as we know it.
It’s a little more clever than that, though. When we all rise up and face the draconian measures before us and win, we think we’re safe. Then, they try to sneak the same thing or something a little worse by our false sense of security, changing only the location the law originates (irrelevant because the web is worldwide) and the letters of the alphabet used. Maybe they’ll throw in a number or two.
Have you heard of ACTA or the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement? That’s an international treaty that if ratified by the European Parliament (the vote is now scheduled to happen in June) would create a global body tasked with clamping down on copyright vioations and even generic drug sales on the internet while removing safeguards that protect Internet Service Providers from being liable for the actions of their subscribers. ISPs would also be banned from hosting free software that can access copyrighted material. Basically an all-around attack on civil and digital rights and freedom of communication.
What about Bill C-11 (aka SOPA’s evil little brother), not yet in the committee stage, though on the horizon in Canada? While this is not to be confused with the C-10 Omnibus Crime Bill, it is another attempt by the Harper Government to re-brand and pass a previous failed piece of legislation. In this case, the Conservatives are bringing back Bill C-32, which would put digital locks on DVDs and course material, and throwing in a bunch of stuff from SOPA including website takedowns and forcing ISPs to block sites accused of copyright violation. Basically most draconian parts of SOPA that drew all the opposition.
So how do we continue to oppose measures like this? While our recent tactics worked, they won’t always. If Wikipedia goes dark every other week, it will start to lose effect. There is the hacktivism of groups like Anonymous which is respectable but can’t be the only means of protest and is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. There is political lobbying, for which we are seriously underfunded compared to the media and telecom giants. There are awareness campaigns which work, but they can’t be the only thing in our arsenal.
So how do we fight back? I once suggested we essentially pirate the internet by creating our own. It may come to that, but until it does, we shouldn’t be afraid (or too lazy) to take to the streets as they did in Europe over ACTA yesterday. It’s also extremely important that we oppose without fear and show that as the people who love a free and open internet, we’re going to keep being open and free with our internet. With that in mind, I think I will post the YouTube clip of that line from the Godfather after all…no, wait, I think I’ll post a different line:
* Images: globalpost.com, ccer.ca, venturebeat.wordpress.com