Sunday Feb 22, 2009

"Because our copyrights are worth more than your human rights"

Monday is the last day of the internet blackout campaign organised and in support of it I have blacked out my avatars on Twitter and Facebook as well as on this page. Why? It's to appeal a very badly thought-out law that's been passed in New Zealand, one that the media lobby would love to see introduced in Europe too - it's already been introduced by threats in Ireland and we had a near-miss in the UK and in Germany. We need to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the kiwis. If the media lobby gets away with it over there, the rest of us will be picked off one-by-one via the global reach of the WTO and WIPO.

Bad Law

What's wrong with this law? It's not just that companies who built their business by using the commons now want to strangle it (although they hypocritically do want that). It's not that those same companies want their faltering business models shored-up by chilling effects, framing the celebration by their customers of the culture they are trying to create as akin to murder, rape and theft ("piracy"). It's not even that the new law in New Zealand gives a bunch of businesses who have shown themselves to have severely asymmetric morals the power to simply accuse without proof to get results.

Cultural Conduit

No, as I said when I was in Wellington, the problem is much deeper than the campaign against "Guilt Upon Accusation" in New Zealand would suggest. Our society has changed fundamentally in the last decade. The emergence of the world-wide web pushed the Internet from research curiosity into endemic facility, present in every office, then every home and now every pocket.

It is now the medium for culture, for education, for finance, for politics, for engagement with government services. Just this weekend we've seen RyanAir announce that the only way you can fly with them will be if you have an internet connection to check-in as well as to buy the ticket - no more check-in desks. We will increasingly see the Internet be the only way things can be done. Access to the Internet is no longer the casual frippery that this law believes. It is already integral to modern life. It will become a fundamental part of every aspect of our lives, as basic as electricity, telephones or pavements/sidewalks, the primary conduit for democracy, commerce, culture and social interaction.

Disproportionate Punishment

What crime do you have to commit in your country to be forbidden use of electricity (not just disconnected)? To be forbidden use of a phone? To be forbidden to walk on the streets? Yes, the lack of due process in this bad New Zealand law is a worry, but much more of a concern is its calculation that the infringement of a copyright justifies the removal of the main conduit of social engagement from a citizen. This cannot be allowed to stand.

This is not a matter for a "voluntary code of conduct" either. As use of the Internet becomes more complex and more fundamental, it's becoming clear in the UK that the Internet Watch Foundation - a group set up by ISPs so they wouldn't be regulated over every politician's excuse for bad legislation, "protecting children" - is harmful to us all, cracking small nuts with pile drivers and lacking transparency and accountability. It's great New Zealand has a temporary stay on the new law, but the reason - development of a voluntary code of conduct so citizens rights can be repeatably infringed in support of media business models - is still unacceptable, still agrees that citizen access to the internet is worth less than media business models.

It Shall Not Stand If We Stand Together

That's why S92A has to be struck down in New Zealand, why similar laws have to be resisted worldwide and why the media lobby needs to wise up and pipe down. We may not have reached a point where Internet access is an essential right, but it's too close now for us to tolerate its abridgment for any reason or set a precedent we then have to argue to undo. Infringing copyright is not something to be condoned, but there is no sense in which anyone's copyrights are more valuable than our 21st century human rights.

Spot On

Best summary of the New Zealand Blackout that I've seen:

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