Internet Protests, what’s going on?

Editor’s Note: Apologies for the long time that I’ve been away from this blog, due to personal circumstances. Hopefully things are getting back on an even keel, so expect more postings from me on a fairly regular basis as I strive to make this site a useful discussion area for current events, finance and IT affairs giving my two cents, as well as personal ramblings every so often. Thanks for your support!

So yesterday Wikipedia went dark,  google.com had a banner ad campaigning and even WordPress, the company that hosts this blog, has a campaign up. So what’s the fuss about?

You’ve probably heard the words PIPA and SOPA passing around. They relate to two US bills going through the US Government, relating to Intellectual Property and online piracy. On the face of it, noble: the stated aim is to write a law to ban rogue websites with illegal content, and to stop the illegal downloading of films and music.

Supporters claim that in reality that this is a necessary step, and the protesters are ideological in nature. There is a feeling that internet theft and piracy is increasing, and the current laws do not serve the internet age. The courts system would be robust enough to ensure only legitimate claims go through, and due process would need to be followed before court papers could be served.

So why the protest? According to the critics, the law is so badly written that it will cause many innocent websites to shut down. The law, as I understand it (and I confess, as at date of writing, I haven’t seen the law for myself to independently verify) would put the onus on website owners, including myself, to check that every link I link to contains legal content. For if I don’t, a court could rule a summary decision that I’m not in compliance of the law and order me to shut down, and order everyone else to block links to me. If I had a payment engine on my site (so you could buy stuff), they would have to block access to me.

From a position of ignorance, this is all rather scary from two points of view. Firstly, the onus would be on me to ensure I know every blocked website so I don’t accidentally link to it; ignorance is not a defence in law. I, like many others I’m sure, occasionally link to research done on other blogs or one-man-band sites – if later on they post an illegal video of the latest music video, I would need to block that link. I would therefore need to keep track of every link and every ruling to make sure I don’t keep a blocked link from 2009 live in error. Quite onerous!

The scarier prospect is that essentially this US law will govern all of us, since although I’m not in the US this site is (I’m pretty sure this is sitting on a server somewhere in US territory). Many sites are, so would this have to comply with US law?

The broader point here is that while many governments wrestle with finding a balance between freedom of speech and piracy/copyright law, there seems to be little recognition that the Internet is a global beast and therefore needs a global consensus. For example, maritime law is (as I understand it) written by the International Maritime Organisation, which is then adopted into law by its’ member countries.  So one organisation comes up with global concepts that make sense and are standardised as much as possible around the world, and implemented in a way that fits the legal framework in each member country.

The time has surely come for a global internet body to be set up to serve a similar purpose. Maybe under the jurisdiction of the UN, maybe completely independent. A body who knows and understand the issues, and isn’t tied to large or small companies. For this to work, major governments need to come together to recognise this issue affects many, and needs a policy written by international experts, not by one government which could, unintentionally, reign far outside its’ constitutional borders.

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