Legislators aren't the only ones who can whip together demands for digital equality. A couple of weeks ago, a pair of legislators that were instrumental in stopping SOPA and PIPA released a "Digital Bill of Rights," looking for feedback from you and me. Today, several of the organizations that spearheaded the SOPA/PIPA opposition -- including the EFF, Access Now and Free Press -- launched a "Declaration of Internet Freedom" of their own, and they're looking for both signatures and feedback for the petition.
That high profile, open-and-shut international case the U.S. government has against Megaupload is starting to look like it might not be quite so open-and-shut after all. Today, New Zealand Chief Justice Helen Winkelmann found that the warrants used to raid Kim Dotcom's mansion were insufficient and invalid -- and she says that the Megaupload server data taken by the FBI was taken illegally.
While the DoJ is apparently banging on cable company doors to ensure the Internet's pipes stay free of anticompetitive interests, a dynamic duo in Washington are doing their part to try and formalize what we should expect while virtually traversing said pipes. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA), two key Congressional members in the fight against SOPA, are back with a draft for a "Digital Bill of Rights" -- and they're asking for your help to finalize the document.
The music industry is sending out notices to suspected copyright infringers asking for money. And while this might sound like “business as usual”, a new report has confirmed they are indeed mixing things up a bit. Instead of demanding $3,000 or more per infraction, file-sharing monitoring firm Digital Rights Corp has confirmed they are taking the shotgun approach to finding the guilty, asking for a mere $10 a pop.
Finally, rights holder and ISPs have found a foolproof way to punish you, their nefarious customer. The MPAA, RIAA, etc. have struck a deal with five of the largest ISPs in America on file sharing. It's perfect. No due process, judicial review, or evidence. It assumes you're guilty until proven innocent. And you get to pay for the whole thing!
The U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency has been the Dirty Harry of the World Wide Web the past year or so, shooting its virtual guns and taking down websites playing host to copyrighted materials. Fire first and silly legal questions be damned! Now, the gung-ho nature of "Operation in Our Sites" (see what they did there?) could be coming back to haunt ICE. Puerto 80, the owner of Spanish sports site Rojadirecta.com, has petitioned the courts for the return of its seized website – and it has the EFF in its corner.
Unless you stick to nickjr.com or your ISP's content portal, the Internet can be a little rough around the edges. It is the fertile birthplace of classics like goatse.cx, furries and "Two Girls One Cup," after all. (If you don't know what those are, count yourself lucky and DO NOT Google them.) Now, thanks to the jackass lawmakers in Tennessee who already made it a crime to use your mom's Netflix account, anybody who posts an image on the Internet that's likely to "frighten, intimidate or cause emotional distress" can be criminally prosecuted.
Actually, the issue isn’t piracy. It’s copyright law.
But let me backtrack a bit.
I’ve gotten several emails from one of the regular readers of this column, pointing out to me that writing is just typing, it’s not real work. Real work involves shovels and hammers and paint brushes. Real men do real work. Real men roll up their sleeves and build things. Real men sweat.
And while I might argue with the idea that the hyperactivity of a person’s sweat glands confers some nobility, I would never dismiss the value of actual physical labor. I put myself through school working in restaurants, everything from waiting on tables to washing dishes. I sorted mail for the post office. I learned important lessons about service. I took on other jobs as well to keep myself alive. I’d come home tired, but almost every night I sat down to write.
I had a typewriter (a big mechanical thing, kind of like a computer keyboard connected directly to a printer but without a CPU, you made it work by physical labor) and almost every day I would hammer at it for hours, not getting up from the desk until I was too exhausted to roll another piece of paper into it or until my back hurt so much I could barely make it to bed. When I sold my first novel, When HARLIE Was One, it was a validation that all that typing hadn’t been worthless.
Make no mistake, we are living in the future. In a matter of moments, we can publish our thoughts, communicate with people on other continents, or start downloading more information than we can ever consume. We are presented with hundreds of great offers every day—each with a thousand caveats. We hear about hackers stealing identities and kids being sued for copyright infringement, and even a New York socialite slap-fight taking place in an anonymous forum can take the national stage. The future is odd, indeed. To help you get some of it straight, we sat down with various lawyers and asked: How do our rights work in the digital age? Can you get in trouble posting messages about someone online? Are there exceptions to copyright? Is it legal to back up your ebooks? Not all of these questions have clear answers, and some answers don’t make much sense. We might be living in the future, but the legal system was designed to deal with the increasingly obsolete present.
Elinor Ostrom recently became the first woman to win the prestigious “fake” Nobel prize for Economics, for her research on how self-governing groups successfully share resources. She spent years refuting the idea of the Tragedy of the Commons—a thought experiment dating from 1968 that basically said anything shared would get spoiled because people would only value something they owned. The man who authored the idea, Garrett Hardin, presumably observed very unruly preschoolers.
Ostrom actually looked at how people share finite resources like forests and grazing land, and found that with the right ground rules people not only did fine, they did better than companies and governments. Yipee for her and all, but why am I telling you about it in a column about digital rights and IP?
Turns out Ostrom laid the groundwork for thinking about the commons, including our very own digital commons. Her work also shows in economically solid terms how and why total monopoly rights, like copyright and patent, might not always be the best for society. Ostrom showed that, when a commons can manage itself, the proximity of the users and the governance, i.e., the two being the same thing, makes the system work more efficiently than either centralized government or strong property rights.