Tuesday, 7 February 2012

What do young people care about?

Its hard to imagine that there is anyone who hasnt at least heard of SOPA or its twin PIPA. Shockingly bad pieces of legislation in their own right, they sparked a wave of protest across America (online and offline) which eventually led to a humiliating climb down by those who had initially put the bills forward. Here's a little of the background from Gizmodo:
House Judiciary Committee Chair and Texas Republican Lamar Smith, along with 12 co-sponsors, introduced the Stop Online Piracy Act on October 26th of last year. Debate on H.R. 3261, as it's formally known, has consisted of one hearing on November 16th and a "mark-up period" on December 15th, which was designed to make the bill more agreeable to both parties. Its counterpart in the Senate is the Protect IP Act (S. 968). Also known by its cuter-but-still-deadly name: PIPA. There will likely be a vote on PIPA next Wednesday; SOPA discussions had been placed on hold but will resume in February of this year.

The beating heart of SOPA is the ability of intellectual property owners (read: movie studios and record labels) to effectively pull the plug on foreign sites against whom they have a copyright claim. If Warner Bros., for example, says that a site in Italy is torrenting a copy of The Dark Knight, the studio could demand that Google remove that site from its search results, that PayPal no longer accept payments to or from that site, that ad services pull all ads and finances from it, and—most dangerously—that the site's ISP prevent people from even going there.

Perhaps the most galling thing about SOPA in its original construction is that it let IP owners take these actions without a single court appearance or judicial sign-off. All it required was a single letter claiming a "good faith belief" that the target site has infringed on its content. Once Google or PayPal or whoever received the quarantine notice, they would have five days to either abide or to challenge the claim in court. Rights holders still have the power to request that kind of blockade, but in the most recent version of the bill the five day window has softened, and companies now would need the court's permission.
There were other parts to the bill, but thats the core of it, of course the consequences wouldnt have been grave:
"The Act would allow the government to break the Internet addressing system," wrote 108 law professors in a July letter to Congress. "The Internet's Domain Name System ("DNS") is a foundational building block upon which the Internet has been built and on which its continued functioning critically depends. The Act will have potentially catastrophic consequences for the stability and security of the DNS."
Luckily the US has always been opposed to the free internet, its not like the President ever said this in China:
I’m a big supporter of non-censorship,” Obama said. “I recognize that different countries have different traditions. I can tell you that in the United States, the fact that we have free Internet — or unrestricted Internet access — is a source of strength, and I think should be encouraged.”
The result of this rampant hypocracy? Well... pretty much everyone went a bit crazy, because it turns out that more or less everyone sees a threat to the free Internet as a threat to their personal freedoms, whether or not they exploit the Internet for copyright infringing materials or not. Technology companies spent a lot, but the main body of the pressure came from average people who want a free public Internet.

But here's something which I found really fascinating. Considering the blather about the US election you'd think it would probably come in ahead of a piece of internet legislation but here are some statistics from the Pew Research Centre:
Twenty-three percent of young people, ages 18 to 29, followed the SOPA protests. In contrast, 21 percent followed the 2012 elections, and just 10 percent tracked news about our nation’s economy, reports Pew.

Curiosity about SOPA trickled all the way down to the K–12 set. Students showed interest as educators, including librarians, spoke about the blackouts, copyright and piracy, and the bills themselves—the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA)—which have since been pulled by Capitol Hill lawmakers.
As ACTA grows ever closer its important that the success seen in the US over SOPA is replicated, to ensure that yet another disastrous set of policies are allowed to become reality.
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