“Imagine a world with out free knowledge”. – Wikipedia

Posted on January 23, 2012

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The Global War on Information: Intellectual Property and Copyright Laws

The international community cannot agree on human rights or climate change, but the US government is starting to muscle itself into other nations copyright laws. This is not for the benefit of people but rather for the benefit of corporations.

Through the internet we’ve given value to something that is free, and with anything as globally powerful, it is at the mercy of scam artists, thieves, corporate interests, and big government.  Law enforcement in the US and governments around the world struggle to reign in the power of the internet, but at what cost? Recent legislative proposals in the US, PIPA and SOPA , compromise freedom of speech and privacy in exchange for corporate protection of copyrights and intellectual property.

But, hope is not lost: PIPA and SOPA have been delayed by massive outcry from the public, and also from corporate activism by sites like Wikipedia and Google. See:  the BLACKOUT Protest – January 18th, 2012. 

The West

For relations in the West, these changes are welcomed, with Europe already abiding by much higher expectations of copyright and intellectually property protection, but also much stricter privacy rights. In fact, Europeans are comparing SOPA and PIPA to ACTA, their own legislative proposal for internet protection aka censorship. The main transatlantic difference is that Europe’s laws are made to protect people, while the proposed US laws are arguably more geared toward protecting corporate profits. The great SWIFT conflict threatened to compromise business between US and European countries due to a concern for the security and privacy of banking data, and the same issue was of concern in post 9/11 TSA procedures for collecting and storing personal data. And now, just today, the European Union has proposed a new law protecting the ‘right to be forgotten’.

Are we on the right side of internet protection?

Becoming more like China?  The future of censorship

A question that cannot yet be answered-what does this mean for US relations with China, one of the largest net exporters in the world, who has very weak intellectual property and copyright laws?

Over the summer I had the opportunity to travel abroad in Europe and roomed with an exchange student from China. We had the most interesting conversations about censorship in China. She shared her first experience going online in the states: the first page she read was wikipedia on Tiananmen Square. As a history student, her thirst for truth drove her, and she spent days trying to absorb what she was neglected. She also shared the Chinese-version of sites such as Twitter and Facebook, and how people use blogs and other forms of social media without drawing attention to themselves from the authorities. By manipulating language, they created a code, a pseudo language, to communicate through the censorship. My favorite play on language was the use of the character meaning harmony to express censorship. In light of the Arab Spring, the world now knows the power of the Internet to ignite social change at the grass roots level. And governments are scared, as they should be, of the new found freedom of their people. The example of circumventing censorship in China is only one example, we’ve also seen the leak of huge amounts of intelligence through whistle blower sites like Wikileaks, and the power of rogue hackers such as the anonymous group: in the words of Oscar Wilde, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”

Another question I hope to explore this quarter: is internet access a human right? 


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Posted in: Readings